Basayev’s Death and Autopsy

Kommersant’s English mirror site has an article with the details about Basayev’s death and autopsy. His body was so mangled by a weapons explosion that forensic experts had to identify the corpse through his hands and feet. Details of the explosion that killed him have been pieced together by representatives of the Interior Ministry and Ingushetian Prosecutor’s Office. They are as follows:

According to the investigation, late Sunday evening, several automobiles – three cars and two KamAZ trucks, one of which was towing the other – came to an unfinished house on the edge of Ekazhevo. There was some movement inside the house for a while, said the very few witnesses investigators were able to find, as people in black uniforms went back and forth between the house and the forest, which began at the edge of the yard and stretched all the way to the border with North Ossetia. They unloaded crates from the trucks and transferred other between cars. Then a powerful explosion took place.

Local police arrived to find the smoking frame of one of the trucks with a thick cable tied to its front bumper and a large pit, on the other side of which was the rear part of a car frame. The other truck stood at a distance of several tens of meters and was relatively undamaged. In the back of the truck were 150 unguided artillery missiles and about 100 cartridges of various calibers. Several dozen barrels from RPG-7 and RPG-26 grenade launchers were scattered within a radius of half a kilometer, as well as unexploded warheads from them and a large number of bullets. Those were the contents of the truck that exploded. Four bodies and four machineguns were also found.

Early Monday morning, about six hours after the blast, FSB agents arrived on the scene. They dismissed the local police and prosecutors and declared that the event had been their special operation. Several hours later they announced that Basaev has been killed.

The material evidence gathered by experts indicates, however, that the militants most likely blew themselves up due to careless handling of explosives. Newly built empty houses were being used by the separatists as warehouses where large shipments of weapons from abroad were received and distributed. Representatives from various groups were dividing a newly received shipment among themselves on Sunday. It is possible that the weapons were to be carried away in the two trucks but, after one of them broke down, the weapons had to be reloaded into a car.

So there you have it. FSB special forces did not have a hand in killing him, though I’m sure they will continue to claim it until their dying end. Rather, Basayev’s death was a result of the “careless handling of explosives.” Not the type of valiant death a “shaheed” would hope for.

I also encourage readers to check out Thomas de Waal’s comment on Basayev in today’s Moscow Times. De Waal met with Basayev once in 1998, and while he claims that the terrorist was no “Islamist” or “politician”, he was a “permanent warrior” and “his fearlessness, cunning, propaganda skills and cruelty made him unique.” In Waal’s view, this makes Basayev irreplaceable. He continues:

Two of his kind do not come around twice in a generation. The bad news is that his removal came many years too late — and not just because many hundreds of people might otherwise be alive. The Russian leadership has eliminated or exiled the moderate wing of the Chechen pro-independence movement, which wanted to negotiate and could have brought alienated Chechens back intosome kind of political process.

Consider the situation of a young twenty-something Chechen male who has been part of the rebel movement for the last decade. He has seen friends and family members die and quite probably has been wounded or tortured by Russian security forces. He has almost no education. If he watches Russian television he will see reports of his comrades being “destroyed” as if they were vermin.

Now this man has no leaders left. What route does he follow? One route is collaboration. The so-called “Kadyrovtsy” who comprise Chechnya’s pro-Moscow security forces aremainly ex-fighters, taking a rest from the hills and earning a decent salary in a new uniform. Their loyalty is entirely provisional and on the day after their leader, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, is replaced or arrested, there is no knowing what they will do next.

The other road is radical Islam. In the last five years, a network of shadowy jamaats, or Islamic groups, has sprung up across the North Caucasus, from Dagestan to Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Its adherents are anonymous pious young men from marginalized social groups. Not for them the theatrics of Basayev; they will operate like tiny ants gnawing away at the fundamentals of Russian power in the region.

This last point again raises the question of whether Basayev’s death will be a blessing that goes beyond the demise of a ruthless terrorist. Some, like Timur Aliev of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, are reporting how some in Chechnya hope that Basayev’s death will be the beginning of the conflict’s end. Others, like Andrei Smirnov at the Eurasia Daily Monitor, suggest that the militant’s death in no way means the problems in the North Caucauses are solved. Though the reigns of the rebels’ leadership now passes to Doku Umarov, the course he chooses for the movement could engender rivals to his leadership. Thus the movement could further fracture between a young and old guard. Another worry is that now rebel forces in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Ingushetia lack leadership and an iconic hero. While many in Russia might greet the disarray of the Chechen nationalist movement, that chaos will only make any positives that might result from Basayev’s death difficult to achieve.

This difficulty will in part be exacerbated by the utter misanalysis Russia makes of the conflict. As Stephen Blank, another commentator at the Eurasia Daily Monitor, concludes:

Although official Russia likes to attribute the unrest in the Caucasus in general — and in Chechnya in particular — to Wahhabism, in fact the cause of the unrest remains long-standing Russian misrule and oppression. This situation ultimately led to unbridled Islamic terrorism as practiced by Basaev and his like-minded colleagues, but it is doubtful that Kadyrov and his thugs represent a better prospect or that anyone else has a solution to the problems of the North Caucasus. Undoubtedly Putin has won a big battle here, even if inadvertently, and cut down a tall tree of Chechen resistance. But it is unlikely that a people who have fought Russia for more than 200 years will simply accept defeat now or that Russia knows how and will bring about a peace based upon a legitimate order that compels assent rather than fear either in Chechnya or in the North Caucasus.