Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya's President Isolated by Warlords




Over the past few days, many of the warlords who supported Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov during the republic's 22-month independence war have publicly united against him, forming an armed alliance calling for his ouster.


But though Maskhadov is now weakened and central authority in Chechnya all but nonexistent, analysts predict that the standoff is unlikely to lead to a full-scale war.


Maskhadov's influence has been declining steadily since January 1997 when he was hailed as the hero of the war against Russia and elected president with an overwhelming majority.


But his inability to deliver prosperity or win international recognition for the regime have undermined his authority and past allies have deserted him.


Crack field commanders Shamil Basayev, Salman Raduyev and Khunkar Israpilov, all Maskhadov's trusted allies during the war and early days of independence, have turned against him, sometimes violently.


Since Tuesday, they have raised tension to new heights by establishing an armed camp of war veterans in the capital of Grozny to demand Maskhadov's resignation. The field commanders accuse the president of breaking the republic's constitution and selling out to Russia, claims now being investigated by Chechnya's parliament.


In an apparent concession Thursday, Maskhadov fired his entire government and even said that some of the former ministers will be investigated for corruption.


But the Chechen Constitution does not provide for impeaching the president, and Maskhadov is likely to defy calls for his ouster.


"The power is on our side, and whatever they do, Maskhadov will respond even more rigidly," said Vakha Khasanov, Maskhadov's ambassador to Russia, in a telephone interview Friday.


Nikolai Petrov, regional expert with the Carnegie Moscow Center, agreed that Maskhadov is too authoritative a figure to be pressured into resignation.


And despite the posturing in Grozny, Petrov said, it is unlikely Maskhadov will be ousted by force. If they use force, Maskhadov's opponents would risk a wave of vendetta killings by relatives of any victims.


Maskhadov has made it clear he will not go without a fight. He has held an inspection of his remaining loyal troops only a few dozen meters away from the opposition's camp.While Maskhadov is likely to remain as a figurehead with a sphere of influence in Grozny, the presence of armed opposition in his stronghold has removed the last illusion that Maskhadov has any real authority over the entire republic.


It is Raduyev and Basayev, who reign and rule in their strongholds of Vedeno and Gudermes, despite Maskhadov's claims to rule Chechnya, said Petrov.


Maskhadov, who has few troops of his own, has repeatedly tried to create a system of checks and balances by inviting the most influential field commanders to his government.


Both Basayev, who also ran for president in 1997, Raduyev and Israpilov were given key posts in Maskhadov's government but subsequently left it.


Whatever new government Maskhadov forms, he will again have to seek the support of the most powerful field commanders.


He will also have to press for more aid from Russia. The Kremlin is widely believed to perceive Maskhadov as the most cooperative of Chechen politicians.


Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov said at a news conference Friday that Russia should support "humble but constructive steps by Maskhadov" as well as "fulfill its obligations before Chechnya."


Maskhadov's moderate image could encourage the Kremlin to resume aid to Chechnya in the hope that it will not formally secede, said Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the Center for Caucasian Studies.


If Russia's newly formed government does not provide funds for the impoverished republic, cross-border cattle rustling and kidnapping, often sponsored by rebel field commanders, will only get worse.


Without Kremlin help, Maskhadov will sooner or later be swept from his post by his hungry compatriots, and this could send the ethnically fractured northern Caucasus into chaos, said Charles Blandy of the Sandhurst Military Academy's Conflict Studies Research Centre in Britain.