Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 204

The situation on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, where thousands of Chechen refugees have gathered in preparation for leaving their war-torn republic, remains tense. The Russian armed forces guarding the Kavkaz-1 checkpoint on the administrative border between the two republics allowed only a few dozen refugees to cross into Ingushetia yesterday. NTV television showed scenes of hysterical Chechen women trying to cross with their children amidst the barbed wire which had been placed across the road. A woman refugee who was shown lying on the ground apparently died from a heart attack (NTV, November 2). Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev said this morning that the border remained closed despite promises by the Russian military authorities to open it at 9 AM today, Moscow time. “The situation is no better than it was earlier, when a woman died in the crowd,” said Aushev, who blamed her death on the Russian military personnel in charge of the checkpoint.

Friction between the Russian federal forces and the Ingushetian authorities is clearly growing. Aushev has become very critical both of Moscow’s military campaign–he has called for negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov–and the policy of the military authorities vis-a-vis the refugees, which he described yesterday as “cruelty.” Ingushetian Interior Minister Khamzat Gutsiyerev charged yesterday that the actions of the Russians at the border were unconstitutional and ordered his men to abandon the Kavkaz-1 checkpoint, saying the Russian forces should take full responsibility for what was happening there. In response, General Viktor Kazantsev, commander of the North Caucasus military district accused Ingushetia’s interior ministry of “sabotage” and “purposely hindering” the processing of refugees at the border (NTV, November 2; Moscow Times, November 3).

Aushev today charged that “armed formations”–an apparent reference to the Russian military units–are operating in Ingushetia “without the knowledge of the republic’s authorities,” and said he had ordered Ingushetia’s Justice Ministry to check on the legality of the federal forces’ activities there. He described the actions of the federal forces in Ingushetia as “utter lawlessness.”

The authorities in Moscow, meanwhile, are clearly unhappy with Aushev. A newspaper today quoted an anonymous source in the Russian government as accusing the Chechen authorities of creating an “artificial humanitarian catastrophe,” a la Kosovo, by forcing Chechen civilians out of their homes and then holding their relatives who remain in Chechnya as de facto hostages. The source accused Aushev of complicity with the Chechen authorities, implying that the goal was to attract humanitarian aid and emergency subsidies into the region (Vremya MN, November 3). Russian Public Television (ORT) recently accused Aushev of “lobbying” the interests of the Chechen leadership. Aushev responded to that charge today, saying he is only “lobbying the interests of these unfortunate refugees.” Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations today put the official number of refugees at over 181,000 (Russian agencies, November 3).

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev was quoted today as saying that the armed forces were planning “to free not only the city of Grozny [Djohar] of terrorists, but all of Chechnya” (Russian agencies, November 3). Russian government and military officials have repeatedly said that they will not launch a frontal attack on the Chechen capital (which the Chechen authorities call Djohar) like the one they launched in the early days of the 1994-1996 campaign, which caused a large number of Russian casualties. A Defense Ministry source said today that the Russian forces in Chechnya were continuing to push “gangs of militants” out of Chechen villages, and that “foreign extremists and weaponry” were being sent from abroad to aid the Chechen side. The source claimed that 300 fighters from the Middle East had arrived in Chechnya in October (Russian agencies, November 3).