"We don't consider ourselves conquered and we'll never do"
Date: March 26, 2002
Muhamed works in the security service of Aslan Maskhadov. We'll go with him to meet with a representative of Shamil Basayev's staff. In his and my company a TT pistol and a pair of hand grenades. The car begins to brake in front of a road block. A soldier with the automatic gun lifted approaches the car. Muhamed shows his passport, where the "special passage", a ten ruble note, is already inserted. After taking the money, the soldier waves his hand: "pass".
Muhamed begins a conversation about the problems which the fighters have now. "The main thing is that we don't have a rear. Everywhere, on each height, at each crossroads, there are Russian troops. Their concentration in Chechnya is considerably higher than in the past war. Here, for example, in the high area up to three kilometres near the village of Engenoi (Nojai-Yurt district), there were seven thousand troops during the first war, and now fifteen. You see the difference?"
Against this force, according to Muhamed, the fighters set the tactics of guerilla warfare ("hit an run"), the knowledge of the terrain and the skill to disguise the mountain bases. "Guerilla warfare was taught to us by Hattab. Everyone of us passed the school of the Soviet army, where we weren't trained for this, but he was in Afghanistan. Therefore he has this authority". "All the talk that we aren't united", continues Muhamed, "is just talk. The legitimate status of Maskhadov plays a very important role for the commanders. The orders coming from him are binding for everyone. Some, it's true, don't call themselves commanders but change this to emirs in the Islamic manner, but that's the same."
I ask Muhamed about the Majlis al-Shura. Is it parallel to Maskhadov's authority? "There is the State Defense Committee, where all military leaders of Chechnya have a seat besides Maskhadov. It exists and now", answers Muhamed, "at its sessions, the basic decisions for the conduct of the war are made. However, concerning the Majlis al-Shura, honestly speaking, I don't understand why it is necessary. Hattab devised this together with Basayev. All this isn't important. The main thing is that 15,000 Mujahedeen are now active in Chechnya (according to the data from former commander of the interior troops in Chechnya, General Shkirko, given to grani.ru, there are 10,000), and all of them are subordinated to Maskhadov. Part of them are located in the mountains at the secret bases, part in the plain, in the underground. The sizes of the bases are very different. At the largest there are more than 350 troops. There is a camp per one hundred, fifty, ten people. In the populated areas, small groups of three or four men are in action. As a rule, their groups consist of a sub-machine gunner, a grenade thrower, and a sniper or destroyer".
Suddenly our conversation is interrupted. They are informing Muhamed on the mobile radio that a column of federal forces passed towards the Vedeno area. The duration of the movement was four hours. "Well, here they go to the cleansing", notes my collocutor. "The most interesting is that all the Mujahedeen already left this area. This is indeed not easy to know from the mobile radios. So everything will be as always - they'll rob the population and then, home to Hankala". Muhamed thinks that all this is an imitation of combat with the fighters, for the statistics. Special operations in the mountains by the Federals have ceased long ago. "In any event", he assures, "we know previously of all steps undertaken by the enemy. It's done by the secret service agency, reconnaissance, wireless interceptions. With the aid of scanners and mobile radios from Kenwood, we break the codes, we can decode".
The conversation continues about the ability of the fighters to conduct large-scale operations. I ask Muhamed if this isn't a bluff alltogether? Do you have the forces? "We have", he assures. "It was so in that war, it will be so in this one as well. At any moment we can take Grozny, Argun and Gudermes". And why, I ask, don't you take them if you are so strong? "Well, we'll take Grozny", says Muhamed, "and what then? We can keep the city for 5-10 days, but nevertheless we'll have to leave. But how many people would we lose..."
And here Muhamed switches to peaceful harmony: "Honestly speaking, I'm greatly tired of the war. I have a higher education, I'm a historian, in my time I loved music, and time goes but nothing in life changes. If Maskhadov would find a reasonable compromise with Putin, without consideration I would throw everything and return home. But it is simple to leave the forest with a white flage - it's certain death. We don't consider ourselves conquered and we'll never do".
Well, and if Putin and Maskhadov agree, will the irreconcilable commanders agree with the President of Ichkeria? "Nobody would begin to ask them", answers Muhamed. "Let us give them twenty-four hours so that they could leave Chechnya. Let them go to Palestine to make Jihad".
The representative of Basayev's staff - in the past a colonel of the Soviet army - is a withdrawn, rigid peasant. In contrast to Muhamed the historian, he doesn't think about peace. And he's generally not infected by humanism. To war - and that's it. "If it is requested, let's take Hankala".
The Colonel was together with Basayev since the beginning of the nineties. Together they were at war in Abkhazia, then in the first Chechen war, together they are at war now. During the meeting of commanders in Grozny in 1999, when the Federal command attempted to kill the leaders of the fighters with a surface-to-surface missile, the Colonel covered Basayev with his body. Instead of the house where the meeting of field commanders was held, the missile hit the market, which lead to numerous victims among the civilian population. However, none of the fighters was injured.
The Colonel is also convinced that the Mujahedeen can take Grozny at any moment. In his opinion, this isn't done, not because of pity for the people, but because the Federals have air support and it's extremely complicated to fight that. "Now we are buying air defense systems "Igla" and "Stingers"", he says, "they began to bring down more helicopters, but this is nevertheless insufficient". And how many men are now under your personal command? "In the mountains, Shamil has constantly 1-200 people under arms. More than 1,000 in the plain. It could be more, but boarding guests don't mean anything to us. Thus far these forces are completely sufficient for us".
As far as weapons are concerned, the Colonel asserts, "everything can be purchased from the Federals". There is money. Some donations from the Muslim countries alone, where each Friday in the mosques there are collections for the Jihad, are millions of dollars. My collocutor asserts that today the Mujahedeen are prepared "for heavy fighting". When, where, it's only possible to speculate about. But the preparation is done thouroughly. "We can't allow ourselves, as the Russians, to lose 30-50 people a week". He has a low opinion about the leadership talents of the Federals. "How many chances did the Russians have to destroy us. In Grozny, and in Ulus-Kert in February 2000. There were 1,600 of us there. With us were many injured, ammunition, heavy armament; therefore they were moving slowly. And nothing - they passed through".
The Colonel, according to himself, fights for his land. His Jihad isn't driven by ideas. And such, he thinks, is the majority of fighters today. They are deprived of their native lands, their houses, the possibility to live normally with the close ones - and none of them is united with his family to be reconciled with this state of affairs.