MOSCOW (Agence France-Presse) — Russia reacted with fury yesterday to a U.S. decision granting political asylum to the self-declared foreign minister of separatist Chechnya who is viewed as a “terrorist” by Moscow.
Moscow accused Washington of setting double standards in its global war on terror, in a comment straining relations between two Cold War era foes that had warmed after the September 11 attacks on the United States but have had increasingly frequent chilly spells in recent months.
Ilias Akhmadov, foreign minister in the self-styled but unrecognized government of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, said that he was informed this week that he has been officially granted political asylum by authorities in Boston.
He had been granted asylum earlier this year but the U.S. office of homeland security challenged the decision. Mr. Akhmadov said the appeal has since been withdrawn and he is now staying in the United States.
“I learned [on Monday] that they had granted it to me,” Mr. Akhmadov said by telephone from the United States.
Russia, which accuses Mr. Akhmadov of terrorism and of links to an armed incursion in the Russian republic of Dagestan in 1999, has been seeking his extradition since he arrived in the United States in 2002.
“I am happy to have succeeded in convincing the American authorities that the accusations were unfounded,” Mr. Akhmadov said.
A U.S. official in Moscow refused to confirm that Mr. Akhmadov was in the United States but said granting him asylum should not reflect on Washington’s relations with Moscow.
“The U.S. government is not allowed to interfere on decisions on asylum cases,” the U.S. Embassy official said. “No decision on asylum should be misinterpreted as a statement of foreign policy.”
The foreign ministry said the decision showed that Washington was “setting double standards in the fight against terrorism.”
“These sort of actions contradict the spirit of Russia-U.S. relations and do not correspond our joint goals of fighting international terrorism,” it said in a statement.
It said Moscow has “repeatedly asked the United States to extradite this international terrorist … but unfortunately we must note that our requests were ignored.”
Mr. Maskhadov was a top field commander in the first Chechen war from 1994-1996 and won the presidency the next year after Russian troops pulled out and gave the Muslim republic in the Caucasus region de facto independence.
But he was quickly disavowed by Moscow, which poured troops back into the impoverished region in October 1999 to fight what was to be a lightning anti-terror operation but has instead descended into drawn-out guerrilla war.
The former Chechen president has been in hiding since then, with various reports suggesting he was either in Chechnya’s southern mountains — still under rebel control — or a neighboring Muslim state.