Government in today’s Chechnya has regressed to the defiant mayhem of 1994, when this separatist mountain enclave was invaded by the Russians in the first Russo-Chechen war. The door to imported Middle East fundamentalist terrorism first opened by Chechen separatists has helped al Qaeda graft its implants around North Caucasus. Aslan Maskhadov, who as Chechen president signed a 1996 peace pact with Russia, now leads the increasingly belligerent separatist movement.
Russian intelligence estimates at least 300 foreign fundamentalist terrorists have set up shop in the republic, 70% from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. The furnace of hate burning in Grozny, plus the virtual state within a state set up by encroaching Wahhabists, another name for al Qaeda’s fundamentalists, have destroyed the chances of the decimated Chechen people to attain an organized form of government, the protection of the law and the sustenance of economic structures.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Russia experts report that as an incentive for the Chechen administration to get its act together, the Putin regime, admitting to gross past mistakes, is pumping out budgets and perks. Some have misfired. The full restoration the republic’s external air, rail and road transport links, for instance, a boon for the Chechen citizenry, has in fact enhanced the freedom of movement of homegrown and imported terrorists across Russia and made it easier for them to set up long-distance attacks and suck in different groups for combined strikes – often in competition with each other.
The horrific Breslan school siege earlier this month, in which at least 330 hostages died, more than half children, was an example of a mixed operation for which Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev insisted on taking “credit”. He was hotly disputed by the local Saudi al Qaeda chief Abu Hafs who insisted the siege was carried out by his Wahhabi followers.
Abu Hafs was telling the truth. DEBKA-Net-Weekly on Sep. 10 was first to disclose that the hostage siege was indeed the work of an al Qaeda cell operating out of North Ossetia’s neighbor Kabardino-Balkaria in conjunction with a cell from Ingushetia, but not Chechnya.
It is now believed in Moscow that members of an Islamic fundamentalist group from Karachayevo-Cherkessia (Circassia), another North Caucasian republic, carried out two other recent terrorist attacks, claiming to be Chechen hirelings – the August 25 hijack-crash of two Russian airliners in which 90 died and the August 31 bomb attack outside a Moscow metro station, which killed 10.
De-russifying government has not helped
Ethnic Russians in today’s Chechnya are the most despised members of the population, shunned socially and economically as pariahs. The Kremlin therefore appointed Chechens to all levels of government in an attempt to achieve a properly-functioning indigenous component of Russian statehood. In actual fact, no department carries out its appointed tasks; nor do any of them obey the Kremlin. All they do is provide a screen behind which real power has reverted to the old ruling structure of Chechen tapes (clans, or kinship groups), dominated by Russian-hating crime barons. This situation is analogous to the pre-1994 period when Chechnya got away with three years of independence from Russia, its laws and its tax collectors.
Since the Kremlin favorite, Alu Alkhanov, was elected president last month – amid charges of vote rigging – to fill the gap created by the assassination last May of Akhmad Kadyrov, Russian army troops have been pushed out of Chechen cities and villages and ordered to defer to the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs and seek its participation for any military action in the republic.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror experts, this directive puts paid to any prospect of efficient military action anywhere. It accounts for the unopposed re-establishment of a network of terrorist bases across Chechnya. Indeed, half of these terrorist centers operate under the protection of the same Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs and the responsible regional military offices, which too are fully manned by Chechens.
How does this paradoxical arrangement work?
Simple. Every Chechen clan member in government service makes sure of collaborating with separatist leader Maskhadov and warlord Basayev. Official government departments also take care to maintain connections in circles close to the two insurgent chiefs. With every Chechen functionary keeping a foot in both camps, no systematic military action is possible to put down the constant terrorist attacks that are directed against Moscow but make the people wretched – very much as they do in Iraq and Palestinian-controlled areas. There is no one in Grozny to fight the terrorists. The only real combat seen in Chechnya these days are the feuds that break out among the clans.