Russia: Bounties Sow Distrust Among Chechen Rebels

3 MINS READMar 16, 2005 | 04:37 GMT
Russian security services said March 15 that they had paid a $10 million bounty for information revealing the whereabouts of moderate Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. The fact that Maskhadov died because insiders gave up his location poses a new problem for Chechen militants, who are still adjusting to new leadership and deciding their future activities; they now will have to worry about the added threat of one of their own selling them out.
Russian security forces said they paid out rewards on their $10 million bounty for information leading to the location of moderate Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. This information led to Maskhadov's death March 8 in Tolstoi-Yurt. The success of Russia's bounty system in the Maskhadov case could ignite and breed distrust among Chechen militants — a sentiment that will be detrimental to overall rebel cooperation. Aside from having to get accustomed to new leadership, Chechen militants now face the threat of potential rivals selling them out for a Russian bounty. Maskhadov's death did not change Chechen militants' rhetoric, but its effect on Chechen command and control remains to be seen. After the incident, Chechen rebels vowed to continue their fight against Moscow and named Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev the new leader of the Chechen moderates. However, Sadulayev's ability to lead the group, hold it together and confront the Russians remains in question. And now, the Chechen rebels must deal with the reaffirmation of the threat Russian bounties pose to rebel groups. The bounty system is nothing new to Russia. The government has used it on several occasions to apprehend wanted individuals. In October 1999, Gen. Gennady Troshev, commander of Russia's eastern forces in Chechnya, issued a $1 million bounty on Chechen leader Shamil Basayev. Russian officials said March 15 that the bounty on Basayev — a leading and active militant — had increased to $10 million. The successful strike against Maskhadov and the raising of Basayev's bounty suggest that bounties are becoming more effective than before. Russia's bounty system could prove to be a valuable tool for the government's fight against militant Chechens — but not necessarily for the bounties' obvious purposes of eliminating leaders. Moscow found Maskhadov — and was therefore able to kill him — because Chechen insiders found the large bounty more attractive than protecting the group's interest. The fact that Maskhadov died as a result of purchased intelligence complicates the Chechens' reorganization, because it brings into question members' trustworthiness and the leadership figures' potential to sell out. The newest question in the Chechen issue is whether — and to what extent — a Russian policy of targeted assassinations, facilitated in part by intelligence gathered by the bounty system, will be able to disrupt the Chechen leadership in the near future. For now, their main focus will be the extent to which leadership is disrupted by possible new feelings of distrust among the ranks.

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