The Chechen Questio

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The Independent Online

President Aslan Maskhadov is the man called "moderate" by Moscow when it thought it could do business with him, and whom it now calls "weak". Because, as Russia sees it, he has failed to control Islamic fundamentalists, Moscow has more or less written him off.

President Aslan Maskhadov is the man called "moderate" by Moscow when it thought it could do business with him, and whom it now calls "weak". Because, as Russia sees it, he has failed to control Islamic fundamentalists, Moscow has more or less written him off.

Mr Maskhadov, a former Soviet army officer, led resistance to the Russians in the 1994-96 war, after which he was voted president in a poll that international observers said was free and fair. Before a wave of kidnappings blighted Chechnya's image, he visited Britain and was received by Baroness Thatcher. He says Russia's failure to grant independence has undermined him and played into the hands of extremists.

 

The warlord Shamil Basayev is public enemy number one in Russia. He became notorious in 1995 after leading a raid on the Russian town of Budennovsk and taking dozens of hostages in the hospital. After the last war he tried to go into civil politics, and was Mr Maskhadov's prime minister for a time. But frustration at the lack of progress towards independence led him to take up arms again. In recent raids against Russia, he has been joined by an Arab fighter called Khattab.

 

Businessman Malik Saidullayev , a member of the Chechen diaspora in Moscow, leads the new government in exile, which is made up of deputies from an old regional parliament. Moscow, despite congratulating Mr Maskhadov on his election in 1997, now considers this the only body to have been legally elected. Chechens at home call Mr Saidullayev a traitor and say they remain loyal to Dzhokhar Dudayev.

 

Despite being dead, the legendary Dzhokhar Dudayev still probably exercises most power over Chechen minds. A former Soviet air force general, he took Boris Yeltsin's side when Chechen communist lackeys backed the abortive hardline coup in Moscow in 1991, but then he went further and tried to take Chechnya out of Russia. In the last war the Russians located him by intercepting his mobile phone calls and fired a rocket that killed him as he stood in an open field.

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