FREEDOM SOLD OR WAR BOUGHT? – REFLECTIONS BY APTI BATALOV (part 2)

The sharp deterioration of Russian-Chechen relations and the intensification of activities by the Russian special services in Ichkeria and neighboring territories began with Putin’s appointment as Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. Armed provocations were staged on the Russian-Chechen border. In April 1999, for example, Russian forces attacked a Chechen border post along the Kizlyar section of the border at night, killing one guard and wounding several others. This was evidently an attempt to draw the Chechens into an armed conflict in Dagestan. However Maskhadov, realizing what the Russians wanted to achieve, forbade any retaliatory action across the border. The Russian provocation, therefore, was not followed up. The next action was staged in the Herzel section of the border in May 1999. Fierce fighting took place here for several days, during which even field artillery was used. The Russians’ plan was the same – to lure the Dagestanis to their side. Once again, however, the President of Ichkeria managed to preserve the peace between the Chechen and Dagestani peoples. Even this cowardly enterprise failed, the Russians began to threaten the country with all kinds of ultimatums.

Aslan Maskhadov (left) and Alexander Lebed (right) sign the Khasavyurt’s Accords, August 1996

President Yeltsin’s second term was coming to an end, and to save themselves from prison this drunkard’s entourage began frantically looking for a replacement. However, this group did not have a candidate who could validly oppose Primakov, and with the latter’s coming to power, all this mess would end: everything they plundered would be confiscated from them. In an attempt to find a good man they first turned to Stephasin, who refused. After these appeared Putin, like a devil from a snuffbox. He was ready to accept all the conditions stipulated by the Yeltsin clique. However , he was not yet popular enough to oppose Primakov. Thus it was that the public relations specialists, led by Berezovsky, Voloshin and Pavlovsky played the “Chechen card” in favor of Putin.

Every presidential campaign in modern “democratic” Russia is shrouded in tragedy and blood. At that time the GRU and the FSB flooded Chechnya with their agents. The services were infiltrated into the restricted circle of Chechen political-military leaders, taking advantage of the latter’s indifference in the selection of their entourage, soon becoming confidants of their godfathers. As the struggle for the presidency intensified in Moscow, Russian agents accelerated their provocative and subversive activities, as was evident from the events that began to occur in Ichkeria. I recall that in the spring of 1997 rumors began to circulate about the imminent unification of Chechnya and Dagestan into a single Islamic state, and that a “cleansing” of Russians would soon begin in preparation for this unification. Various kinds of figures and emissaries began to appear in Chechnya, coming from Dagestan. These men found great hospitality, and the support of those who supported them. Without encountering any significant opposition from the authorities, supporters of the Imamate began to promote the idea of creating a Chechen-Dagestan state “to marry Dagestan to Ichkeria” as one of them put it.

Some time later, a congress of the Chechen and Dagestani peoples was held in Dzhokhar, in the presence of the same leadership of Ichkeria. Shamil Basayev was elected Imam of Chechnya and Dagestan, with the aim of establishing an Imamate. Analyzing everything that was happening, it was obvious that this was being done under the direction of the Lubyanka , but any sober remarks regarding this adventure met with strong opposition from the “advocates of pure Islam”, anyone who dared to say something objective in this matter he would have been branded as an “apostate”, an agent of the Russians, a Jew or belonging to other categories considered hostile to the Chechens.

Shamil Basayev and Al Khattab, the two main animators of the Congress of Peoples of Ichkeria and Dagestan

After using all sorts of provocations against Ichkeria, starting with the financing of slave traders and ending with battles on the Russian-Chechen border, without results, the Russian revanchists used the risk of an Islamic insurrection in the Caucasus as a strong argument for the 1999 presidential campaign. In the summer of 1999, Basayev and his supporters accelerated preparations for the invasion of Dagestan, making no secret of their plans. The leadership of Ichkeria, being in a serious internal crisis, did not have the opportunity to intervene.

At the end of August , more precisely on August 28, 1999, a meeting of the State Defense Committee (GKO) was held in the building of the Presidential Administration. Almost all of the country’s military-political leadership attended this meeting, as well as religious figures and some members of Parliament. The main argument was evidently the invasion of Dagestan. Basayev had shown himself to the whole world in the territory of Dagestan, with a watermelon in his hand. The GKO was expected to make a decision on this issue , and a proposal was made to ask Basayev to immediately leave Dagestan, and return to Chechnya.

The meeting took place in a tense atmosphere: the president assessed the situation as very difficult, and harshly accused Basayev of having exposed the Chechen people to serious consequences. Finally, he urged those present to prepare to repel the invasion of the Russians, as, according to him, another war was inevitable at this point. At the end of his speech, the President asked the members of the State Defense Committee to express their opinion on this issue. On the eve of the GKO meeting, I hoped that a collective statement condemning the actions of Shamil Basayev would be presented: I am sure that Shamil would not have remained indifferent to the GKO’s pronouncement. Yet this did not happen. Without boring the reader with a list of the names of those present, I will say that there were 35/40 people there. For the most part the speakers expressed little, and not very clearly. A clear and unequivocal position on the matter was expressed by no more than 3 – 4 people. Among them was Akhmed Zakayev. In his speech the Minister of Culture supported and approved Basayev’s actions without hesitation. I, in turn, called Basayev’s actions a crime against the Chechen people. Many of those who condemn Basayev’s action today remained silent then. The lack of a unanimous decision on this issue was a mistake on the part of the GKO. The leadership of Ichkeria, with its fragmentation, showed the side of Russian anti-Chechen propaganda. Our short-sightedness was very useful to the Russian revanchists.

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