Chechnya fears both Russians and rebels in Dagestan fight
August 15, 1999
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Worried about Russian incursions and a possible internal threat, Chechnya's president declared a state of emergency on Sunday as Russian troops battled guerrillas who came across Chechnya's border with Dagestan to declare an independent Islamic state.
Russia's Interior Ministry said Sunday that about 60 guerrillas were killed in an ambush, while Russian rocket bombs continued to fall near villages along the border.
On Friday, Russian Prime Minister-designate Vladimir Putin vowed to pursue the rebels "wherever they are located," even if they cross back into Chechnya.
Chechnya won de facto independence from Russia during a disastrous 1994-1996 war, but Russia has continued to claim the breakaway republic as its own territory. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said that Putin's threats "created the threat of a new war in the Caucasus and the collapse of previous agreements" between Russia and Chechnya.
Chechen warlords who led Chechnya's successful battle with Russia are leading the guerrilla insurgency, although they are not under the control of the Chechen government.
On the front-line of the Dagestan conflict is Shamil Basayev, an Islamic fundamentalist who spearheaded Chechnya's uprising against Russia. Fighting by his side is a Jordanian militant known as Khattab. Both men are committed to establishing an Islamic republic in Dagestan.
The presence of these men along with evidence that the guerrillas were well armed has run alarm bells in Moscow, which suspects that the conflict in Dagestan is part of a wider Islamic fundamentalist conspiracy.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said he has proof that the rebels are receiving international assistance, a contention backed by some independent observers.
"The ends of the strings are in the hands of the Islamic fundamentalist groups," said Dagestani analyst Sergei Arutiunov. "The money comes from this source. There is no other source of money."
But the guerrillas could have local political aims as well. Chechnya's Maskhadov has been increasingly criticized by opposition groups for being too moderate. And the loudest voice belongs to Basayev, who once fought at Maskhadov's side.
Maskhadov's declaration of a state of emergency is a clear signal that his administration opposes the rebels, and that he is well aware of a personal political threat posed by Basayev's foray into Dagestan.
Chechnya declares emergency as Dagestan conflict threatens to spill over
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