2 Conversations

By Alex Wright

Notes: Chechnya is also spelt Chechnia or Chechenia: (Chechen name: Ichkeria)

This article was written by a Chechen separatist supporter and therefore may be considered biased by some people. I condemn all attacks targeting civilians.

dzh = j as in job

kh = ch as in loch

PLO = Palestine Liberation Organisation

IRA = Irish Republican Army


Capital: Grozny (Rus. Groznyy)

President (Separatist): Aslan Maskhadov 1996 to 2006? (in 2004 a US$10 million bounty was put on Maskhadov and Basayev, accused of involvement in Beslan school siege)

Vice Premier (Separatist): Special Envoy Akhmed Kakayev 1996? to date.*

Former President (pro-Moscow): Akhmad Kadyrov 1999-2004#

*Charged with terrorist offences in Russia.

#Accused of treason by the separatists

Republic in North Caucasia, considered part of the Russian Federation by Moscow and the international community, and considered independent by many Chechens, known to seperatists as the "Chechen Republic of Ichkeria". Its independence was recognised by the Taliban government in Afghanistan before it was deposed in 2001. However, the Taliban was only recognised by Pakistan.

It was conquered by tsarist Russia in the 19th century despite fierce Chechen resistance, and in 1936 became part of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic in the Soviet Union. However, in February 1944 Soviet leader Yosif Stalin accused the Chechens and Ingush of collaboration with Nazi occupiers and dissolved the Chechen-Ingush Republic, deporting the Chechens and Ingush. The Republic was not reconstituted until January 1957 when the Chechens and Ingush were allowed to return from their forced exile.

The First Chechen War of Independence 1994-6

In 1991 the Ingush Republic separated from Chechnya, and Chechen General Dzhokhar Dudayev expelled the Communist government and was elected President of Chechnya in October. In November, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dudayev declared independence for Chechnya which was not recognised by the Soviet or latter Russian Federation governments. Unfortuently for Dudayev, no other countries recognised Chechnya's independence or invested in its economy.

In December 1994, under President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian military invaded Chechnya to halt its secession plans. Thousands were killed with war crimes being commited by both the Russians and resisting Chechen separatist guerrilas. Groznya was almost completely destroyed by the fighting and the Russians seized it in February 1995, ousting Dudayev's government and replacing it with a pro-Moscow administration, and stationed Russian troops in Grozny. President Dudayev fled but was assassinated by the Russian military in April 1996. The Russian air force discovered Dudayev's position when he turned on his satellite phone, and fired a missile at him.

In May 1996 Yeltsin and Acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev agreed to a cease-fire, but fighting continued. By June more than 40 000 people, including many civilians, had been killed. The Russians offered autonomy to the Chechens but refused to accept sucession, but many Chechen fighters rejected this wanting only full independence, and in August the Chechen guerrilas retook Grozny. Alexander Lebed, Yeltsin's national security adviser, brokered in which a decision on Chechnya's staus would be postponed in 2001.

The (Very) Short Peace

By December the Russians had withdrawn, and former guerrilla leader Aslan Maskhadov defeated Yandarbiyev
in an election, watched over by internnational monitors, to become Chechen President and was (at the time) recognised by Russia. In May 1997 Maskhadov and Yeltsin signed a peace treaty. However, in August 1999 hundreds of Islamist insurgents lead by Shamil Basayev (whose group sought to create an Islamic Republic in Chechnya and Dagestan) invaded the Russian Republic of Dagestan from Chechnya, occupying several villages and killing many people, and commiting many attrocities against civilians. In August and September many people (mostly civilians) were killed by bombings in Russia that were blamed on Chechen guerrillas. The Chechen separatists claimed the bombings were carried out by the Russian government to justify an invasion of Chechnya. Kidnappings for ransom, other crimes and general lawlessness were also common in many parts of Chechnya.

The Second Chechen War of Independence 1999 to present

In September 1999 Russian planes bombed Chechnya, when Russia was effectively ruled by then-Premier Vladimir Putin (who became President in 2000) and in October Russian ground forces invaded, capturing Grozny--which was again reduced to rubble--in February 2000 after surrounding it in December 1999 and a fierce street-by-street battle, and many Chechen separtist guerrilas fled to the mountains and continued resistance. Other guerrillas hid amoung the civilian population. The Kremlin installed another pro-Moscow adminstration--lead by defected former separatist warlord Akhmad Kadyrov (see Recent Developments). Mashadov called for armed resistance to the Russian invasion, and officials in Maskhadov's government fled Chechnya and Russia to form a government-in-exile. Maskhadov's whereabouts is not known. Moscow no longer recognises him as Chechen leader and condemns him as a "terrorist". Despite this some foreign governments continued to recieve members of the separatist government as representatives of the Chechen people.

Recent Developments

In late 2002 a group of Chechen guerrillas seized hundreds of civilians hostage in a Moscow theatre, demanding a withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. They had explosives strapped to them and threatened to blow up themselves and the hostages if Russian security forces entered the theatre. Putin blamed this on Maskhadov, although Maskhadov had always said he condemned the hostage-taking (which is a war crime) and all separatist attacks on Russian civilians.

The siege ended when Russian special forces gassed and stormed the theatre, the unknown gas killing most of the 128 hostages who died--with reports of the extrajudicial execution of hostage-takers made unconscious by the gas.

Russia also demanded that Denmark ban a Chechen conference in Copendenhagen. Maskhadov's special envoy and deputy prime minister Akhmed Zakayev was also arrested on an international warrant, and the Russian government sought his extradition to face charges of murder, rebellion and banditry. (Although rebellion is a political charge tantamount to treason and therefore probably not an extraditable offence).

