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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE GREAT GAME: Basayev Aims At Unification With Dagestan




It is frustrating watching Chechnya from afar. I do not know what is at the bottom of Shamil Basayev's resignation as prime minister after only six months. He may be fed up or irked by his own ineffectiveness. But I suspect one reason is that he sees more urgent business in need of his talents.


Basayev says he will now concentrate on leading the "peacekeeping forces" of the Congress of the Peoples of Chechnya and Dagestan, which he heads. I would trust his judgement -- it is usually spot on. This is the development to watch over the next months -- it is where the greatest danger lies for all concerned.


The aim of the congress is to unite Chechnya and Dagestan, which is another way of saying "drawing Dagestan away from Russia's jurisdiction." The drift, I think, is to win sway in Dagestan and so provide Chechnya with access to the outside world, meaning an outlet to the sea and the border with Azerbaijan.


Basayev says the peacekeepers are being formed to protect Moslems from Russian aggression. But I think the plan is more to unite Chechen and Dagestani fighters in order to achieve maximum political and military gains if and when fighting breaks out.


Basayev has always maintained that the war in Chechnya was not the end of the story and that Russia would unravel further. When I last saw him in February, he was predicting more war -- not in Chechnya, but in the North Caucasus. I think he is now preparing for that.


He has always wanted to see independence for the whole of the North Caucasus, and he is essentially a revolutionary. He is prepared to be ruthless and put his people at risk to achieve a greater goal.


But to brand him simply as a warmonger would be wrong. I think he sees it as the only way out now for Chechnya. Russia is only going to continue applying the economic thumbscrews, and Western aid and investment looks like it will never materialize.


The West has again failed the people of Chechnya. It never lifted a finger to stop the war, and when the Chechen people overwhelmingly elected the moderate Maskhadov as president, the West just walked away instead of helping him. I am convinced that a substantial international aid program urging Moscow to pay up by providing matching funds could have staved off the desperate spiral into lawlessness, most of which is driven by poverty.


There is a United Nations aid program in Mozambique that is paying stipends to every former guerrilla fighter and soldier for three years while they rebuild their houses and start to cultivate the land. Something like that could have turned Chechnya and the whole North Caucasus from a war zone into a dynamic market economy.


It might seem too late now for Chechnya, but I wish the West would step in and save Dagestan and Ingushetia from going the same way.


Instead, the Chechens and the Dagestanis are being thrown into the arms of Wahabbis -- Islamic militants who are flooding the area with money from Saudi Arabia and wooing people to break with Russia and form an Islamic state. Basayev has spoken out against them and seems to know that they do not have the best interests of his people at heart. I think he is setting himself one of his biggest challenges ever.