The 'Sons' Rise In Chechnya
Date: November 3, 2002
MOSCOW, RUSSIA -- Abubakar lifts the black mask covering his face. We are staring, examining each other at close quarters. We are both trying to understand what's going to happen when this, yet another Russian tragedy, is over. Abubakar, a 29-year-old Chechen, looks 40. He is deputy commander of the terrorist group that has taken several hundred people hostage. I am a journalist who has come to the captured theater building to negotiate. And now I am trying to understand who these people are. Will it be possible to persuade them to compromise if their lives are spared? Will they let all those unhappy people go? Who is behind them? And, more important, what comes after them?
We don't want anything, says Abubakar sharply; we do not intend to survive. We don't need it. We have come to die. And we are going to die in battle. He is wearing military fatigues that cover the figure of a physically fit special forces fighter with long service. An automatic weapon is on his lap; he constantly strokes it as if it is a baby.
Abubakar is one of those Chechens who have been fighting since youth. He has spent the past three years in the woods and mountains, without water, gas or heat. He has been surviving.
-- Why did you live like that?
-- I am a fighter for the freedom of my land.
-- What did you come to Moscow for?
-- To show you what we feel like during mop-up operations, when federals take us hostage, beat us up, humiliate, kill. We want you to go through it and understand how you have hurt us.
-- But let the children go.
-- Children? You take our 12-year-old children away. We are going to keep yours. To make you understand what it feels like.
This refrain -- "We will show you how we suffer" -- is to be an undercurrent of our "talks." Other fighters from the "subversive kamikaze group" added their details to the picture Abubakar was painting. Their attitude is not going to change. It is this: We have come to die to make the war stop. We are making no concessions.
Abubakar and his group, the majority of them between the ages of 25 and 30, are the generation of the "sons" of the Chechen war, who have grown old together with their "fathers." They have known nothing but an automatic weapon and the woods ever since they finished school.
In midsummer this year, as the military-political leadership of the Chechen resistance grew more and more radical, Abubakar and people like him began to raise their voices against the "fathers" -- including leaders and well-known field commanders -- saying that they were faltering in the struggle, lacking in drive, leaving fighters to spend a whole winter in the woods doing nothing while the outrageous Russian "mopping up" operations rose to unprecedented levels.
A Chechen woman of about 40 comes in, a grenade hanging on her thumb, an explosive device attached to her body. She carries a pail, which she fills with water for the hostages. We talk a little about her family in Grozny. She doesn't feel sorry for anybody or anything either. Abubakar is telling us that they had chosen people for this operation very carefully: They took only the best. The woman has been waiting a year and a half for a chance to become a kamikaze. Her husband and brothers were killed; her uncle and nephew are missing.
-- Are you answerable to Aslan Maskhadov (the Chechen separatist leader and former president)?
-- Yes, Maskhadov is our president, but we are fighting on our own.
Abubakar says this coldly. It confirms one's worst fears: This group is a force that operates on its own, waging a war of its own.
He names certain members of the leadership. They are conducting peace talks very slowly, he says, because they sleep on sheets, whereas we are dying in the woods. We are tired of them.
That was it, the sum total of their "ideology." It's easy to deride it as primitive, but I don't feel like doing that just now. This group, which is gaining the upper hand in Chechnya, promises innocent blood in the future -- one terrorist act after another. Meanwhile, the Kremlin does not even want to hear about a peace process.
The fate of the Chechen leader Maskhadov is becoming ever more predictable: Choose the frenzied radicalism of the "sons" or be swept away, and very soon.
The chance for a peaceful settlement now, after the October tragedy, has been lost. The Kremlin turns a deaf ear. Now it will take a much stronger effort for it to sit down at a negotiating table.
Female hostages are led toward me, then men. They all say the same thing: "We are the second Kursk" -- invoking the lost Russian submarine. No one in the Kremlin cares about their lives, they are saying: The only thing Putin wants is to demonstrate his strength and to show that he will never bow to the terrorists. And so we will have to die for it, right?The writer is a Russian journalist with extensive experience covering the Chechen war. She is the author of "A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya."