Russia

Chechens Said Alienated From Field Commanders

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From RFE/RL Caucasus Report, Volume 2, Number 48
Western journalists who talked with displaced civilians from Chechnya in camps in neighboring Ingushetia last month report that the fugitives are increasingly blaming the new war not just on Moscow, but also on field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab. Those two warlords were the leading force behind the Chechen incursions into Daghestan in August-September, which provided Russia with a pretext for its retaliation against Chechnya.

"The Guardian" on 25 November quoted a former government school inspector from Grozny as saying "Basaev has brought us nothing but trouble and misery. No one I know sees him as a hero any more." An unnamed villager from Gekhi similarly told the "Financial Times" that "last time 90 percent of the people in my village supported the fighters but only a few support them today." The shooting in Gekhi on 28 November by Chechen fighters of Chechen civilians who were trying to negotiate a ceasefire with a Russian commander is likely to intensify the antagonism of the civilian population.

At the same time, the Chechen displaced persons are also critical of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, whom they perceive as "very weak" and having proven unable to rein in maverick field commanders. But most Chechens still regard Maskhadov as their lawfully elected president, and therefore as the logical person with whom Moscow should conduct negotiations on halting the fighting. British analyst Anatol Lieven, writing in the "International Herald Tribune" (1 December) makes the point that "the tragedy of the Russians' ham-fisted brutality is that they might have attracted the support of most Chechens had they tried to work peacefully with Mr. Maskhadov to expel the extremist groups."

It is presumably in an effort to capitalize on many Chechens' alienation from the radical field commanders that the Russian authorities are seemingly sparing no effort to provide electricity, gas, schools, medical facilities and cash allowances to the population of villages in those areas of Chechnya controlled by Russian troops. (Liz Fuller)

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