99MOSCOW4277, SHARIA, SHURA, AND STATEHOOD IN CHECHNYA

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
99MOSCOW4277 1999-02-26 15:30 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

O 261530Z FEB 99
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5841
INFO CIS COLLECTIVE
MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 004277 
 
DEPT FOR S/NIS AND EUR/RUS 
 
E.O. 12958:  DECL:  2/26/09 
TAGS: PGOV PREL RS
SUBJECT:  SHARIA, SHURA, AND STATEHOOD IN CHECHNYA 
 
REF:  MOSCOW 2479 
 
CLASSIFIED BY EDWARD J. SALAZAR, CHIEF, INTERNAL 
POLITICAL AFFAIRS  REASONS:  1.5 (B) AND (D). ORDWAY. 
REASONS: 1.5 (B) AND (D). 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1.  (C) CHECHEN PRESIDENT MASKHADOV DECLARED A STATE OF 
SHARIA (ISLAMIC) LAW EARLY IN FEBRUARY, PROMPTING A 
FLOOD OF HIGH-LEVEL CRITICISM IN MOSCOW.  RUSSIAN 
POLITICIANS HAVE PREDICTED WORSENING RUSSIAN-CHECHEN 
RELATIONS DUE TO THE SUSPENSION OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW 
IN THE BREAKAWAY REPUBLIC.  ACCORDING TO REGIONAL 
EXPERTS, THE INTRODUCTION OF SHARIA LAW AND A SHURA 
(COUNCIL) IN CHECHNYA MAY BE NO MORE THAN A LAST DITCH 
ATTEMPT BY MASKHADOV TO UNITE A SHARPLY-DIVIDED 
POPULATION AND BUILD A SENSE OF STATEHOOD.  THE 
PROGNOSIS, HOWEVER, REMAINS THE SAME:  IT IS UNLIKELY 
THAT MASKHADOV OR THE OPPOSITION CAN ACCOMPLISH THIS 
TASK.  END SUMMARY. 
 
------------------------------------------- 
OUT WITH THE LEGISLATURE, IN WITH THE SHURA 
------------------------------------------- 
 
2.  (U) ON FEBRUARY 3, THE INTRODUCTION OF FULL-SCALE 
SHARIA (ISLAMIC) LAW WAS ANNOUNCED IN CHECHNYA ON THE 
INITIATIVE OF CHECHEN PRESIDENT ASLAN MASKHADOV.  TO 
BEGIN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF SHARIA LAW, MASKHADOV 
SIGNED SEVERAL DECREES STIPULATING THAT ALL LOCAL 
LEGISLATION MUST BE BROUGHT INTO LINE WITH THE KORAN 
AND DECREED THE CREATION OF A SHURA (COUNCIL) ACCORDING 
TO SHARIA REGULATIONS.  PRESS REPORTS FURTHER INDICATE 
THAT, IN AN EFFORT TO HASTEN THE TRANSITION TO ISLAMIC 
LAW, THE EXISTING CHECHEN LEGISLATURE WAS STRIPPED OF 
ITS LEGISLATIVE FUNCTIONS, AND THE POST OF VICE 
PRESIDENT WAS ABOLISHED. 
 
------------------------------------------- 
OUT WITH THE LEGISLATURE, IN WITH THE SHURA 
------------------------------------------- 
 
3.  (C) ON FEBRUARY 10, CHECHNYA'S NEWLY-FORMED SHURA 
ASSUMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR "CONSULTING" WITH PRESIDENT 
MASKHADOV, ACCORDING TO PRESS ACCOUNTS.  THE CHECHEN 
SHURA IS COMPRISED OF 34 MEMBERS IN ADDITION TO 
MASKHADOV.  THE SHURA INCLUDES SEVERAL PROMINENT 
OPPOSITION LEADERS SUCH AS FORMER PM SHAMIL BASAYEV, 
FORMER VP VAKHA ARSANOV, FORMER PRESIDENT ZELIMKHAN 
YANDERBIYEV, AND OPPOSITION FIELD COMMANDER KHUNKOR- 
PASHA ISRAPILOV.  (NOTE:  ALTHOUGH CHECHEN "WAR LORDS" 
ARBI BARAYEV AND AL-KHATTAB ARE NOT MEMBERS OF THE 
SHURA, OBSERVERS BELIEVE THEY CONTINUE IN THEIR SUPPORT 
OF BASAYEV.  END NOTE) 
 
