Wed, Jul 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Chechnya's Osama bin Laden, Basayev, isolated his cause

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Shamil Basayev represented the inhuman face of the Chechen separatist conflict, the gunman prepared to bargain with and ultimately sacrifice the lives of hospital patients, commuters, theatergoers and schoolchildren.

His ruthlessness shocked even hardened Chechen militants. One former militant said: "He's like a whipped dog. Sooner or later he will bite."

But now the Chechen separatist conflict, just over 10 years old, has lost its Osama bin Laden. Since the Kremlin put a US$10 million bounty on his head, after he masterminded the death of 331 people in the town of Beslan in September 2004, he has been outside a movement that was itself increasingly isolated.

For most separatists, Beslan was the final straw, a conclusive sign that their movement had lost its way and betrayed even the most radicalized beliefs of militant Islam. Even Basayev himself appeared a little shaken by the impact of the Beslan tragedy, calling for a UN investigation into the bungled siege by Russian special forces, as if trying to shift the blame.

Yet the truth was that each mission he engaged in brought his end closer. In January 2000, Basayev and his militants mounted a last stand in Grozny as it was besieged for a second time by Russian forces. He had to lead his band out through a minefield, and had his leg blown off.

With the Russians back in Grozny, the "Chechenization" of the conflict had begun to take effect: the slow but steady buying up of Chechen fighters, including former separatists, to serve the Kremlin's strategy of divide and rule.

Thousands of militants have joined the ranks of the private pro-Russian army that became known as the Kadyrovtsi, after Akmad Kadyrov, the first president of Russian-ruled Chechnya. They took with them local knowledge of the hills and villages where Basayev was at home.

Yet after Kadyrov was assassinated in May 2004, his brutish son Ramzan rose to prominence.

Ramzan pledged to exact his revenge on Basayev and on Monday expressed his regret that he had not personally killed his father's murderer. As his stock rose Basayev's fell.

Ramzan's profile as Moscow's hardman in a land of warring militias has strengthened and even before Basayev was killed, his 14-year reign of terror was coming to an end.

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