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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March, 2005, 20:49 GMT
Analysis: Chechnya after Maskhadov
By Steven Eke
BBC Russian affairs analyst

Aslan Maskhadov
Aslan Maskhadov has kept up the rebel resistance

Aslan Maskhadov was elected president of Chechnya in 1997 after a campaign internationally recognised as legitimate. He was later vilified by Russia as a terrorist leader.

He evaded capture or killing by Russian forces for many years, spending most of his time in hiding in Chechnya.

But, given the huge Russian security presence in the troubled republic, and the $10m bounty on his head, it was inevitable that he would one day be caught.

Mr Maskhadov's real influence in Chechnya has always been debated.

And it is likely that his demise will reveal whether he had any restraining influence on the more radical elements in the Chechen resistance.

Peace talks rejected

When reporting the news of the death of Aslan Maskhadov to a stony-faced President Putin, Russia's security chief said his forces had destroyed "an international terrorist and bandit ringleader".


Unflattering terms, reflective of the demonisation of Aslan Maskhadov that had become a central plank of the Russian propaganda battle against the Chechen resistance.

Although there were exploratory talks between envoys of the Russian government and Mr Maskhadov early in Vladimir Putin's presidency, Moscow afterwards rejected the idea of negotiations with Mr Maskhadov.

The Kremlin pointed to his inability to impose law and order on Chechnya after his election, then what it said was his cowardice in failing to stand up to radical Islamists.

Russian officials have often reminded the world that sharia courts were introduced during Mr Maskhadov's rule.

'Fractious' resistance

From his holed-up position in internal exile, Aslan Maskhadov continued to call himself the president of Chechnya.

He issued rulings, warnings and, most recently, a ceasefire declaration. But his real political and physical control over the armed rebel formations was unknown.

He was clearly more moderate than the field commanders who adhere to the radical Wahhabi sect of Islam, most notably Shamil Basayev, the leader of some of the most violent attacks on Russian civilians.

The resistance will continue, no doubt about it
Akhmed Zakayev
Chechen spokesman

But the Chechen resistance is divided and fractious. And while its members still possess a large amount of weaponry, support for them among the wider Chechen population appears to have seriously waned.

Mr Maskhadov's envoy in London, Akhmed Zakayev, has pledged that the fight for independence will continue.

But there are no immediately identifiable figureheads to replace Mr Maskhadov.

And even Mr Zakayev acknowledges that radical individuals like Shamil Basayev are completely unacceptable as an international symbol of potential, future Chechen statehood.

For President Putin, the news of Aslan Maskhadov's death will come as vindication of a policy that has often appeared cruel, ineffective and counter-productive.

After Beslan, which dealt a heavy blow to his public self-confidence, he may feel that his long-promised "normalisation" of Chechnya is, actually, a reality.

But there will also be concern, in the West and in Russia, that Mr Maskhadov's death could spark off further destabilisation, radicalisation and a new spiral of violence.

Should that happen, it will further reduce the likelihood of Mr Maskhadov's dream - an independent Chechnya - ever becoming a reality.

See the latest reports on his alleged shooting

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