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Mysterious Shifts in Chechnya

Published: May 23, 2008 (Issue # 1375)




  • Photo: Bogorad

Like one of those dark mysterious beech forests of the Caucasus, Chechnya still contains many secrets and most of what is going on there is hidden from outside view.

From a distance, it looks as though war is over and the republic’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is firmly in control. Kadyrov is now busy eliminating the threat posed by the last substantial visible armed group operating in Chechnya, the Vostok battalion run by the Yamadayev brothers.

Somewhere in the shadows, a much less visible armed resistance numbering perhaps a few hundred men still flickers on in the southeastern mountains, but they are the hardest of a hard core: There can be little motivation to sustain a partisan war in current-day Chechnya.

Some important shifts are occurring, and I got a glimpse of this last week from an address given in London by exiled Chechen pro-independence leader Akhmed Zakayev.

To my astonishment, Zakayev, who is supposed to be leading a separatist struggle, gave a very upbeat assessment of the current state of affairs in his homeland.

“The decolonization of Chechnya is now a fact,” said Zakayev, adding for good measure, “The Chechen people have won this war.”

I was sitting next to well-known political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, and we both practically fell off our chairs. We pressed Zakayev to say more. He said the conclusion should be self-evident. At great and tragic cost, he said, Chechnya had now become separate from Russia. Colonial rule was dead, and Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin had achieved exactly the opposite of what they wanted. Twenty years ago, Zakayev said, a Chechen child on a bus in Grozny would have been clipped behind the ear for speaking in the Chechen language. Now the ethnic Russian population had virtually all left — something Zakayev said he regretted — and Chechen culture is predominant. Kadyrov, Zakayev said, had played his part and “done very important work for the liberation of Chechnya.”

Could it be that an exiled pro-independence leader, whom the Russian government wants to extradite, is praising the work of a loyalist, whom that government installed in office? Madness surely — but actually quite logical within the internal dynamics of Chechnya.

Kadyrov and Zakayev are in fact cut from the same cloth, both springing from the same nationalist movement of the early 1990s. Kadyrov’s father, Akhmad, was once a rebel fighter and associate of Zakayev’s — before he dramatically switched sides in 1999 to serve the Russians. In fact, the purported crimes over which the Prosecutor General’s Office tried and failed to extradite Zakayev from London in 2003 all date back to the years 1994 to 1996 and could just as easily have been laid against Akhmad Kadyrov.

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Sunday, Apr. 20


Celebrate Easter at Pavlovsk during the Easter Fair that begins today and continues through next Sunday. Visitors will have the chance to paint Easter eggs and children can take part in games as well as help decorate a tree in honor of Christianity’s holiest day.


Today is one of the final days to see the exhibit Cacti — Children of the Sun at the Peter the Great Botanical Garden. Starting Apr. 17, budding botanists will marvel at the variety and beauty of the desert’s most iconic plant.


Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDA’s Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBA’s Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.