Akhmed Zakayev

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Akhmed Zakayev
Заки Ахьмад
Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria's government-in-exile[1]
Assumed office
25 November 2007
Preceded byDokka Umarov
Deputy Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
In office
1997 – 6 February 2006
Foreign Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
In office
1997 – 29 July 1999
PresidentAslan Maskhadov
Culture Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
In office
1994 – 20 November 2007
PresidentDzhokhar Dudayev
Personal details
Akhmed Khalidovich Zakayev

(1959-04-26) 26 April 1959 (age 64)
Kirovskiy, Kazakh SSR, Soviet Union (now Almaty Region, Kazakhstan)
CitizenshipIchkerian (1991–2000)
SpouseRosa Zakayeva
Alma materVoronezh State Academy of Arts
Military service
Allegiance Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
RankBrigadier General
Battles/warsFirst Chechen War
Second Chechen War
Russian invasion of Ukraine

Akhmed Halidovich Zakayev (Chechen: Заки Хьалид кӏант Ахьмад, romanized: Zaki Ẋalid Khant Aẋmad; Russian: Ахмед Халидович Закаев, Akhmed Khalidovich Zakayev; born 26 April 1959) is a Chechen statesman, political and military figure of the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). Having previously been a Deputy Prime Minister, he now serves as Prime Minister of the ChRI government-in-exile. He was also the Foreign Minister of the Ichkerian government, appointed by Aslan Maskhadov shortly after his 1997 election, and again in 2006 by Abdul Halim Sadulayev. An active participant in the Russian-Chechen wars, Zakayev took part in the battles for Grozny and the defense of Goyskoye, along with other military operations, as well as in high-level negotiations with the Russian side.[2]

In 2002, Russia accused him, by then in exile, of having been involved in a series of crimes including involvement in acts of terrorism.[3][4] In 2003, judge Timothy Workman of Bow Street Magistrates' Court in central London rejected the extradition request due to lack of evidence and declared the accusations to be politically motivated, also saying that there was substantial risk of Zakayev being tortured if he was returned to Moscow.[5][6]

Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Zakayev has announced formation of the Separate Special Purpose Battalion of the Chechen Armed Forces, functioning as a Chechen volunteer battalion fighting with the Armed Forces of Ukraine.


Early life[edit]

Akhmed Zakayev was born in the settlement of Kirovskiy, Kirovskiy Raion (today called Balpyk Bi, Koksu District), in the Kazakh SSR, Soviet Union, which is now in Almaty Region, in Kazakhstan; his family was deported by Stalin's regime along with the rest of the Chechens in 1944. Akhmed is from the teip Chinkhoy. He graduated from acting and choreography schools in Voronezh and Moscow and worked as an actor at a theatre in the Chechen capital Grozny, specializing in Shakespearean roles. From 1991, he was the chairman of the Chechen Union of the Theatrical Actors. In 1994, Zakayev became a Minister of Culture in the Chechen separatist government of Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Chechen wars and the interwar period[edit]

After Russian forces entered Chechnya, starting the First Chechen War, Zakayev left his job and took up arms. Serving at first as a minor commander in the unit of Ruslan Gelayev, he took part in the 1995 battle of Grozny and then led the defence of the village of Goyskoye. After this the armed group under his command operated in the south-west part of Chechnya with its headquarters in the town of Urus-Martan. He was eventually promoted to the rank of brigadier general and appointed commander of the Urus-Martan Front. In February 1996, Zakayev became commander of the entire Western Group of Defense of Ichkeria. In August 1996, his forces took part in the decisive raid on Grozny,[7] where he personally led the attack on the city's central railway station.[8] Zakayev's war service paved his way to Chechen high politics. He became the acting president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev's advisor for the security matters and the secretary of the Chechen Security Council and represented Chechnya at the peace talks in Khasav-Yurt, which brought a peaceful end to the first armed conflict between Moscow and Grozny.

After the war, Zakayev became Chechen Deputy Prime Minister (in charge of education and culture) and a special envoy of elected President of Ichkeria Aslan Maskhadov for relations with Moscow, taking part in the delegation that signed the official Chechen-Russian peace treaty at the Kremlin in 1997.[9] During the interwar period, he opposed the rise of radical Islam in Chechnya and co-authored a book entitled Wahhabism – the Kremlin's remedy against national liberation movements, alleging an association between Islamist extremism and Soviet global "pro-terrorist" policy and support for dictatorships in the Muslim world. During the early phases of the Second Chechen War in 1999–2000, Zakayev commanded Maskhadov's presidential guard; he was also involved in negotiations with Russian representatives before and during the resumed hostilities. In 2000, having been wounded in a car accident during the new siege of Grozny, he left Chechnya for treatment. After this he stayed abroad and became President Maskhadov's most prominent representative in Western Europe, while Ilyas Akhmadov was the Chechen emissary to the United States.

