Georgi M. Derluguian
Che Guevaras in Turbans
On 7 August 1999, caravans of well-armed and bearded men, wearing camouflage fatigues and Islamic skullcaps or headbands, crossed from Chechnya into the mountains of Daghestan. They were led by the two most famous field commanders of the recent Chechen war of independence—Shamil Basayev and Khattab. Basayev had gained world-wide notoriety in June 1995, when his detachment briefly seized the town of Budionnovsk in southern Russia, barricaded itself in the hospital with almost 1,600 hostages, and, in a dramatic televised stand-off, forced Moscow to halt its immensely destructive offensive in Chechnya and accept negotiations with the rebels. The uneasy truce lasted only as long as it took Moscow to reshuffle its top generals for yet another time and realize that the rebel forces had exploited the lull to rebuild their confidence and infrastructure, badly battered in the heroic but near-suicidal defence of Grozny during the initial phase of the war.
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