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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Basayev's Departure Unsettles Chechnya

Former Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev resigned Thursday from his post as deputy prime minister in Chechnya's postwar government along with a close ally, Abu Movsayev, head of the Chechen security service.


The resignations deal a serious blow to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who has struggled hard to reconcile conflicting groups and restore order in the turbulent republic. It comes at a time when he is fighting a wave of kidnappings that has raised doubts about his ability to control crime.


Maskhadov is poised to sign three important agreements on customs, banking and oil transportation with Russia, and any sign of weakness could undermine his negotiating position.


Basayev, a top military commander during the 1994 to 1996 war with Russia and one of Chechnya's most powerful figures, gave no reason for his sudden resignation, said Khamid Khatuyev, director of the government-run Chechen Press Information Agency in Grozny.


Residents of Grozny said Basayev had been largely absent from Grozny for the last two weeks and he had called his bodyguards, on temporary leave, back to duty during that time.


"Basayev handed in his resignation at 3 p.m. this afternoon along with the head of the National Security Service but refused to make any comment," Khatuyev said.


Movsayev cited "family reasons" as being behind his resignation, Interfax reported. The National Security Service is the successor to the Soviet-era Chechen KGB.


Vice President Vakha Arsanov there is a serious disagreement in the government, but after the war things have been very difficult.


"The situation with Russia is very unclear and he probably does not want the responsibility," Khatuyev added.


Maskhadov has not yet accepted the resignations nor made any comment on them, Khatuyev said. Basayev hinted several months ago that he might resign on grounds of ill health, but he remained in his post.


Only 32, Basayev was one of the first to be invited into the government by Maskhadov, the former chief of the Chechen forces and a close comrade-in-arms.


His government portfolio was broad, stretching from trade and industry issues including customs and border controls to vaguely termed "emergency issues" reflecting an important role in security and defense matters.


Basayev is best known for leading the bloody hostage-taking raid on the Russian town of Budyonnovsk in June 1995 in which 120 people died. It helped halt the fighting in Chechnya and opened the way to peace talks, making Basayev a national hero in Chechnya but a hated terrorist in Russia.


He is seen in Moscow as a radical with whom Russia is loathe to deal. But Tim Guldimann, the former head of the Grozny mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation, has suggested that Basayev is a serious political figure who could overcome his reputation as a terrorist.


His power in the country is considerable, and he commands immense loyalty among former fighters and the rural population. He came in second to Maskhadov in the presidential elections in January. On several occasions, Maskhadov has left Basayev in charge of the republic when he has traveled to Russia or abroad. It was also Basayev who organized security for more than 70 foreign observers who came to Chechnya to monitor the elections.


He has at times been outspoken in his criticism of Maskhadov and some of Maskhadov's entourage. Many of Basayev's fighters complain that Maskhadov has surrounded himself with former pro-Moscow opposition figures, the very people they fought against during the war.


But so far, Basayev has been solid in his support of the government's policies on dealing with Russia. He has warned, however, that the moment he disagrees with the government's line or feels the independence of Chechnya is being jeopardized, he will leave the government and go into opposition.


He heads his own political party and works out of the party headquarters rather than out of the central Government House.


Abu Movsayev, who led the Chechen security service under President Dzhokhar Dudayev and throughout the war, is one of Basayev's closest allies. He accompanied Basayev on the raid to Budyonnovsk and supported his election bid. His resignation, timed together with Basayev's, implies a serious split with the president.


Earlier this week Movsayev, along with other law enforcement chiefs, was reprimanded by Maskhadov for failing to contain the rise in kidnappings in Chechnya. Dozens of foreigners and ordinary Chechens have been kidnapped by armed bands left from the war. Two British aid workers were abducted in Grozny last week, and a French administrator for the aid group Doctors Without Borders was taken from neighboring Ingushetia.


Another foreigner was reported kidnapped in the region Thursday. A Slovak, Dulan Kolach, who was working as a driver for a construction firm was kidnapped by four armed men in camouflage in the Ingush capital Nazran, the Ingush Interior Ministry said.