In exile[edit]

Since January 2002, Zakayev and his immediate family have been residing permanently in the United Kingdom. On 18 November 2001, Zakayev, officially internationally wanted by Russia, flew from Turkey to the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow to meet the Kremlin's envoy, General Viktor Kazantsev for the high-level talks since the start of the war.[10][11][12][13][14] These negotiations were fruitless because Kazantsev demanded a complete capitulation of the Chechen side, with the only acceptable topic for the Russian side being the disarmament of Chechen separatists and their re-integration into civilian life.[15] On 18 July 2002, Zakayev also met with the former secretary of Security Council of Russia Ivan Rybkin in Zürich, Switzerland.[16]

In October 2002, Zakayev organized the World Chechen Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark (which was attended among others by the former first speaker of the State Duma, Ruslan Khasbulatov). During the congress, Zakayev was accused by Russia of involvement in planning of the Moscow theater hostage crisis. He was detained there on 30 October 2002, under an Interpol warrant filed by Russia, which named him a suspect in the theater siege.[17][18] Zakayev denied involvement in the theater capture. He was held in Denmark for five weeks and then released due to lack of evidence, as Russia's formal extradition request did not include any evidence linking him to the siege.[18][19][20][21]

On 7 December 2002, Zakayev returned to the UK but the British authorities arrested him briefly at London Heathrow Airport; he was released on 50,000 GBP bail, which was paid by British actress Vanessa Redgrave, his friend who had travelled with him from Denmark. He was accused by Russian authorities of 13 criminal acts.[4] Zakayev welcomed the British deportation hearings as an opportunity to put his case before an international public.[22] All accusations were proven to be false.[18] One accusation, cutting fingers of a suspected FSB informer Ivan Solovyov, was based on a written testimony by Zakayev's former bodyguard, Duk-Vakha Dushuyev, provided by Russian authorities; however, it appeared that Solovyev had lost his fingers much earlier to frostbite. Dushuyev himself has escaped from Russia and then in his statement claimed that he was tortured at a Russian army base with electric shocks to extort the false testimony to be used against Zakayev.[18][23][24][25] In another accusation, Father Sergei, one of two Russian Orthodox Church priests allegedly murdered by Zakayev, turned out to be in fact still alive. The witness Reverend Filipp, allegedly kidnapped by Zakayev in 1996, also refuted his supposed testimony and even denounced Russian authorities for "implicating the Church in politics". Leading Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev told the court Zakayev would be at risk of death in Russian captivity (Kovalev spoke about two high-profile Chechen prisoners, field commanders Salman Raduyev and Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev, who died soon after being jailed in Russia, and of another, parliamentary speaker Ruslan Alikhadzhiyev, who has "disappeared" without trace after his arrest in 2000).[26] According to Alexander Goldfarb, one of the defence's most important arguments was the 2001 meeting between Zakayev and General Kazantsev, since this meeting took place when the Chechen envoy had already been put by Russia on the international wanted list. At the time of the meeting Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya Sergei Yastrzhembsky said on television that Russian government had no grievances against Zakayev.[26] Therefore, on 13 November 2003, Judge Timothy Workman rejected the Russian request, deciding that it was politically motivated and that Zakayev would be at risk of torture in the case of "unjust and oppressive" extradition.[6][27][28] The judge also said the crimes which involved Zakayev allegedly using armed force against combatants were not extraditable because they took place in the situation of internal armed conflict.[29][30] Russian authorities in turn responded by accusing the court of double standards.[31] On 29 November 2003, it was announced that Zakayev had been granted political asylum in the UK.[32]

After receiving political asylum in Britain in 2003, Zakayev made London his permanent residence, and he visited several countries (including France, Germany and Poland) without being arrested. During the September 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis, Zakayev consented to the request of the civilian negotiators and authorities of North Ossetia–Alania to fly to Russia to negotiate with the hostage takers. However, the siege ended in bloody confusion just a few hours before this could happen.[33][34][35] As an envoy of Maskhadov, he also met in London with the representatives of the Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia in February 2005, where they agreed on a peace proposal centred around a gradual cessation of violence by rebels corresponding with the three-week ceasefire unilaterally declared by Maskhadov (who once again called for President of Russia Vladimir Putin to negotiate). These efforts were ignored by the Russian government and Maskhadov himself was soon killed in Chechnya.

