Djohar Dudaev: Dead or alive? Was he killed intentionally?
By Maria Eismont
President of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Djohar Dudaev was killed on the night of April 21st as a result of a federal air strike. An official announcement to that effect was made by the head of Ichkeria's government delegation at the negotiations with Moscow, Khozh-Ahmet Yarikhanov, and circulated via Itar-Tass channels. The location where the Chechen field commanders buried their leader is a secret. Many in the Russian top leadership doubt that Djohar Dudaev is dead as long as they have no opportunity to exhume and identify his dead body. One thing is clear: Djohar Dudaev has vanished from the Chechen political scene forever and will be remembered by the Chechens as a hero and a martyr.
Djohar Dudaev as a Symbol of Independent Chechnya
General Dudaev was not the first Chechen president. He was a symbol of the
country's struggle for independence and its opposition to Russia. For the
Chechens who considered themselves citizens of the Republic of Ichkeria,
Dudaev embodied the legitimacy of this unrecognized and, since 1995 semi-
underground, state. With the beginning of the war the majority of the
Chechens forgave all the "wrongdoings" of this man who (before the war
started) had been one of the most unpopular leaders in the post-Soviet
Djohar Dudaev was perhaps the only one of the Chechen separatist leaders with whom it was difficult to meet. Since the beginning of the war he had only a few times appeared in public.
The Russian authorities viewed Dudaev as the main culprit in the lengthy resistance of the militants. In addition, he symbolized Russia's helplessness in resolving the Chechen problem.
Versions of Dudaev's Death
In all likelihood Djohar Dudaev is really dead and most probably his death
resulted from either an accidental or a precision strike by Russian
A different version of Dudaev's death was given by Chechen field commander
Akhmet Zakayev on April 24th. The first part of the story told by Zakayev
is identical to that of Yarikhanov. However, Zakayev insists that Dudaev's
wife Alevtina went to the site where satellite communication was to be
organized together with her husband, but "walked aside" abiding by the Chechen
tradition which calls for women not to meddle in men's affairs. This saved
her life. Djohar Dudaev and other people who accompanied him were killed
by "a precision bomb strike delivered by Russian aircraft," Zakayev said.
Zakayev presumes that the self-aiming missiles zeroed in on the radio
signal emitted by Dudaev's transmitter and the transmitter was spotted by a
Russian flying laboratory a few minutes before the strike. To prove his story
Zakayev demonstrated (to an NTV correspondent) the scene of the incident
and the tail fins of the two 250-kilogram high- explosive air-to-surface
On April 25th Dudaev's successor Zelimkhan Yandarbiev appeared on the Chechen political scene. He held his first press conference as acting president of Ichkeria. After having declared that the fight for freedom continues, Mr. Yandarbiev reported some new information about the circumstances of Dudaev's death. In his story he mentioned a "high-ranking representative of Russia" adding that he "will not disclose his name for the time being." Moreover, Mr. Yandarbiev reported the name of the person with whom Dudaev conversed via satellite on that fateful night. According to Yandarbiev, it was State Duma deputy Konstantin Borovoi. The latter is known for his sympathetic attitude towards the Chechen resistance.
With Dudaev's death, the initiative in escalating military actions has shifted to the cohorts of the late Chechen president. It is obvious that from now on all actions by Chechen militants (even the most brutal ones) will be explained by them as "honorable vengeance for the killing of their president." For the time being, the uncertain situation that has formed following Dudaev's death makes it impossible to predict the fate of the peace initiative. Before Dudaev's death peace efforts did not go farther than secret consultations and a search for mediators. Perhaps, some of the field commanders, now free of Dudaev's control, will eventually agree to enter separate talks. Possibly, this was the very goal pursued by those who organized the killing of the Chechen president. However, the present situation is that Dudaev's place in the talks with Moscow has officially been taken by Shamil Basayev, a man who is perhaps even more radical than Dudaev and a person with whom Moscow will definitely refuse to talk due to his leading role in the terrorist act in Budennovsk in June 1995. As far as the Russian politicians are concerned they would prefer to negotiate with Chechen armed formations chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov. However, the latter, after the federal authorities advertised him as "agreeable," lacks the trust of the militants. Besides, Aslan Maskhadov considers it impossible to take part in the talks explaining that the unsuccessful negotiations of the summer and fall of 1995 had "discredited" him. In addition, Maskhadov like many other field commanders and even those craving peace -- is averse to taking part in some behind-the-scenes arrangements.
If Dudaev's death was not an accident, the results of this operation will
hardly be those expected. The situation has been complicated to the
The Jamestown Foundation