4.  (U) ALTHOUGH MASKHADOV'S ACTIONS ARE WIDELY 
BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN AN EFFORT TO CO-OPT HIS EXTREMIST 
OPPOSITION, THE INTRODUCTION OF FULL-SCALE SHARIA AND 
THE CREATION OF A SHURA HAVE NOT CREATED PEACE INSIDE 
THE REBEL REPUBLIC.  THE CHECHEN OPPOSITION, LED MOST 
OFTEN BY BASAYEV, CONTINUED TO EXERT PRESSURE ON 
CHECHEN SOCIETY TO REMOVE MASKHADOV FROM HIS POST AS 
PRESIDENT.  IN AN INTERVIEW WITH THE RUSSIAN PRESS ON 
FEBRUARY 23, BASAYEV CLAIMED MASKHADOV'S INTRODUCTION 
OF SHARIA LAW WAS "INSINCERE," AND ALLEGED THAT AN 
INDEPENDENT SHARIA COURT WILL BE FORMED WHICH WILL 
"DECIDE WHO IS GUILTY" AND RECOMMEND APPROPRIATE 
PUNISHMENT FOR THE "GUILTY."  NO FURTHER DETAILS WERE 
GIVEN. 
 
5.  (C) ACCORDING TO CAUCASUS EXPERT ALEKSEY MALASHENKO 
OF THE MOSCOW CARNEGIE CENTER, THE SHURA CREATED IN 
CHECHNYA IS NOT A TRADITIONAL MOSLEM SHURA RUN BY 
RELIGIOUS MEN.  INSTEAD, MALASHENKO BELIEVES, THE 
CHECHEN SHURA IS A COUNCIL OF MILITARY MEN.  MALASHENKO 
CLAIMS THE CHECHENS CAME TO HIM OVER A YEAR AGO AND 
ASKED FOR MATERIALS AND INFORMATION ON SHARIA LAW AND 
BUILDING AN ISLAMIC STATE.  HE SAYS HE ADVISED THEM ON 
THE DIFFICULTY OF MOSLEM CIVIC EDUCATION IN A POST- 
SOVIET SOCIETY, AND GAVE THEM BOOKS ON ISLAM AND SHARIA 
LAW.  AFTER WATCHING THE EVENTS OF THE PAST MONTH, 
MALASHENKO SADLY CONCLUDED THAT NO ONE IN THE CHECHEN 
LEADERSHIP EVER READ THE MATERIAL THEY RECEIVED. 
 
--------------------- 
FROM "BAD" TO "WORSE" 
--------------------- 
 
6.  (U) MASKHADOV'S MOVE TO INTRODUCE SHARIA AND FORM A 
SHURA BEFORE HIS OPPOSITION BEAT HIM TO IT HAS BEEN MET 
WITH A FLOOD OF HIGH-LEVEL CRITICISM ELSEWHERE. 
COMMUNIST LEADER GENNADIY ZYUGANOV CALLED THE 
INTRODUCTION OF SHARIA LAW A "ROLL-BACK TO THE DARK 
AGES" AND PREDICTED A WORSENING OF THE REFUGEE 
SITUATION IN THE REGION.  DEPUTY PM FOR REGIONAL 
AFFAIRS VADIM GUSTOV CHARACTERIZED THE INTRODUCTION OF 
SHARIA AS DIVISIVE, AND CLAIMED IT MAY LEAD TO A 
"YUGOSLAVIA VERSION" OF RUSSIA, AND WILL MEAN "WAR." 
 
