Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov may be dead, but his principal envoy in the west, Akhmed Zakayev has wasted little time in announcing that they will soon have a new leader.
Zakayev says he will be named “within days”, and denied Russian President Putin’s claim that it was a “death blow” to resistance to Russian rule. He added he would be “much more dangerous to the Kremlin dead than alive, when he was calling for peaceful dialogue”.
Putin abandoned talks with Maskhadov and put a price on his head six years ago when a truce broke down, violence resumed, and Putin ordered the Russian army back into Chechnya, utterly destroying the capital Grozny. Since then there has been a bitter guerilla war marked by atrocities and heavy civilian casualties, with Chechen guerillas often striking deep into Russian territory.
Maskhadov was elected Chechen President in 1997 after he briefly became Moscow’s preferred partner in peace talks. It was he who signed with the late Alexandr Lebed the peace deal that ended the first Chechen war, between 1994and 1996, that gave the Caucasian republic de facto sovereignty.
For the last six years he had managed to keep one jump ahead of the Russian security forces. Now President Putin can claim a major victory – for the time being.