Upon doing a search, I have discovered that I have never really written about Aslan Maskhadov on this blog, and that I have rarely mentioned Chechnya. This makes summing all of my feelings up very difficult.
When I was in high school, Chechnya held the same place in my heart as Greece and Italy did for the Romantic poets in 19th century England. The Chechens, like any other number of ethnic groups who had achieved de facto independence, were simply exercising their rights of self-determination. In those pre-September 11 days, the fact that some of the rebels were radical Islamists or foreign mujahadeen seemed normal; Chechnya's struggle against Russia seemed desperate, if not ultimately futile.
Even after the struggle in Chechnya became conflated with international terrorism, I still admired Maskhadov. The moderate former President who was surrounded by a sea of radical warlords, he seemed to me the only legitimate Chechen leader. "If the Russians would just negotiate with Maskhadov," I thought wistfully, "everything would turn out all right." The Russians, however, consistently lumped him in with the rest of the warlords, calling him a "terrorist." Did he not condemn Nord-Ost, Beslan, and other terrorist attacks perpetrated by radicals?
The future of Chechnya was not particularly rosy before Maskhadov's death, but killing him will definitely not end the insurgency. As Radio Free Europe reports,
Talks with those new potential resistance leaders, according to former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev -- who negotiated with one of them in the North Ossetian town of Beslan during last September's hostage taking -- would be "incomparably more difficult" than with Maskhadov and his associates, even assuming that the Russian leadership would agree to any such talks. Aushev went on to warn, in an interview published in "Novaya gazeta" last month, that it would be wrong to dismiss the new generation of fighters as savages; he described them as "politicians with a young and aggressive ideology behind them...they are well-informed and armed with sophisticated technologies." More to the point, radical Islam is a far more compelling motivating force to the new generation of militants than it was for Maskhadov.