assessments

Russia: A Win in Chechnya, but Not Victory

4 MINS READJul 11, 2006 | 04:34 GMT
Summary
Shamil Basayev, vice president of the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and Russia's most wanted Chechen militant, was killed July 10, the head of Russia's Federal Security Service reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin has much to gain from the news, which comes just ahead of the Group of Eight summit. While the Chechen insurgency is certainly not over, the death of Basayev will strengthen Moscow's position in the region and beyond.
Russia's most wanted militant, Shamil Basayev, was reportedly killed in the North Caucasus Republic of Ingushetia on July 10, decapitated by an explosion. 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. Shamil Basayev was not only the leader of the insurgency, but also the vice president of the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. He rose to this position after the deaths of several other commanders. While there does not yet appear to be an obvious successor, the insurgency has survived the deaths of major leaders and will continue to do so. While not defeated, the Chechen insurgency has received a serious blow — and Putin is the primary beneficiary.

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