Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Dudayev Backer to Replace Moscow’s Man in Russia’s Federation Council

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 28 – Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov reportedly plans to name to the upper house of the Russian parliament a Syrian national who worked for Dzhokhar Dudayev and Aslan Maskhadov against Moscow in place of one of the last Chechen officials who fought on Moscow’s side against the independence movement.
In so doing, Kadyrov is demonstrating that he has “won” the battle with the federal center and achieved greater freedom of action than Dudayev or Maskhadov ever had, FLB commentator Valter Esken says, even though this “epochal” development is being treated with “shameful silence” by most Russian news outlets (www.flb.ru/info/45042.html).
And Kadyrov has certainly increased the likelihood that some of the Chechens who fought for independence in the 1990s but who now live abroad might return, especially since a few of them have already expressed the view that Kadyrov has achieved de facto independence and thus may have put that republic on the road to de jure independence in the future.
Chechnya’s current representative in the Russian Federation Council is Musa Umarov, who had served as deputy minister of internal affairs in the pro-Moscow Chechen government at the time of the first post-Soviet Chechen war and who has been vied as one of the most important of the dwindling number of “federal Chechens” in Grozny.
Now, according to the FLB portal, Kadyrov plans to name in his place Ziyad Sabsabi, a Syrian national, who worked in Dudayev’s foreign ministry and for Maskhadov as well. What makes this change “most interesting,” Esken observes, is that Sabsabi was “recommended” by leadership of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.
What coverage there has been in the Russian media about Sabsabi, Esken continues, has focused on his “possible” descent from the Prophet Mohammed, “although what relationship this has to membership in the upper house of the highest organ of legislative power of the Russian Federation is not at all clear.”
Or these stories have discussed the fact that the senator-to-be received Russian citizenship relatively recently and under somewhat mysterious circumstances and has not, in any case, given up his Syrian citizenship. But it would be a good idea, Esken says, for people to examine the biography of this man more carefully.
Sabsabi was born in 1964 in Aleppo, Syria, graduated from the university in Damascus and the journalism faculty of Leningrad State University. Then, in 1989, he went to Chechnya where two years later he received citizenship in the Russian Federation at precisely the time he was working for the independence of the Republic of Chechnya-Ichkeria.
From 1991 to 1994, he served as a department head in Dudayev’s foreign ministry. They he worked as a private entrepreneur, before becoming in 1997 an advisor on foreign affairs to mufti Akhmad Kadyrov, the father of the current Chechen president and a man who went from declaring a jihad against Russia to cooperating with it.
Esken offers one additional and very intriguing detail about Sabsabi, who he says is otherwise quite typical of the kind of people Ramzan Kadyrov has chosen to appoint: In a recent interview, the senator presumptive has said that he plans to use his position to promote Chechnya’s ties and trade with the Arab world.
“It is not known,” the FLB commentator says, “whether Ziyad Sabsabi knows that the upper house of the Russian parliament is involved in the first instance [not with the promotion of the foreign ties of this or that portion of the Russian Federation but rather] with legislative work.”
In his comment, Esken also points out that “many of the ‘federal Chechens’ after being removed from office have not lived long” including among others, Movladi Baysarov, the former FSB detachment head, and Ruslan Yamadayev, a former deputy, implicitly suggesting that Musa Umarov may have reason to worry as well.
But there is one aspect of Sabsabi’s biography that Esken does not explore but that could explain everything, in particular the endorsement he has received from the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party. It is quite possible that Sabsabi may have been recruited by the KGB when he was a student in St. Petersburg and has continued to work for its Russian successors.
And if that is the case – and there is no proof, of course -- then given that current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was in the northern capital at that time and worked with foreign students there, it might then be the case that appearance notwithstanding Sabsabi has always been working for Moscow and that his current promotion is a reward for precisely that.

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