Staunton, September 20 – Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen nationalist leader in emigration, said yesterday that the shadowy Islamist Caucasus Emirate and its head Doku Umarov are “a product of the Russian special services,” which are used by Moscow for its own purposes rather than reflecting the aspirations of the people of Chechnya.
“In order to understand this,” Zakayev said, “it is sufficient to trace the history of the North Caucasus for the last 20 years. Such Islamist structures appeared as soon as Russia had need of them,” and both the Emirate and Umarov will disappear “when Russia ceases to have need of them” (skfonews.ru/news/1779).
The Chechen leader provided no specific evidence for his charges, relying instead on what could be no more than a continuing string of coincidences. But by making this suggestion now, he positions himself to challenge Russian suggestions that he and his associates are terrorists and to undercut Moscow’s image of itself as a leader of the counter-terrorist effort.
Zakayev, a leader of the Chechen movement in the 1990s, was in Poland for the World Congress of the Chechen People. When he arrived, he was arrested by the Poles on an Interpol warrant based on Russian charges that he was involved in terrorism. A Polish court then released him, and he has returned to London to get a new Polish visa in order to return for a hearing.
The relations between radical groups in the Caucasus and the Russian security services have a long and complicated history. Many of the radicals, such as Shamil Basayev, earlier served in Russian agencies, and many commentators have suggested that at least some of them continue to operate under Russian control.
Sometimes, as with Zakayev’s charges, these suggestions are self-serving whether they are true or not: If it is the case that Moscow is behind this or that radical movement such as the Emirate or if at least some accept those charges as true, then it follows that the Chechen national movement itself is not guilty of many of the things Moscow says it is.
But what makes Zakayev’s suggestion special is that he is making this charge not about links between Moscow and the national movements in the North Caucasus but rather about ties between the Russian special services and an Islamist group, charges that if accepted would discredit Moscow’s presentation of itself as an ally of the West in the war against terrorism.
Zakayev’s statement came at the end of a three-day Chechen conference near Warsaw at which, according to Kavkaz-Uzel.ru, its participants acknowledged that “in recent times, the world has practically forgotten about the Chechen problem.” By both his appearance and his charges, Zakayev was trying to change that (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/174407/).
Deni Teps, the president of the World Congress of the Chechen People, told the assembly that “the conflict [in Chechnya] not only has not ceased but it is spreading and now covers the entire territory of the Caucasus. And the so-called struggle with Islamist extremist has led to war between Christian countries” and Muslim ones, a very dangerous development.
The meeting called on the United Nations to convene “an international tribunal on Chechnya and on the European Union and council of Europe to organize a conference on the situation in the [Chechen] republic together with representatives of Russia,” Kavkaz-Uzel.ru reported, citing a Radio Liberty report.
Neither is likely to take this step: Russian opposition to anything that recalls the Chechen national struggle is too strong and Moscow’s influence too great. But Zakayev’s comments and the meeting in Poland show that the Chechen cause has not disappeared as Moscow claims and that the nature of the Islamist movement there may be different than Moscow suggests.