Is Maskhadov's era over?
By Mikhail Shchipanov
The radical reshuffling of the Chechen government may be a prologue either to Aslan Maskhadov acquiring the same symbolic status as the Queen of England has or to his complete estrangement from power. The issue at hand is not the disappointment caused by the international public's indifference to the fate of this "small but proud country". Obviously, when Moscow leaders talked of the need to back up Maskhadov--the most moderate of the Chechen "hawks"--in every possible way, Grozny hoped to benefit by "selling" the Kremlin the image of a president who is a wise independence fighter ready to scale down anti-Russian rhetorics and not to accelerate the demonstrative process of Chechnya's breaking away from Russian in exchange for financial injections and the oil pipeline. This is the only possible explanation, in my opinion, why separatist field commanders of every hue rallied around Maskhadov.
But for the field commanders of bearded gunmen Maskhadov, a career officer without any considerable armed force, was and remains "a mobilised and recruited" military specialist in the Bolshevik sense of the word. When the illusion concerning the profitable conversion of Maskhadov's image in the West and in the East alike was dispersed, the president was reminded that he had put his people in profitable positions, by Chechen standards, without having much ground for that. So came the time for great re-division.
The government reform also required purely ideological justification. It was immediately provided by perfectly notorious measures. It is only from the European's point of view that the introduction of Chechen passports and car number-plates is an absolutely meaningless and costly undertaking: these symbols of independence are of no use beyond the Chechen threshold. For mountain people, however, it is obvious that the clan-oriented upper echelon decided that Maskhadov's policy was too lenient, weak and disadvantageous, and pressure on Moscow should be increased. It is manifested in the issue of new passports with the entries in Chechen and English, on the one hand, and, what is even more serious--the appointment to the key post of first vice-premier and actual coordinator of the government of Shamil Basayev, who can concentrate much power in his own hands, taking into consideration the fact that he has put people from his inner circle in the key posts, on the other.
The Chechen upper echelon is actually ready to revise the constitution which was adopted during Dzhokhar Dudayev's rule and which stipulates the possibility of the compulsory combination of the posts of the president and the prime minister. If Basayev succeeds in anything at all, this will be done. The promotion of people close to Basayev bears to show that Maskhadov is already "being robbed". People who served for Dudayev and lost their posts and privileges shortly after the so-called Maskhadov reforms began, are gradually but surely returning to the government.
Small wonder that there are rumours that Maskhadov has already sent his family abroad. It goes without saying that these rumours are being resolutely refuted. But the emigration of Dudayev's close relatives was also accompanied by numerous denials in its time.
Actually the issue at hand is not Maskhadov. Chechen barons, who increasingly realise their isolation in the Caucasus and the world over, have decided to use a new strong method against Moscow. They think that if they do not succeed in getting the money right now, it will be all the more difficult in the future, as the perception of the Chechen knot is growing less acute in Russia. Now Yeltsin's visit to Grozny has been postponed, too. Against this background, Maskhadov and his career is nothing but small change. It is not excluded that Maskhadov will continue to play the role of the most moderate voice in Chechen discordance. But that his moderate remarks will have no real weight is a different matter.