On 31 October 2007, Zakayev officially distanced himself from the newly resigned Chechen separatist leader Doku Umarov and the Chechen Islamist ideologist Movladi Udugov, who together had declared the creation of Caucasus Emirate in the place of abolished ChRI. In response, Zakayev called for the remnants of the separatist parliament to form the new government and salvage legitimacy.[36] Soon after, on 20 November 2007, Zakayev submitted his resignation from the post of foreign minister, but said this should not be viewed as a departure from "the fight for our independence, our freedom, and for the recognition of our state".[37] He subsequently assumed the position of prime minister of the exile government.[1] In September 2008, Ramzan Kadyrov said he was now trying to persuade Chechens refugees and exiles to return, including Akhmed Zakayev, whom Kadyrov described as "a valuable artist who would be welcome to return to help revive Chechnya's cultural heritage."[38] Zakayev and Alla Dudayeva, the widow of the first Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev, accused Udugov of being a paid agent provocateur for the Russia's FSB.[39]

In London, Zakayev became friends with the Russian dissident and former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, later murdered by radioactive poisoning in November 2006;[40] Zakayev accused the Russian President Putin of ordering the death of Litvinenko. In 2007, British police warned Zakayev that there was an increased threat to his personal security shortly before the alleged attempt to kill Berezovsky by the FSB-connected Chechen gangster Movladi Atlangeriyev (or "Mr A").[41] According to the KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky in 2008, Zakayev was placed #2 on the FSB assassination list, between Berezovsky and Litvinenko.[citation needed] In January 2008, Zakayev's name showed up on the purported hit list of Ramzan Kadyrov's enemies abroad to be killed, which was published on the Internet following the murder of the Chechen dissident Umar Israilov (a former bodyguard of Kadyrov who was shot dead after receiving asylum in Austria).[42] Zakayev was arrested by the Polish police during his visit to Poland on 17 September 2010.[43] He was released the same day.

In September 2021, Zakayev released a statement on behalf of the Chechen government-in-exile regarding the Fall of Kabul and the conquest of Afghanistan by the Taliban. According to researcher Aslan Doukaev, the statement was "cautious", as it voiced concerns over "possible violations of fundamental human rights" and urged the Taliban to not abuse their power, pointing out that Muhammad had also behaved mercifully upon conquering Mecca. Doukaev contrasted Zakayev's wording with much more enthusiastic comments made by Islamist Chechen separatists.[44]

Increased activism amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine[edit]

In 2022, Russia launched a full invasion of Ukraine. At this point, several anti-Kadyrov Chechen militant groups like the Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion and the Sheikh Mansur Battalion were already fighting for Ukraine.[45][46][47] In May 2022, Zakayev travelled to Kyiv and met with Ukrainian officials for "confidential" talks.[1] Later, the creation of the "Separate Special Purpose Battalion of the Chechen Republic's Armed Forces" was announced by Zakayev; this unit officially styled itself as continuation of Armed Forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. A fourth separatist unit, called "Khamzat Gelayev Joint Task Detachment" was also founded. As the Russo-Ukrainian War continued to escalate, the pro-Ukrainian Chechen separatists increasingly framed the war as a chance to restore the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.[48][49] On 18 October 2022, Ukraine's parliament recognized the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as "temporarily occupied" state.[50][51] Zakayev had lobbied in support of this resolution.[52]

In November 2023, the "Congress of the Peoples of the North Caucasus" (a political alliance of various northern Caucasus separatist groups) appointed Zakayev the head of its Defense Commission alongside Akhmad Akhmedov, Sheikh Mansur Battalion deputy commander. The Congress aims at coordinating the different separatist exiles to unite their efforts against Russia.[53]

Invitations to return to Chechnya[edit]

