Why Russia wants 'Enemy No. 1' Akhmed Zakayev back
Russia considers Chechen separatist Akhmed Zakayev, picked up in Warsaw today under an international arrest warrant, as 'Enemy No. 1.'
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Russian officials say the charges against Zakayev are "very serious," including kidnapping and murder during the first Chechen war, and aiding and abetting terrorism during the second – including allegedly approving a 2002 attack on a downtown Moscow theater that killed over 120 people.Skip to next paragraph
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But analysts say Zakayev, a silver-haired, soft-spoken former actor, is actually tame by today's standards. He's a secular, democratic Chechen nationalist who has denounced the militant Islamist ideology and terrorist tactics that have become the main threat to Russian rule over its turbulent north Caucasus region.
"Zakayev today has nothing to do with terrorism in the north Caucasus," says Pavel Salin, an expert with the independent Center for Political Trends in Moscow. "He didn't really have much to do with it in the past, but he remains a symbol of Chechen separatism and thus is a thorn in Russia's side and a spoiler of Moscow's relations with the West."
The new leader of Chechnya's insurgency, Doku Umarov, marked his own transition from nationalism to militant Islamism by abolishing self-declared independent Chechen republic in 2007 and declaring himself "emir" of the "north Caucasus Caliphate." Mr. Umarov has pronounced a death sentence on Zakayev, whom he regards as a traitor because he advocated a negotiated solution to Chechnya's status with Moscow.
"Russian authorities want to remove Zakayev from the field because it wants no one left to represent the idea of an independent Chechnya," says Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.ru an online journal that reports on the security services. "Then there will be only one Chechnya left, the one headed by Ramzan Kadyrov," he says, referring to the pro-Moscow strongman who runs the republic today.
1,000 dead in terrorist attacks
Last year Russia declared victory in its long-running war to quash Chechnya's independence drive, and withdrew the bulk of its troops from the tiny republic leaving Mr. Kadyrov in control.
But some experts argue that Moscow's main motive is to show the Russian public that it can bring terrorists to justice. Over the past decade more than 1,000 Russians have died in terrorist attacks, many of them perpetrated by Chechens, including a 2004 school siege in Beslan that killed 330 people, half of them children, and twin suicide bombings on Moscow's crowded metro earlier this year that killed 37 people.