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Profile: Aslan Maskhadov
Aslan Maskhadov was a participant or observer in the following events:
In August 1996, fighting between Russian forces and Chechen separatists increases as Chechen rebels launch a successful attack on Grozny, which is by far the largest town in Chechnya. Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev had been killed in a Russian missile attack in April 1996, after which he was succeeded by Zemlikhan Yandarbiyev. Shortly after the attack on Grozny, Russian and Chechen leaders agree to a ceasefire. A further agreement on Russian troop withdrawals will be signed in November. In January 1997, Aslan Maskhadov wins presidential elections in Chechnya, and Russia recognizes his government. A formal peace treaty will be signed that May. However, the issue of independence for Chechnya will remain unresolved. [BBC, 3/12/2008] Islamist influence in the first Chechen war is minimal, and the number of foreign militants fighting in the war is small. Dudayev is said to be afraid of accepting money from terrorist sources out of fear this would demonize the rebel movement. But after Dudayev’s death and the end of the war, the Islamists will grow in power in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 4/26/2003]
In 1996, rebel forces in Chechnya outlasted the Russian army and were able to effectively achieve a de facto independence from Russia (see August 1996). Aslan Maskhadov wins presidential elections in early 1997. But in-fighting amongst the victorious Chechen forces begins, and Maskhadov struggles for control against a number of field commanders and local chieftains. In particular, one powerful Chechen warlord named Shamil Basayev quits Maskhadov’s government and joins up with Ibn Khattab, a Saudi who only recently moved to Chechnya and built up his own forces (see February 1995-1996). [Washington Post, 3/10/2000] Khattab is an Islamist who leads many foreigners fighting in Chechnya as a jihad cause. Basayev, while Chechen, trained in a militant training camp in Pakistan around 1990 and is sympathetic to Khattab’s religious cause. [BBC, 3/20/2000] The Washington Post will later comment: “Islamic extremists figured hardly at all in Chechnya’s first war for independence from Russia, from 1994 to 1996. That was clearly a nationalist movement. But when that war ended with no clear winner, Chechnya lay in ruins, presenting fertile ground for Islamic militants.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2001] Russia tries to bolster the Maskhadov government by sending it arms and funds and even training its troops. Several assassination attempts are made against him and he is saved twice by an armored limousine Russia provides him with. Kidnappings for ransom become the order of the day. Between 1997 and 1999, more than 1,000 people are kidnapped in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 3/10/2000] In June 1998, amid growing lawlessness, Maskhadov imposes a state of emergency. But this does not restore order. Radical Islamists led by Basayev and Khattab are growing more popular. In January 1999, Maskhadov gives in to pressure and declares that Sharia (strict Islamic law) will be phased in over three years. But this is not good enough for the Islamists, who announce the formation of a rival body to govern Chechnya according to Sharia immediately, and call on Maskhadov to relinquish the presidency. [BBC, 3/12/2008]
Since Chechnya achieved de facto independence from Russia in late 1996, its stability has been slowly unraveling as an Islamist faction led by Shamil Baseyev and Ibn Khattab is undermining the Chechen government led by President Aslan Maskhadov (see 1997-Early 1999). On March 5, 1999, General Gennady Shpigun, the Russian Interior Ministry representative in Chechnya, is kidnapped by masked gunmen just as he is about to board a plane to fly to Moscow from Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The Russian government is outraged, especially since Maskhadov had guaranteed Shpigun’s safety. Sergei Stepashin, who is Russian interior minister at the time of the kidnapping, will later say that the Russian government begins planning a military assault on Chechnya shortly after. Stephashin wants Russia to conquer the flat northern half of Chechnya and then launch strikes into the mountainous southern half. However, Vladimir Putin, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s intelligence agency, advocates invading all of Chechnya. By July, Stepashin has been promoted to Russian prime minister, and he says that in a Kremlin Security Council meeting that month: “we all came to the conclusion that there was a huge hole on our border which won’t be closed if we don’t [advance] to the Terek [a river dividing the flat northern part of Chechnya from the mountainous southern part]. It was a purely military decision.” Stepashin is dismissed as prime minister in early August and replaced by Putin (see August 9, 1999). Chechen raids into the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan in August (see August 7-8, 1999) and a series of mysterious bombings in Moscow in September (see September 13, 1999, September 9, 1999, and September 22-24, 1999) provide the excuses for Russia to attack Chechnya later in September (see September 29, 1999). But Stepashin will later say: “We were planning to reach the Terek River in August or September. So this was going to happen, even if there had been no explosions in Moscow. I was working actively on tightening borders with Chechnya, preparing for an active offensive.” [Washington Post, 3/10/2000]
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