On 11 February 2009, Ramzan Kadyrov said he personally invited Zakayev to return to Chechnya if he does not want to be "used by special services and other forces against Russia". At the same time, Russia's ambassador in London, said Britain had turned into a "sanctuary" for Russia's fugitives, including Zakayev, still-wanted on terrorism charges.[54] In an interview for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Zakayev claimed to rebuff the Chechen president's reported offer and said that Kadyrov was only following the Kremlin's orders;[55] he also reinstates this stance two days later in the interview for the BBC Russian Service.[56][57] Kadyrov has said that "He [Zakayev] is the only man on the part of Ichkeria who I would like to bring back home. I do not know what the competent bodies think, but I believe he did not commit serious crimes."[58]

According to the Kavkaz Center, Zakayev, who may be granted amnesty, stated his readiness to return and "contribute to a long-term peace in the region" in an interview for Ekho Moskvy on the same day.[59] Kavkaz Center – which supported Umarov – has called Zakayev "the head of a telephone government", referring to the fact that Zakayev has little influence on the insurgents on the ground.[60]

On 23 August 2009, in a controversial move, he was reportedly dismissed as prime minister by the Chairman of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria parliament in exile, as he "transgressed his mandate and recognized the legitimacy of the Kremlin’s puppet regime",[61] and shortly afterwards, he was sentenced to death by Sharia Court of the Caucasus Emirate, because he "professes democratic religion, propagates secularism, and prefers the laws established by men to the Shari'a law of Almighty and Great Allah."[62]


