Chechen Politician, a Former Rebel Leader, Is Slain in Moscow

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 25, 2008

MOSCOW, Sept. 24 -- A prominent Chechen politician who recently served in the Russian parliament was shot to death Wednesday night while waiting in his car at a traffic light near the British Embassy in central Moscow, authorities said.

Ruslan Yamadayev, 46, a former rebel commander who switched sides and helped Russia recover control of Chechnya, was killed by a gunman who approached his car in the evening rush hour traffic on the Smolenskaya embankment and shot him several times in the chest, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

Russian television showed images of Yamadayev slumped in the driver's seat of his black Mercedes-Benz. A passenger, identified as a retired Chechen military official, Lt. Col. Sergei Kizyun, was also critically wounded in the attack, the Interfax news agency reported. Police were searching for the assailant, who sped off in another car.

The assassination comes during a power struggle in Chechnya between forces loyal to Yamadayev's influential family and those of the Kremlin-appointed president of the province, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Russia fought two wars against Chechen rebels in the 1990s but restored control of the province in 2000 by forging alliances with former enemy warlords and isolating the remaining insurgents. Tensions among different pro-Moscow forces in Chechnya, however, continue to run high and have flared into violence in recent months.

Yamadayev's younger brother, Sulim Yamadayev, is seen as the main rival to Kadyrov, and their forces clashed in an April battle in eastern Chechnya that was reportedly sparked by a traffic accident and left 18 people dead.

The Yamadayev brothers were high-ranking rebel commanders during the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. Both switched sides in 1999 and joined the Russian forces.

Ruslan Yamadayev went on to serve as the military commandant in Chechnya and then in the Russian parliament between 2003 and 2007, while Sulim maintained command of the special Vostok battalion, the largest pro-Kremlin militia in Chechnya outside of Kadyrov's control.

In an attempt to consolidate control of the province, Kadyrov, also a former rebel military leader, ousted Sulim Yamadayev from the Vostok command in May and prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest on kidnapping and murder charges. But Russian media reported last month that Sulim Yamadayev and the Vostok battalion participated in Russia's war with Georgia.

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