A look at the troubled history of the mountainous republics in Russia’s south.
|Akhmed Zakayev fought Russian forces as a senior rebel commander during two wars in Chechnya [AFP]|
Polish police have arrested Akhmed Zakayev, an exiled Chechen separatist leader wanted in Russia for alleged terrorism.
The former rebel commander, who fought Russia in two Chechen wars, was detained a day after arriving in Warsaw, Poland’s capital, where he was planning to attend a two-day congress of exiles from the North Caucasus region.
A police spokesman said Poland had acted on an international arrest warrant but it would be up to local courts to decide whether he would be extradited.
“Because there was an international arrest warrant, police were under an obligation to detain him and to take him to prosecutors,” Mriusz Sokolowski told TVN24 television on Friday.
“The court will now take over the case and decide on the next procedure.”
Adam Borowski, Zakayev’s assistant, said the Chechen leader had intended to surrender to Polish authorities.
“Mr Zakayev, who does not want to hide or cause problems for Poland, will present himself … at the prosecutor’s office … to ask why he is being sought,” Borowski was quoted by the PAP news agency as saying on Thursday.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said earlier in the week that he expected Poland to arrest and extradite Zakayev if he arrived in the country.
But Jan Rostowski, Poland’s finance minister, said he did not imagine that the exiled separatist would be handed over.
“I can’t imagine Zakayev would be handed to Russia … If a Polish court decides to extradite him, the justice minister’s agreement is still required,” he told Polish radio.
“There are such things as overriding values,” he added.
Although Poland has recently made efforts to improve strained ties with Russia, Warsaw has historically shown solidarity with countries or groups in conflict with Moscow.
The fact that Zakayev has political asylum in Britain, a partner of Poland in the European Union, would likely weigh against his being extradited, Polish officials say.
Zakayev fought Russia as a senior rebel commander in two wars between 1994-2000, that saw Chechen separatists fighting for autonomy, but he now represents the moderate wing of the separatist movement.
He was also the spokesman for Chechen separatist president Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed fighting Russian forces in 2005.
Britain granted Zakayev political asylum in 2003 and has rejected Moscow’s calls for him to be extradited for alleged terrorism by Chechen separatists.
He is able to travel abroad thanks to an internationally recognised refugee passport.