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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Boon for Radicals and Hawks

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The death of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov buried whatever hope for peace had been left after years of violence in this republic. Even with Maskhadov alive, these hopes were slim, given his limited control over large factions of the rebels' forces and the Kremlin's distaste for any negotiations.

This career Soviet army officer, however, was the only moderate rebel leader who could have been reasoned with. Maskhadov not only had voiced his readiness for negotiations, but also had recently demonstrated his ability to enforce a cease-fire. He had condemned terrorism, though the Kremlin had dismissed his condemnations as a propaganda ploy and sought to link him to every major terrorist attack. Having won the only more or less fair election in the history of Chechnya, Maskhadov had a certain legitimacy and was a symbol for all proponents of an independent secular Chechen state.

With his departure, quite different individuals with quite different goals are coming to dominate the resistance movement and to symbolize it.

These are the militant Islamists, who have ties to international terror network and a proclaimed goal of establishing a caliphate, not just in Chechnya but in the entire North Caucasus. They are led by the most powerful and most odious of Chechen warlords -- Shamil Basayev.

And Basayev is not inclined to offer peace talks or cease-fires. Moreover, he is prepared to order horrendous terrorist acts if this is what it takes to achieve the militant Islamists' goals. Basayev has assumed responsibility for a number of horrendous terrorist attacks, including hostage-taking raids and the downing of airliners by suicide bombers. For him and his allies, all means are permissible in fighting their holy war. It is under the banner of this war that Basayev and his allies have been mobilizing young men and women in Chechnya and across the North Caucasus.

The killing of Maskhadov serves the interests of those who oppose any political settlement, those in the so-called party of war. But as Russia has failed to defeat separatists fighting a conventional guerrilla war in Chechnya, there is little hope it can defeat the networks that are taking root across the North Caucasus and have members prepared for suicide missions.

The killing of Maskhadov was a gross error. Rather than engaging the moderates to sideline the implacable radicals, a decision was made to destroy the moderates, thus shifting the balance in favor of the radicals.

It is still to be seen what bloody price these newly empowered radicals will force Russia to pay for this error.