7.  (C) GUSTOV MAY FIND HE HAS LITTLE SUPPORT FOR A 
MILITARY INTERVENTION IN CHECHNYA, HOWEVER.  ACCORDING 
TO A MOSCOW OPINION POLL CONDUCTED ON FEBRUARY 12-14, 
ONLY THREE PERCENT OF THOSE POLLED BELIEVE THAT THE 
GOVERNMENT SHOULD USE MILITARY FORCE TO BRING CHECHNYA 
FULLY BACK INTO THE FOLD OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION. 
SIXTY-EIGHT PERCENT OPPOSE THE USE FORCE, EVEN THOUGH 
THE MAJORITY OF RESPONDENTS BELIEVE CHECHNYA IS A PART 
OF RUSSIA. 
 
8.  (U) ALTHOUGH CLEARLY IN THE MINORITY, MODERATE 
VOICES HAVE SPOKEN OUT WITH A "WAIT AND SEE" ATTITUDE 
TOWARDS CHECHEN SHARIA.  SPEAKER OF THE RUSSIAN DUMA, 
GENNADIY SELEZNEV, STATED THAT REGIONAL EXPERTS MUST 
FIRST SPECIFY WHAT KIND OF SHARIA RULE CHECHNYA WILL 
ADOPT OF
FICIALLY BEFORE AN OPINION CAN BE FORMED.  THE 
PREDICTABLY MODERATE DAGESTAN-BORN MINISTER FOR 
NATIONALITIES, RAMAZAN ABDULATIPOV, CALLED THE 
INTRODUCTION OF SHARIA IN CHECHNYA "A RASH STEP" AND 
STATED THAT MASKHADOV HAS "WEAKENED HIS POSITION" AND 
MAY BE REMOVED FROM HIS PRESIDENTIAL POST AT ANY TIME 
BY THE NEWLY-FORMED SHURA.  ABDULATIPOV ALSO QUESTIONED 
THE ABILITY OF CHECHNYA TO "EXERCISE CIVILIZED ISLAM 
AND SHARIA LAW," POINTING OUT THAT "NO ONE IN CHECHEN 
SOCIETY IS SUFFICIENTLY VERSED ON SHARIA STANDARDS, 
BEGINNING WITH THE PRESIDENT AND ENDING WITH THE FIELD 
COMMANDERS." 
 
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COMMENT 
------- 
 
9.  (C) THE FIRST WEEKS FOLLOWING THE INTRODUCTION OF 
SHARIA LAW IN CHECHNYA HAVE BROUGHT NO RESOLUTION TO 
THE ONGOING POWER STRUGGLE BETWEEN PRESIDENT MASKHADOV 
AND THE OPPOSITION FIELD COMMANDERS.  MASKHADOV AND THE 
OPPOSITION HAVE YET TO REVEAL THE "DEGREE" OF SHARIA 
THEY INTEND TO IMPOSE.  THEIR NEWLY-CREATED SHURA DOES 
APPEAR TO BE NO MORE THAN A COUNCIL OF MILITARY MEN, AS 
NO SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP HAS EMERGED FROM THE RUINS OF 
CHECHEN SOCIETY.  ACCORDING TO REGIONAL EXPERTS, THE 
QUESTION OF CHECHNYA'S ABILITY TO BUILD ANY TYPE OF 
STATE, INCLUDING AN ISLAMIC ONE, REMAINS THE CORE 
ISSUE.  THE OFFICIAL SUSPENSION OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW 
IN THE BREAKAWAY REPUBLIC, HOWEVER PRO-FORMA, MAY 
SIGNAL THE FURTHER WORSENING OF RELATIONS BETWEEN 
CHECHNYA AND MOSCOW, PARTICULARLY IF NO COMPROMISE 
FORMULA CAN BRIDGE THE GAP NEEDED TO GIVE SHARIA LAW 
THE VEIL OF CONFORMANCE WITH THE RUSSIAN CONSTITUTION. 
 
COLLINS

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