Veteran rebel gives Russia a Caucasian nightmare

RUSSIA'S NIGHTMARE of another war in the north Caucasus is unfolding anew, spirited into life by a hated ghost from the past - the Islamic radical, hijacker, mass hostage-taker and feted Chechen commander, Shamil Basayev.

Once again, the scarred, heavily-bearded features of Russia's chief tormentor are dominating the airwaves as Moscow dispatches fresh troops and weapons to try to blast him and his Islamic fighters out the mountains of Dagestan.

Basayev, 33, and a Jordanian Islamic militant called Khattab have emerged as the leaders of a force of Wahhabi guerrillas who have seized control of at least seven villages in the southern Russian republic, producing the most dangerous flare-up in the Caucasus tinderbox since the end of the Chechen war.

Yesterday Russia's new prime-minister designate, Vladimir Putin, raised the stakes sharply by threatening to bomb guerrilla bases within neighbouring Chechnya, a move that would risk widening the conflict. "Chechnya is a Russian territory and wherever the fighters are, strikes will be carried out against them," Mr Putin declared."

A week of air strikes by Russian jets and helicopters have been accompanied by a gust of threats, counter-threats, posturing and mendacious statistics from both sides. The Russians claim to have killed 200 guerrillas; Basayev's forces admit to only five losses. He also says his army has been so swamped with volunteers that it has changed its name - absurdly - to the Islamic Peacekeeping Army.

The events bears a depressingly similarity to those of of the Chechen war. Once again refugees - some 6,000, says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - are fleeing their homes. Once again Basayev has ranted about his ambition of driving the Russian "infidels" from the Caucasus, leaving him and his fighters to establish an independent Islamic state.

And once again Russia is talking about a "massive action" to oust a small group of guerrillas. Yesterday, Mr Putin said that a major operation had already begun against the rebels, who are in Dagestan's Botlikh district close to Chechnya. Like the Chechen army during the war, the guerrillas have the crucial advantage of being highly mobile, well trained, and familiar with the terrain. But Russia is caught between a rock and a hard place. With parliamentary elections looming in December, and the presidential poll next year, it will want to be seen to be cracking down on Islamic militancy. Fears also abound in Moscow that Basayev's army - which Russia estimates at 1,200 - will sufficiently destabilise Dagestan to cause the fall of the republic's Moscow-backed government. The presence of some 30 different nationalities in the republic, many in conflict with one another, could easily trigger a localised civil war, causing another part of the Russian federation to slip beyond Moscow's control.

In another painful echo of the past, Mr Putin has pledged to defeat the guerrillas within a fortnight - a claim as wildly unrealistic as those made at the start of the Chechen war in 1994. Russia's former defence minister, Pavel Grachev,predicted the conflict would be over in a few days; it lasted 21 months, and claimed tens of thousands of lives.

For once, Boris Yeltsin appears to more realistic than those around him. He has said the issue will be resolved "gradually, with no hurry." For all the flourishing and rhetoric in Moscow, Mr Yeltsin and his inner circle must surely know that this is a conflict that Russia can, at best, hope to contain as a small fire on the border.

The involvement of the flamboyant and uncompromising Basayev has done much to raise the stand-off above the level of the countless skirmishes that regularly occur in the border zone.

He rose to notoriety in November 1991, after the Russians had declared a state of emergency in Chechnya, when he hijacked an aeroplane in southern Russia, forced it to land in Turkey, and negotiated safe passage home. He went on to become one of the Chechen republic's main war commanders. In 1996, he ran for the Chechen presidency, but lost. After a brief stint as prime minister, Basayev returned to his fighter's uniform, this time espousing the causes of Islam and independence for the whole north Caucasus as never before. His pursuit of that goal is now under way.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape