The closer the presidential elections in Chechnya set for August 29, the louder the threats become. Aslan Maskhadov has announced that he has enough troops and resources "to fight for 20 years." He has threatened to direct these resources against anyone who is elected president.
Shamil Basayev said on the Qatar television channel al-Jazeera that targets for the new strikes by the Chechen resistance will be selected exclusively in Russia.
It is logical that the key separatists are trying to create an atmosphere of total panic in Chechnya on the eve of presidential elections in a bid to paralyse the election campaigns of candidates and force the voters to shy away from the polling stations on the election day. The terrorists view Maskhadov's calls for "more casualties" as an order to disrupt peaceful life in the republic.
The other day Chechen Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov again rejected the possibility of talks with Maskhadov and Basayev. "The federal centre will hardly agree to talk with them," he said, "the more so that I do not see a subject or an objective in such talks."
The absence of a subject means that Maskhadov and Basayev do not control all, or even the bulk of bandit groups. The assassinated Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov liquidated the streamlined structures of Chechen resistance. Today, there are only a few commanders (Arab and Chechen) who are acting mostly chaotically, at their own risk.
As for the objective of the talks, which Maskhadov understands as turning Chechnya into a legally independent republic, he has missed the chance. Moscow had supported Maskhadov for a long time, including covertly, when he was president of Ichkeria. Sergei Yastrzhembsky, aide to President Vladimir Putin and his representative in the EU, said in the Washington National Press Club, "Maskhadov got the weapons he had asked to deal with Khattab and Basayev. He got an armoured car and other forms of assistance. He got the money for payments to pensioners and the public sector staff, but it never reached the people because he spent it on weapons."
Yastrzhembsky believes, and his view is shared by Alu Alkhanov, that Maskhadov turned out to be a weak leader who missed the chance history gave him. His current calls for "killing 300-400 federal servicemen daily" show that he has lost his bearings in the current situation in Chechnya.
The reception of documents for the registration of candidates end on July 14 and the final list of official candidates for the presidency will be formalised on July 25. To be registered, candidates have to collect 6,000 signatures in their support (1% of the Chechen electorate) or provide a monetary pledge of 4.5 million roubles (about $150,000). To win in the first round, one must get 50% plus one vote on the condition that the turnout will be at least 50% of the registered voters. Otherwise, a second round will be held where the candidates can win by simple majority.
So far, more than ten people have proclaimed their intention to fight for the chair; they represent different sections of the Chechen community spread across Russia. A doctor of medicine and a lawyer will vie with the general director of a joint stock company and an aide to the Chechen president, and a major Moscow businessman is ready to fight a common pensioner from the Moscow Region.
Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov, 47, stands the best chance. He is known as "Kadyrov's man" and enjoys the undivided support of the Kadyrov clan, which includes the junior son of the late president, Ramzan Kadyrov, and Taus Dzhabrailov, the influential chairman of the State Council.
In other words, Alkhanov has at least two advantages over the other candidates. The first is that he has 10,000 subordinates, including the guards of Ramzan Kadyrov that had been earlier regarded as the guard service of the president. And second, he is knownfor his complete loyalty to the policy of Akhmad Kadyrov.
"He was a genius who managed to help the people to believe in their future in a very short period," said Alkhanov. "He drew the line to the long period of suffering in the history of the Chechen people and convinced them to vote for a constitution that proclaims Chechnya as a constituent member of the Russian Federation." Alkhanov believes that Chechens accepted the policy of Kadyrov and hence "there is no need to invent a new one."
Alu Alkhanov embraced the policy of inseparable coexistence of Chechnya and Russia long before that. A graduate of the Moscow Academy of the Interior, he headed the opposition to President Dzhokhar Dudayev when the latter proclaimed the independence of Chechnya in 1991. He could not accept Dudayev's confrontation with Moscow. When Aslan Maskhadov came to power in the republic, Alkhanov left Chechnya and held a relatively modest post in the traffic police of a town in the Rostov Region from 1997 to 2000. Later he accepted a similar post in Grozny and Kadyrov appointed him interior minister in April 2003.
After his recent meeting with President Vladimir Putin, some Russian media started writing about Alkhanov as "the Kremlin's candidate." It is true that the federal centre has a benevolent attitude to him. But a candidate who is known and respected in his republic, who helped the Chechen people with humanitarian aid and his statements in times of trouble, has a fair chance of winning the presidential election in Chechnya on August 29 - even if this may come as a surprise to the Kremlin.