The new wave of guerrilla activity in Chechnya and Ingushetia—so dramatically different from the Putin administration’s repeated assurances of “normalization”—has led to a new wave of rumors about the possibility of a radical change in the administration’s policy. Unfortunately the most likely change does not seem to be a turn toward peace negotiations, but rather a sharp escalation in both political and military tactics. According to an article by Mikhail Rybakov in Rodnaya gazeta on July 30, a faction which includes the Russian military headquarters for the North Caucasus and other elements of the “siloviki” security agencies is actually pushing for postponement (which in effect would mean cancellation) of the special presidential election in Chechnya now scheduled for August 29.
In such a scenario, the current pseudo-civilian regime dominated by the “pro-Moscow” Chechens of the Kadyrov clan and its allies—the genuineness of whose “pro-Moscow” loyalties the siloviki strongly doubt, with good reason—would be shoved aside and openly replaced by direct military rule. In Grozny, a general would be installed who would function both as overall military commander in the republic and as head of its civil and political structures. Many in the military would actually welcome the resemblance to 19th-century imperialism.
Ironically, as Rybakov observed, Chechnya’s current presidential-election campaign in one sense has actually been more peaceful than the one that took place last autumn. The rival candidates have behaved toward each other “with sufficient correctness…and unlike the last campaign there has not yet been recorded even one case of physical fighting between supports of opposing candidates.”
If Rybakov’s sources are correct, Chechnya may be on the verge of a wave of atrocities that will make the current situation look mild by comparison. They tell him that the generals want “harsher security sweeps and special operations among the republic’s civilian populace—which, in the view of the Russian military, consists almost entirely of secret guerrillas and their supporters.” The result of such “mass terror,” in Rybakov’s view, might be the triggering of “a new Chechen war, now the third one.”