All change in Chechnya

Chechnya’s former Defense Minister, Magomed Khambiyev, surrendered to Russian forces last weekend. He was one of the closest allies of seperatist leader, Aslan Maskhadov. He has now been followed by the surrender of another of Maskhadov’s associates, “Colonel” Boris Aidamirov. Rumours are now flying that Maskhadov himself maybe about to turn himself in

“I think it’s 70 percent possible that within a week or two Maskhadov will surrender,” Ramzan Kadyrov, who heads the security service for his father, pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, said on local television Monday.

But a Maskhadov spokesman called the suggestion “absurd.”

“It is absolutely out of the question and is pure and simple propaganda on the part of Kadyrov and his team.”

I’m not sure how much credence I give to the rumour, but there are some real signs that Maskhadov’s position is becoming untenable. According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, he faces becoming marginalised within the Chechen rebel movement by its radical Islamic wing, which includes Shamil Basayev, the man who claims responsibility for the 2002 Moscow Theater raid that left over a hundred dead.

Chechen political analyst Edilbek Khasmagomadov agreed, calling the detention of Khambiev “a very heavy blow from which he [Maskhadov] can hardly recover. His position has obviously weakened. I think that either the arrest or the death of the [Chechen] president is not far off.”

Nadirsolt Elsunkayev, who headed Maskhadov’s security service in 1996-97 said that the rebel Chechen leader had few remaining military forces.“A few people in Maskhadov’s personal guard and a dozen or more supporters of Arsanov and Munayev do not comprise a significant force,” he said.

Maskhadov may have decided that he would rather co-operate with Russia than face what would most likely be an extremely painful death were he to be captured by his Chechen opponents.

It would also be in Russia’s interests to persuade him to surrender and rehabilitate him. The current Russian backed Chechen president, Akhmad Kadyrov, doesn’t seem to have much support among the general public. Maskhadov has always been a relatively moderate Chechen leader, and is certainly no supporter of the radical Islam that seems to be taking over the Chechen opposition.

Could Russia have decided that a regime supported by, or perhaps even headed by, Maskhadov would have greater public legitimacy and be better able to combat the Chechen terrorist threat than its current puppet regime?

I’m not so sure this isn’t a wild flight of fancy on my part. Moscow has spent the last four years demonising Maskhadov and blaming him for every terrorist attack on Russian soil. But, still, this is Russia. Stranger things have happened…

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