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West needs to recognise that Chechenya is occupied by Russia: Zakayev

Poland is the only country that during all these years of occupation of our country, has supported the Chechens in all ways possible, said Akhmed Zakayev, who serves as a diplomatic representative of the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The Polish Kurier Lubelski interviewed him during the Second Forum of Free Nations of Russia that took place in Prague.

Akhmed Zakayev served as the Deputy Prime Minister and later the Prime Minister of the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). He was also the Foreign Minister of the Ichkerian government. During the First Chechen war, Zakayev took part in the battles for Grozny and other military operations, as well as in high-level negotiations with the Russian side. He went into exile in 2002, and soon thereafter was accused by Russia of having been involved in a series of crimes including involvement in acts of terrorism. However, a British court refused to extradite him due to a lack of evidence and declared the accusations to be politically motivated, also saying that there was a substantial risk of Zakayev being tortured if he was returned to Moscow.

When inquired about why the number of Chechens fighting on the Russian side is so large and their number on the Ukrainian side so small, Mr Zakayev was incensed. As he said, the information he has access to indicates the situation is the exact opposite.

Mr Zakayev expressed his gratitude to “the Poles, the Polish nation, and Polish authorities” for their support for the Chechen people. “We have many friends in Poland, who help Chechens. One might say that Poland is the only state that supported Chechens in all the ways possible during all the years of the occupation of our state.” He stressed that Poland was the only country whose Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the assassination of the Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov by Russia. He hopes that in the near future, in collaboration with the Polish government, a Chechen House will be built in Poland, similar to the Belarusian House, which serves as a centre of support for Belarusian democratic opposition’s dissidents in Poland. The only problem so far is the lack of funds.

Unfortunately, the image of Chechens has been tarnished over the past years. Poles associate them less with freedom fighters nowadays, and more with criminals, and recently, with Ramzan Kadyrov.

As Mr Zakayev said, the demonisation of the Chechens is a success of Putin’s propaganda, which managed to portray them as Islamic terrorists. Kadyrov is a separate issue, and Zakayev believes that as Putin’s lackey, he should face an international tribunal for his crimes. But as for the image of Chechens as criminals and trouble makers, Mr Zakayev points out that Chechens who emigrated not only to Poland but also to Western Europe, cause much less trouble than many other ethnic groups who arrived there. And not just that.

“Chechens study at the most prestigious universities. They graduate, especially the generation that was born here, in Europe. These are entirely different people, they are Europeans who grew up in free countries and who are entirely integrated with the European states in which they live,” said Zakayev.

The generation of the parents, unfortunately, is something of “a lost generation”, and the loss of their country has prompted some to adopt the ideology of radical Islam and in some cases join ISIS. But Mr Zakayev believes the new generation has the capacity to change this negative image, and that it is already happening.

For the Chechens to be able to return to their own country, the Russian occupation of it must end, believes Zakayev. But, as he said, Chechens are not waiting idly.

“I guarantee, that Chechens have already opened a second front,” he said. Although there is currently no armed resistance active against Russia or Kadyrov’s regime, there are extensive resistance structures the Russians are aware of. “I assure you if it were not for what we are doing today these 150,000 troops [Russia is stationing in the North Caucasus region], would be sent to Ukraine.”

The final goal of regaining freedom, however, cannot be achieved without international recognition of the fact, that Chechenya is under Russian occupation. In order to achieve that, he and other Chechen activists are very active in international forums and are promoting awareness of the plight of their people.

As Mr Zakayev admits, there were some Chechens who became radicalised and went to fight in Syria on the side of ISIS. As he says, those people were duped, and many are realising it now and are trying to link up with the Chechenyan government-in-exile. Some of them are now in Ukraine, fighting against Russians. There are also those, who have established the so-called Caucasian Emirates, which tried to usurp the right to represent the Chechen people. Mr Zakayev has no doubt who those people are: Russian propagandists and provocateurs.

Asked whether he thinks other oppressed peoples under Russian rule will start to fight against the occupiers, Mr Zakayev says, that it depends on one factor: Chechenya. As a nation with the most extensive record of armed struggle against Russian brutality in recent history, Chechens can serve as an inspiration and a model for others.

“If today the world will rethink its attitude towards Chechenya and towards Chechen statehood, it will guarantee that other nations will follow our example and will feel and know, that they will not be left alone at the mercy of this imperial monster [Russia] that has oppressed these nations for centuries now,” said Zakayev.

When asked whether there is any chance that Kadyrov would change sides and start fighting against Putin to liberate Chechenya from Russian occupation, Mr Zakayev has absolutely no doubt what to think:

“No, never. No. No.”

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