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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 July 2006, 01:03 GMT 02:03 UK
Rebels' dilemma after Basayev death
After the death of Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev in an apparent Russian attack, a look at how Chechnya's conflict may develop.

Basayev's death leaves a gap in Chechnya which no other living rebel figure could fill.

Shamil Basayev (1999 file pic)
Basayev's face is for many the face of the Chechen conflict
Most Russians would not want to see that gap filled in their worst nightmares, associating him forever with the dead children of Beslan.

In the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his violent death was "deserved retribution" for the school attack.

Izvestia newspaper writes that his "triumphant face" was to most Russians the terrifying symbol of a bloody era.

"There is simply no justification for what happened in the school and I know that Shamil Basayev regretted it in his heart and soul," says Akhmad Zakayev, foreign minister in the Chechen rebels' unrecognised government.

In Chechnya, the flames are dying down and it is just going to be a pit of hot ashes but, already, the rest of the North Caucasus is on fire
Mark Galeotti
security analyst
"Yet I do not believe that history will remember Shamil Basayev primarily for Beslan, but for his 15-year fight against Russian occupation."

Separatists particularly prefer to remember Basayev as the man who recaptured the capital, Grozny, from under Moscow's nose in August 1996.

Shaken by the sheer audacity and skill of that assault, Russia withdrew from Chechnya within months.

The question now is: could the rebels recapture it today?

A decade on, things look very different - not least the state of Russia's security forces.

Training and tip-offs

"They are definitely getting more of a grip on fighting the rebels," says Mark Galeotti, an expert on security issues in Russia at the UK's Keele University.

DEAD REBELS
LEADERS
Dzhokhar Dudayev (1991-1996): Ex-Soviet air force officer, killed by a missile homing in on his telephone
Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev (1996-1997): Radical poet and ex-Chechen president, killed by Russian agents in Qatar in 2004
Aslan Maskhadov (1997-2005): Ex-Soviet artillery officer elected president in 1997, killed by Russian special forces
Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev (2005-2006): Radical cleric
KEY WARLORDS
Salman Raduyev: Died of internal bleeding in 2002, in a Russian jail
Khattab: Killed by a poisoned letter, 2002
Ruslan Gelayev: Killed in 2004 by border guards in Dagestan
Shamil Basayev: Killed in Ingushetia in 2006, rebel vice-president at time of death

He believes the rebels have been in decline since the death of their President, Aslan Maskhadov, in a Russian attack in March 2005.

"Security forces get most of their breaks through informants and, as the morale and the logistics within the rebel movement collapse, more of them emerge," he says.

Anatoly Tsyganok, an analyst at Moscow's IPVA defence think-tank, says that terror attacks in Russia have gone down in recent years, partly thanks to the security forces' work.

"The special forces really have become better trained and more professional in recent years," he says.

"There may not be much new money coming in but the level of corruption within the forces has fallen or, at any rate, there have been no recent major cases of blunders or major leaks of information to criminals."

He believes that Russia's special services killed both Basayev and Maskhadov, and Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev, Maskhadov's successor, though he thinks it was a failing not to have captured them and put them on trial.

Dangerous allies

Dr Galeotti says that Moscow's successes against the rebels are due in part to paramilitaries loyal to Chechnya's pro-Moscow Prime Minister, Ramzan Kadyrov.

"Increasingly you see rebels accepting government amnesties and these ex-guerrillas tend to get co-opted into the security forces," he says.

"And they're the ones who know the hideouts and the terrain."

Dr Galeotti adds, however, that it is no secret that the methods of the "Kadyrovtsy" are brutal and, in the long term, risk alienating the ordinary Chechen.

Anatoly Tsyganok suspects that "a certain percentage of Kadyrov's Guard is made up of fighters who took part in terror attacks".

"My fear is that by giving large quantities of weapons to the former fighters who make up most of Kadyrov's Guard, Russia is creating future problems for itself."

War of attrition

Akhmad Zakayev, who now lives in exile as a fugitive from Russian justice, does not accept that Russia's special forces killed Basayev and Saydullayev although he says they tracked Maskhadov through a mobile phone.

If we keep looking back, the bloodshed will not end in the North Caucasus
Akhmad Zakayev
Chechen rebel foreign minister

Chechen "partisans", he argues, are still fighting their war for independence and he blames a Russian media blockade for giving the impression the conflict has quietened down.

Big operations like Grozny August 1996 now make no sense, he says, because Vladimir Putin's Kremlin would not negotiate.

The Russian government's official position is that it does not negotiate with terrorists.

"Today's Russian president wants most of all to maintain the status quo and is not moved by bloodshed," he says.

"Our tactic today is to wear out our opponent by delivering painful strikes to his communications and his positions."

Akhmad Zakayev says that Basayev's death is "a serious loss" to the separatists' cause but the rebels "have people who can replace him".

The separatists' current president, Doku Umarov, will shortly appoint a new overall military commander to replace Basayev, he adds.

Divided camp

As for Mr Umarov himself, Akhmad Zakayev considers him a "good leader... who controls the situation in Chechnya 100%".

According to Mark Galeotti, Doku Umarov is a "relatively competent, middle-level guerrilla commander".

"He knows how to sort an ambush and arrange a raid but we are talking about the B-list here," he says.

In Dr Galeotti's view, the rebel leader just does not have a "credible vision" to unite the rebel movement which, he says, has seen a "process of fragmentation" since the death of Aslan Maskhadov.

"Since Maskhadov went, the rebels have not had a serious single political leader," he says.

"The rebel movement has been increasingly taken over by Islamic extremists. From the ordinary Chechen's point of view, you may hate the Russians and despise the pro-Moscow government as puppets.

"But increasingly, the rebels are not even ethnic Chechens, so that from the ordinary Chechen's point of view these Islamic extremists are just another bunch of invaders using Chechnya as their own battleground."

'Cinder pit'

Anatoly Tsyganok does not share the view that the rebels are a spent force but predicts they will regroup.

"It will take two to three months to restore communications disrupted by Basayev's death between foreign sponsors of terrorism in Russia and those involved directly in carrying it out," he says.

Russia, Mr Tsyganok argues, will remain in Chechnya because a majority of Chechens genuinely want it to be there but there will be the risk of new attacks launched, perhaps, by new rebel leaders seeking to boost their prestige.

Akhmad Zakayev is calling for a new peace effort to end Chechnya's conflict, which he says is unwinnable by force.

His peace manifesto, he says, was prepared before Basayev's death and it appears to be aimed at attracting the attention of the G8 summiteers coming to Russia this week.

"Sooner or later, Chechens and Russians will have to negotiate and sort out their relations - if we keep looking back, the bloodshed will not end in the North Caucasus," the Chechen separatists' foreign minister says

"The sooner we do it, the fewer victims there will be of this pointless war."

If the war is not stopped, he argues, it will only spread to other parts of the North Caucasus.

Mark Galeotti predicts that, with the rebel movement splintered, future Chechen attacks will be on a much smaller scale and Russia's security focus will move elsewhere.

"In a way, the conflict has already moved out to other adjacent regions like Ingushetia and Dagestan," he says.

"In Chechnya, the flames are dying down and it is just going to be a pit of hot ashes but, already, the rest of the North Caucasus is on fire.

"There is a whole variety of different gangs in the other regions and it is these groups that are now going to be important."




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