BBC Mon.: Maskhadov interview in Kommersant, Yastr. comments (-JRL)
- Johnson's Russia List
31 January 2001
Chechen president defiant in interview with Russian paper
Source: Kommersant, Moscow, in Russian 27 Jan 01
No-one will succeed in splitting Chechens or driving me out of the country,
Chechen president has told Russian newspaper Kommersant. He said he was the
legitimately-elected leader and accused others of wanting to usurp power. He
accused Russia of being behind the recent kidnapping of US citizen Kenneth
Gluck who, he said, had compromising materials on Russian military's
"excesses" against civilians. The text of his interview, published on 27
January, follows. Subheadings have been inserted editorially.
Aslan Maskhadov was elected Chechen president on 27 January 1997.
Representatives of the current Chechen authorities, including the leader of
the Republic Akhmad Kadyrov and his deputy Bislan Gantamirov, claim that
Maskhadov's presidential term of office expires today. But Aslan Maskhadov
himself has stated in an interview with Kommersant that he was elected for
five rather than four years. Moreover, his powers are automatically extended
[Kommersant] How would you comment on the claims that your term as president
expires on 27 January this year and you will lose the status of leader of
Denies expiry of presidential term of office
[Maskhadov] Yes, the Russian media have been steadily putting about the
rumours of late that the powers of the Chechen president have allegedly
expired and that it is necessary to hold new elections in the Republic. I have
also been visited more frequently by "well-wishers" from the Russian side
proposing that I select a country to emigrate to, the route to be taken, and
even the mode of transport. Amazing! The very same thing that happened in the
last war is being repeated. Similar proposals were made to [former leader of
Chechnya Gen] Dzhokhar Dudayev. History does indeed repeat itself as farce. I
must disappoint those who believe that my term as president ends on 27 January
2001. They are at least a year ahead of themselves. If not more.
The 27 January 1997 presidential elections were held under the Chechen
Constitution, which holds that a president is elected for five years, not
four, as in Russia. That was something that all Russian politicians were aware
of at the time, but nobody back then tried to cast doubt on the legality of
the elections in Chechnya. Moreover, among the first people from whom I
received congratulations on my election as president was Boris Yeltsin.
What can I say to those who are keen on holding so-called elections for a
Chechen leader? This merely makes me smile. They "staged" elections for
[Russian-backed leader Doku] Zavgayev during the war. And what became of
that!? Nothing will come of new elections either, if people try to stage them.
They will drag the war out for another six months, but there will be no
result. After the six months the Russian politicians and military will find
themselves in an even worse position.
But even if my term of office were over, that would still change nothing. When
the war began, a State Defence Committee was set up and all powers in the
Republic were transferred to it for the duration of the hostilities. No
decision by a civilian power structure can have legal force unless ratified by
the State Defence Committee. The committee adopted a decree prohibiting the
holding of elections, referendums, or congresses until hostilities on Chechen
territory were completely halted. And this norm is in line with international
law, which forbids the staging of events which require the free expression of
citizens' will on the territory of a state that is at war. So the holding of
Chechen presidential and parliamentary elections is not possible until the war
is over, however long it lasts. That will be our answer in a year's time as
well, when the five years of the presidency do indeed expire, unless the war
is over by then. And I see no legal grounds for anyone, either abroad or
within the country, to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Chechen president
and other branches of power in the Republic.
Denies Russian claims of contacts between the warring sides
[Kommersant] Deputies from Russia's State Duma have met with Ichkerian
parliamentarians. [Russian president's] plenipotentiary representative
[Viktor] Kazantsev says that contacts are taking place between the federal
authorities and the gunmen leaders. What do you think about that?
[Maskhadov] Ever since the idea of holding such a meeting arose all the
details have been co-ordinated with me. The Chechen deputies' group had
corresponding powers to meet with their colleagues from the Russian State
Duma. I think that the Russian deputies' actions were also co-ordinated with
the Russian president. There are episodic contacts at the level of the
commanders of different subunits of the warring sides, as happens in any war.
We should not talk about direct contacts between the Republic's leaders and
the Russian side just yet, although an exchange of information is taking place
along various channels. Perhaps Kazantsev was referring to his contacts with
[Kommersant] A report appeared recently about some "third force," which is
planning to get involved in the conflict. It is a question of influential
representatives of the Chechen diaspora who want to offer their own recipe for
resolving the Chechen conflict. Are you aware of this?