Zakayev was released when the Danish authorities decided Russia had no evidence. Zakayev went to London where his family were living to plead asylum and was re-arrested by the British police and bailed by actress Vanessa Redgrave (who has a history of controversial support for PLO and IRA guerrillas) as the Russian government again sought his extradition.

According to some sources one of the murder charges concerns a person who is alive and well in Moscow, and most of the other murder and kidnap charges concern members of the Russian military and security forces killed or captured during the First and Second Wars of Independence. Many people also think Zakayev would be at risk or being tortured or murdered ("dying under strange circumstances") if he were transfrerd to Russian custody.

The fact that many of the murder charges related to the two wars lead Zakayev's lawyer at his extradition hearings, Edward Fitzgerald QC, to say that fight in these conflicts could not be considered illegal warfare, and that: "It [is] both illegal, illogical and dishonest of the Russian authorities to seek now to criminalise the alleged acts of Mr Zakayev."

In October 2003, four years after the Russian re-occupation of Chechnya, elections for a pro-Moscow administration were held. Russian soldiers were apparently allowed to vote, and the poll was condemned as "a farce" by separatists and international human rights groups and considered unfair by the US State Department, although British Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed they were a good move towards peace in a meeting with Putin.

The "election" was won by former separatist warlord Akhmad Kadyrov, who defected to Russia after the Russian invasion in 1999 and had called for a jihad against Rusia in the First War of Independence. He was sworn amid tight security (due to separatist attacks on those seen as collaborating with Moscow) as President of the pro-Moscow administration later in October 2003. The separatists consider Kadyrov a traitor for switching sides and collaborating with Russia, and many consider him merely a Russian puppet with no real power of his own.

In November 2003, the court trying Zakayev ruled that he would risk being tortured and being denied a fair trial in Russia. The court also apparently rejected Russia's argument that the situation in Chechnya was a "counter-terrorism opperation" not an armed conflict. The extradition case collapsed, and Zakayev was granted political asylum by the British Home Office (Ministry of the Interior), in a move welcomed by his supporters--including actress Vanessa Redgrave--and condemned by Putin and Kadryov--who accused the British Government of hypocrisy on terrorism. The refusal to extradite Zakayev appears to me as Britain giving Chechen separatist guerrillas (or at least high-ranking guerrillas and politicians) de facto lawful combatant status. Zakayev was apparently permitted to visit Germany without being arrested, despite a Interpol warrant still existing against him.

In February 2004 Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, Acting Chechen President in 1996, was assassinated by a car bomb in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where he was living in exile, and apparently fundraised for the Chechen cause. The bomb was fitted to his car when was praying in a mosque

Such a bombing is unprecedented in the usually stable Gulf Arab emirate, which hosts news channel Al Jazeera the "Arab CNN" and is apparently taking steps towards democratization. Two of Yandarbiyev's bodyguards were also killed, and his 13-year-old son was seriously injured. Yandarbiyev's murder led to Qatar passing its first anti-terrorism law, which state that "terrorist acts" resulting in death are punishable by death or life imprisonment. A Qatari offical is reported to have said, "We had never had an act of terrorism on our soil. This incident has deeply shocked us and forced us to rethink about our security strategy."

Chechen separatists have accused Russia of assassinating Yandarbiyev, and the separatist Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the car bombing as a "terrorist attack". Russia denied their involvement and accused Chechens of murdering him over internal rivalries over money. A statement by Zakayev from exile in London drew paralells to this assassination and the assassination of former President Dzhokhar Dudayev, saying that Russian involvement Dudayev's murder was initially denied by Russia, only to be confirmed in 1999.

Three Russian agents were reported to have been arrested by Qatari police, leading to a diplomatic row with Russia who are demanding the men's the repatriation. One of the men was released, but the other two have been charged and faced the death penalty if covicted of the three murders. They were convicted and jailed for life.

Yandarbiyev had been living in Qatar since 2001, and Russia has repeatedly sought his extradition on "terrorism charges" and his name was on a UN list of people suspected of links with Osama bin Laden's Islamic extremist terrorist network Al Qaeda. The Kremlin accused him of involvement in the Islamist invasion of Dagestan and the hostage taking at the Moscow theatre, which the Chechen separatist government denies.

On 9 May 2004, pro-Moscow Chechen President Kadyrov was assassinated in Grozny by an explosion in the VIP section of annual festival held to celebrate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Dozens of people were reported dead in the blast. According to BBC News Online, this is a strong blow for Putin, since the defected separatist warlord was one of the few influential Chechens on the Kremlin's side. It was also reported that few Chechens would morn his death. The killing of a political leader viewed as a traitor by the separatists was condemned by Putin and European leaders.

Beslan School Siege

Between 1 September and 3 September 2004 an armed gang seized over a thousand children and parents hostage in a school in Beslan, in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia. The hostage-takers were made up of people of many nationalities. Bombs had been planted in the school before hand. In London Akhmed Zakayev condemned the hostage-taking as an act of terrorism against civilians and denied the involvement of guerrillas loyal to Aslan Maskhadov. It has been suggested Shamil Basayev-loyalists may have been responsible, and Maskhadov has called for him to be tried for war crimes.

On 3 September the siege came to a bloody end, killing hundreds of civilians, many of them children. Apparently armed, desperate and angry Beslan citizens fired on the school, hostage-takers fired back, and the Russian security forces stormed the building. Most of the hostage-takers escaped in civilian clothing. Putin has since put a bounty on Maskhadov and Basayev, blaming them for the attack.

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