  • Subjugate or exterminate! : a memoir of Russia's wars against Chechnya, Academica Press, 2018, 511 p.
  • Russia, Chechnya, and the West, 2000–2006 : the emboldening of Putin, Academica Press, 2022, 512 p.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Leader of unrecognised Ichkeria met with officials in Ukraine". Caucasus Watch. 30 May 2022. Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  2. ^ Chechyna’s Theatre of War: Akhmed Zakayev – actor, politician and former resistance fighter – talks to Vanora Bennett [sic] Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine, The Liberal, 2007
  3. ^ UK actress defends Chechen rebel Archived 12 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 6 December 2002
  4. ^ a b Chechen accused of terror acts Archived 8 June 2004 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 9 June 2003
  5. ^ The Zakayev Case: Cui Bono? Archived 1 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Prague Watchdog, 5 August 2003
  6. ^ a b Court rejects Chechen extradition Archived 12 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 13 November 2003
  7. ^ Risky Walk in Rebel-Held Chechen Capital Archived 27 July 2018 at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, 14 August 1996
  8. ^ Moscow Gives More Evidence On Zakayev Archived 1 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine, The St. Petersburg Times, 3 December 2002
  9. ^ Chechnya: The Turning Point That Wasn't, RFE/RL, 11 May 2007 Archived 23 August 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Moscow opens Chechnya peace talks Archived 12 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 18 November 2001
  11. ^ Russian, Chechen Rebel Envoy Hold First Talks Since War Began Archived 22 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Los Angeles Times, 19 November 2001
  12. ^ Kremlin and Rebel Envoys Discuss Peace for Chechnya Archived 27 July 2018 at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, 19 November 2001
  13. ^ Russia opens talks with Chechens Archived 22 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, CNN, 19 November 2001
  14. ^ Chechnya Peace Talks Get Under Way Archived 1 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine, The St. Petersburg Times, 20 November 2001
  15. ^ Long negotiations with unclear results Archived 1 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Prague Watchdog, 16 November 2001
  16. ^ Prominent Candidates for Russia's Presidency Archived 23 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine, Pravda, 12 December 2004
  17. ^ Russian to the Core Archived 1 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Time, 3 November 2002
  18. ^ a b c d Alex Goldfarb and Marina Litvinenko. "Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB." Free Press, New York, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4165-5165-2.
  19. ^ Russia pushes for Chechen extradition Archived 13 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 2 November 2002
  20. ^ Denmark frees top Chechen envoy Archived 4 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 3 December 2002
  21. ^ Zakayev Evidence On Shaky Ground Archived 27 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine, The St. Petersburg Times, 19 November 2002
  22. ^ Zakayev Welcomes Deportation Trial, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 21 February 2003
  23. ^ Key witness in Chechen extradition case 'was tortured', The Independent, 25 July 2003 [dead link]
  24. ^ Evidence gathered by torture Archived 12 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 31 July 2003
  25. ^ Kadyrov Accused of Intimidation Archived 8 May 2014 at the Wayback Machine, The St. Petersburg Times, 9 September 2003
  26. ^ a b Zakayev saved by Mr Y Archived 5 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Gazeta.Ru, 2003/07/01
  27. ^ Judge rejects bid to extradite Chechen rebel leader, The Guardian, 13 November 2003
  28. ^ Russia Loses Fight Over Chechen's Extradition, The New York Times, 29 November 2008
  29. ^ Chechen rebel defeats Putin's extradition plea Archived 18 November 2004 at the Wayback Machine, The Telegraph, 13 November 2003
  30. ^ Russian request to extradite Chechen exile is turned down[dead link] , The Independent, 14 November 2003
  31. ^ UK accused of hypocrisy on terror Archived 8 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 13 November 2003
  32. ^ Chechen envoy granted UK asylum Archived 6 December 2003 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 9 November 2003
  33. ^ Zakayev Was Asked to Assist in Negotiations at the School Archived 27 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine, The Moscow Times, 6 September 2004.
  34. ^ New Details Emerge on Maskhadov's Bid to Mediate in Beslan, The Jamestown Foundation, 6 January 2006 Archived 23 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ Communication Breakdown Archived 1 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Time, 12 September 2004
  36. ^ Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Archived 28 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Chechenpress, 31 October 2007
  37. ^ Foreign Minister Of Chechen Separatist Government Resigns Archived 11 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine, RFE/RL, 20 November 2007
  38. ^ US 'provoked Russia-Georgia war' Archived 14 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 10 September 2008
  39. ^ Russia: Is North Caucasus Resistance Still Serious Threat?, RFE/RL, 1 November 2007 Archived 25 August 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  40. ^ Litvinenko laid to rest in historic Highgate[dead link], The Telegraph, 08/12/2006
  41. ^ Police feared assassination for two Russian dissidents Archived 2 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 22 July 2007
  42. ^ Slain exile's family warns of death list, The Australian, 26 January 2009 [dead link]
  43. ^ Chechen separatist leader Zakayev 'arrested' in Poland Archived 3 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 17 September 2010
  44. ^ Doukaev 2021.
  45. ^ Prothero, Mitchell (2 March 2022). "'My MMA Gym Will Be Empty': Chechens Head to Ukraine to Fight Kadyrov". Vice Media. Retrieved 7 March 2022.
  46. ^ MacKinnon, Mark (13 February 2022). "Chechens and Georgians in Ukraine preparing to continue fight against Putin on a new front". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 7 March 2022.
  47. ^ "Jihadis in Idlib bash Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for role in Ukraine war - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East". Al-Monitor. 6 March 2022. Retrieved 27 March 2022.
  48. ^ "Chechen Fighters in Ukraine Set Sights on Homeland". Jamestown Foundation. Archived from the original on 13 September 2022. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  49. ^ "Chechen batallions in Ukraine: Common fight against Russia". Ukraine Сrisis Media Center. 19 August 2022.
  50. ^ "Ukraine recognizes the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria". news.yahoo.com.
  51. ^ "Ukraine lawmakers brand Chechnya 'Russian-occupied' in dig at Kremlin". Reuters. 18 October 2022. Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  52. ^ "Chechen Republic Representatives Call on Ukraine to Recognize Independence". Kyiv Post. 14 October 2022. Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  53. ^ Doukaev 2023.
  54. ^ Kadyrov Invites Zakayev To Return to Chechnya Archived 3 December 2012 at archive.today, The Moscow Times, 11 February 2009
  55. ^ Zakayev Rebuffs Chechen President's Reported Offer Archived 12 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine, RFE/RL, 11 February 2009
  56. ^ (in Russian) Закаев говорит, что не намерен возвращаться Archived 13 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine, BBC Russian Service, 10 February 2009
  57. ^ Zakayev says that he is not intended to return Archived 2 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Chechenpress, 12 February 2009
  58. ^ "Kadyrov favors return of ex-separatist emissary Zakayev to Chechnya". Interfax. 2009. Archived from the original on 19 August 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2009.
  59. ^ According to Zakayev, Kadyrov can unite the Chechen society Archived 18 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Kavkaz Center, 17 February 2009
  60. ^ A Never-Ending War Archived 3 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  61. ^ Saralyapov Accused and Dismissed to Zakayev Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine Waynakh.com, 23 August 2009
  62. ^ North Caucasus Resistance Sentences Chechen Leader To Death Archived 25 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine Radio Free Europe, 25 August 2009

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]