April 20, 2008 / 3:25 AM / 12 years ago

Chechen commander warns ex-rebels ready for new war

By Gleb Bryanski

MOSCOW, April 19 (Reuters) - A dissident Chechen military commander said on Saturday amnestied rebels recruited by Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin leader Ramzan Kadyrov were engaged in violence and stood ready for another war with Russia.

Sulim Yamadayev, in an interview with Echo Moskvy radio station, described a situation in Chechnya at odds with Kremlin claims that it has re-established control there. Russia fought Chechen rebels in two wars since 1994 which killed thousands.

"You think there is order here? This amnestied army goes around with weapons. They do not have to hide and run... They have everything. They are just waiting," said Yamadayev.

The pro-Russian commander believed the amnestied rebels could at any moment return to the mountains and fight against Russia, Echo Moskvy’s commentator said.

Yamadayev’s comments followed a clash this week between his fighters, who formally report to the Defence Ministry in Moscow, and soldiers commanded by Kadyrov. Vehicles in their convoys failed to give way and several fighters were killed.

Both leaders, decorated with Russia’s top military award, the Hero of Russia medal, pledge their loyalty to Russia’s outgoing President Vladimir Putin, who is due to step down after the inauguration of president-elect Dmitry Medvedev on May 7.

"This is a very embarrassing statement and a very embarrassing situation for the Kremlin," said defence analyst Pavel Felgengauer of Yamadayev’s interview.

The outcome of the new Chechen power struggle between the pro-Russian factions would most likely be settled in the Kremlin after a personal intervention by Putin, but a resumption of Chechnya’s armed conflict was always a possibility, he said.

"These fighters are officially serving under the Russian flag but in fact they are only loyal to their commanders. A conflict is always possible. This is a volatile region which is never stable," Felgengauer said.


Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov, loyal to Kadyrov, said police were outraged by Yamadayev’s statement, noting that 80 policemen were killed and 130 wounded in clashes with rebels since 2004.

Yamadayev, 35, a former rebel, who switched sides after falling out with rebel leader Shamil Basayev, killed in 2006, said Kadyrov’s troops were also involved in kidnappings.

"They can pick anyone and throw them in their cars," said Yamadayev, commander of the elite Vostok (East) battalion.

Kadyrov, 31, a son of a former rebel commander handpicked by Putin to rule the violent region and killed in a bomb explosion, has established a tight grip over Chechnya, creating a loyal personal army mostly of former rebels.

Kadyrov and his men have a history of violent encounters with their Chechen and Russian rivals who fail to recognise Kadyrov’s authority.

The Russian military and security agencies are warily watching Kadyrov’s rise as the Kremlin’s influence in the region wanes. Russian troops tend to stay in their bases, leaving Kadyrov’s forces to patrol and launch raids against rebels.

A Reuters correspondent who was granted a rare visit to the base in Chechnya last month saw Kadyrov’s fighters armed with the latest Russian weapons — part of the trade-off that has helped Putin subdue a separatist insurgency. (Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Charles Dick)

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