Nothing will come of efforts to split Chechens
[Maskhadov] If we are talking about people who simply want to seize power in
the Republic, as Kadyrov, Gantamirov, and others are trying to do, I would
call it not a third force but a third or latest weakness on the part of those
who want to split Chechen society. Nothing will come of it. Even [19th century
Russian commander] General [Aleksey] Yermolov was unable to whip up civil war
in Chechnya, although he made every conceivable effort - employing terror,
intimidation, and bribery. Clearly, the previous history of Russo-Chechen
relations has taught these politicians nothing.
The Chechens' mentality is that they will not turn on each other under any
circumstances. Of course, there are those who would like to cause a split and
this will continue. But they are isolated examples, numbering in the dozens. I
am firmly convinced that there will be no split in Chechen society along
Afghan or Tajik lines. In any war there are only two sides opposing each
other. The third side could be those who are engaged in seeking a peaceful
resolution to the conflict as intermediaries. In that event I welcome any
efforts from whatever quarter, be they from [corresponding member of the
Russian Academy of Sciences and former speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the
Russian Federation, professor Ruslan] Khasbulatov, [Russian State Duma deputy
from Chechnya Gen Aslanbek] Aslakhanov, or others. But if they are planning to
give us an ultimatum, then they have to have a power that exceeds the might of
the Russian army, or they have to join it and sing from the same hymn-sheet as
[Russian president's spokesman on Chechnya Sergey] Yastrzhembskiy. If those
who call themselves a third force have proposals about a better state system
for Chechnya, those can only be made after the war is over.
Rumours of departure from Chechnya, injuries "greatly exaggerated"
[Kommersant] It is said that you left Chechnya to go abroad.
[Maskhadov] Those rumours were greatly exaggerated, as were the rumours about
my being wounded. If some people expect to end the war by dispatching me
abroad or liquidating me altogether, they are greatly mistaken. The war can
and must be ended solely by talks that provide the Chechen people with
international guarantees for their security. We have already experienced
everything else in the first war. It was once suggested to Dzhokhar Dudayev
that he go abroad, and then he was killed. Well then, did the war end?
Different leaders emerged, and peace had to be concluded around the
negotiating table. The same thing will have to be done now as well. Just what
sort of compromises and mutual concessions will emerge from talks will become
clear only in the course of the negotiations themselves. And nobody is
planning to emigrate or flee from here. This is our venture and the path in
life of each of us should end here, if that is Allah's will.
Prepared to help free kidnapped US man, thinks Russians behind it
[Kommersant] Do you have any information about the kidnapped American citizen
[Maskhadov] We have issued instructions through our agent network to collect
all information about the location of the American citizen and his kidnappers.
We are prepared to provide every assistance to the Medecins Sans Frontieres
humanitarian organization in the search for and return of their staffer. We
know that Kenneth Gluck had problems in his relationship with the Russian
military. They had tried to kidnap him once before. But somebody else was in
his vehicle, and that person was beaten up and subsequently released. On each
trip to Chechnya the American would bring out a large amount of documentary
evidence of the excesses perpetrated by the Russian military against the
civilian populace. According to my information, on his last trip he had
collected material that could be used during the discussions of the Chechen
question at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe session or at
other international forums. So I do not rule out the possibility that the
Russian military, who had no interest in seeing cases of the violation of the
civilian population's rights being disclosed, may have had a hand in
kidnapping the American. In that event it will be hard for us to find him.
Presidential spokesman rules out talks with "insignificant" Maskhadov
Presidential aide Sergey Yastrzhembskiy comments on Aslan Maskhadov's
statements for Kommersant:
We are perfectly well aware that the Chechen president's term of office
expires next year. But, irrespective of this, Aslan Maskhadov is for us
someone not worth talking about. We do not view him as a legitimate figure.
His legitimacy was completely destroyed by the invasion of Dagestan. Maskhadov
is insignificant as a political factor, and even more so as a military factor.
He is of no interest to us in any capacity. The question of Maskhadov's term
of office was not raised during the elaboration of any of the recent
decisions, the "Kadyrov plan" or the latest two presidential decrees on
Chechnya. If anyone is talking about the end of his presidential term, it is
the Chechens themselves. For them, clearly, this is the last nail in the
coffin of the Chechen president's political powers. The commencement of
preparations for the legislative base for elections for Chechen organs of
power has absolutely no connection with the end of his term. There can be no
negotiations with Maskhadov. The last contacts with him or, rather, with his
representatives, date back to February of last year, when he was handed our
proposals. Much less have I heard of representatives of the federal
authorities offering him help to go abroad. Admittedly, this subject is often
exploited by Kadyrov, who is offering Maskhadov 'honourable capitulation,'
proposing that he apologize to the people, end his resistance, and go to join
his son in Malaysia. I do not think things are that simple - criminal
proceedings have been instituted against Maskhadov, and in any event he would
first have to answer the questions of the Prosecutor's Office.