One of the leaders of Chechen guerrillas, Russia ’s most wanted terrorist Shamil Basayev, has been killed. Basayev and several other terrorists were killed in the Ingushetia republic at night of July 10, the director of Russia ’s Federal Security Service, Nikolai Patrushev, said in his official report to President Vladimir Putin.
According to Patrushev, the Chechen guerrillas were preparing a terrorist act in the republic of Ingushetia. The FSB director emphasized that the bandits were going to use the terrorist act to put pressure on the Russian government during the G8 summit in St.Petersburg, Interfax reports.
Patrushev said that the special operation to destroy Basayev became possible owing to the efficient preparatory base that had been created in the countries where Chechen terrorists were getting weapons from, Pravda.ru reported yesterday.
While the circumstances have not been confirmed, one thing is certain: Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the event as justification -- and for bragging rights -- for his policy in the Caucasus.
Chechnya has been a thorn in Moscow 's side for more than a decade. With the recent installations of the pro-Russian administration of President Alu Alkhanov and Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya, the republic has essentially come under Russian control. The insurgents' campaign has continued, but for the most part has moved to neighboring republics, like Dagestan and Ingushetia.
Basayev was behind some of the biggest attacks on Russia during the post-Soviet Chechen conflict, such as the attacks in Beslan, Nalchik, a Moscow theater and the simultaneous bombing of two airplanes. He also had ties to Arab jihadists who came to the North Caucasus to participate in the Chechen insurgency. Basayev was an insurgent commander in the second Chechen war, gaining more authority since the 2005 killing of militant leader Aslan Maskhadov. Basayev was probably one of the few remaining significant military strategists of the insurgency, and his death will affect the movement until a replacement can be found.
The timing of this event could not have been better for Russia. With the Group of Eight (G-8) summit coming up in St. Petersburg on July 15, Putin can present Basayev's death as a great step toward pacifying the conflicted region. Moscow will take the opportunity to flaunt its success to Washington while pointing out that Basayev's death was achieved without outside support. Russia 's success in killing Basayev is of a similar magnitude as the U.S. strike against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, adding to Putin's confidence as he goes into the G-8 meeting.
Putin will reap benefits at home as well. His success will bring him acclaim, and likely will attract additional support to his domestic policy decisions. With the campaign for the presidential elections in its early stages, Putin can use the additional support to shore up his choice for successor, as well as for other policy decisions.
Meanwhile, Russian special forces will continue the campaign in Chechnya on the heels of this success, taking the opportunity to conduct operations in the region while the militants are weakened due to the death of their commander. Russian forces have been conducting targeted campaigns against the leaders of the Chechen insurgency. Russia has approximately 70,000 to 80,000 troops stationed in the region according to the most recent estimate (from November 2005). Moscow had already shifted from using regular troops to special forces and specialized mountain troops, so its mode of operations and military alignment will likely remain unchanged.
The militants also will stage some attacks to demonstrate that Basayev's death has not eliminated the insurgency. The operations probably will take place in Ingushetia, Dagestan or another part of the North Caucasus, but without Basayev, the militants will not be likely to pull off another large operation -- such as the Beslan school raid -- for a long time.
Basayev's elimination will affect the Chechen insurgency in the same way the killing of several al Qaeda leaders on the Arabian Peninsula affected the jihadist movement in Saudi Arabia. The early leaders of the jihadist network's operations in Saudi Arabia -- those who had skills and knew what they were doing -- successfully carried out attacks in Riyadh, Jeddah and other locations. As the Saudi security forces killed them off, less-experienced commanders have taken over, resulting in fewer successful attacks.
Russian successes in Chechnya, including the systematic elimination of rebel leaders, have forced Chechen rebels to take their fight against the Russians to other theaters, especially Dagestan and Ingushetia. Some Chechen fighters have left the region entirely, going to Western Europe, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet, Basayev was an effective commander whose death will deal a significant blow to the Chechen insurgency, Stratfor.org says.
Although the insurgents are not about to give up a fight they have waged for generations, it will take time to replace Basayev. Given the constant Russian pressure, they might not have that kind of time.
Doku Umarov, likely to take the most prominent role among the separatists after Basayev's death, has shown indications of being more pragmatic than Basayev - though no less determined. Last month he vowed that rebels under his command would renounce attacks on civilians, but increase their attacks on Russian forces. Such a strategy could rehabilitate the rebels' image to some extent and inject new life, The Seattle Post Intelligencer reports.
Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow Carnegie Centre thinktank said it was important to distinguish between the way the elimination of Basayev will be presented and what it actually means for Russia and Chechnya.
“In terms of propaganda, the death of Basayev will be used as another factor boosting the position of Russia’s leaders and an example of their ability to carry out promises even if they are long term.”
But she warned that Basayev’s death did not resolve the problems which had produced him in the first place and led to radicalisation of young and disenfranchised men in Chechnya and the northern Caucasus, The Financial Times reports.
Moscow will hope that the rebels will now lose cohesion because no other commander can impose his authority on what is a clan-based rebellion.
But others caution that the Chechen separatist movement is hydra-like in its ability to survive the death of individual leaders, much as the Iraqi rebellion has continued despite the killing of local al-Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, The Scotsman reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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