Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 186

On October 4, police in Djohar [Grozny] discovered a powerful homemade explosive device hear the Church of Mikhail Archangel, the only working Russian Orthodox church in the Chechen capital. The bomb was discovered and defused a short time before a service was to be held (Russian agencies, October 4). Such acts on the part of Chechen rebels are not surprising. Even by the end of the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, the separatists had moved toward Islamist ideology and viewed the war as a battle between Muslims and nonbelievers. In an interview with a Lebanese newspaper in September 1999, Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basaev said that the attack he led into Dagestan was a “jihad in the name of driving infidels out of Muslim land” (Al-Aman, September 17, 1999). Movladi Udugov, the rebels’ main ideologist, went further, saying on Jihad-3, a cassette distributed by the rebels, that “the final goal of the operation in Dagestan is the liberation of Jerusalem.” Even back in 1995, Anatoly Chistousov, the abbot of the Church of Mikhail Archangel, was kidnapped and executed as an “FSB agent.” Once Russian forces left Chechnya in 1996, Orthodox churches stopped operating in both Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia because priests were being taken hostage and held for ransom.

Meanwhile, there is new evidence that the Kremlin is having problems financing its military operation in Chechnya. In Samara, contract soldiers protesting the fact that they had not been paid for their service in Chechnya made several attempts to blockade the headquarters of the Volga Military District. The protesters said that if they do not receive their back pay, they will start a open-ended protest at the entrance to the military district (NTV, October 4). Around two weeks ago, other contract soldiers who had fought in Chechnya picketed outside the building of the North Caucasus Military District, demanding their unpaid salaries. As the Monitor has noted, contract soldiers were paid around US$30 a day–a large sum by Russian standards–at the start of the military campaign. This made tours of duty in Chechnya highly attractive, which attracted highly competent professional soldiers. If it turns out that Moscow is no longer able to compensate professional solders decently, this means the rebels will have an easier time bribing the federal forces in Chechnya, and that Russian soldiers might turn to looting, as happened during the first Chechen military campaign (see the Monitor, October 4). Indeed, various media human rights groups have already cited instances of looting by Russian forces during the latest military campaign in Chechnya, which began in September 1999.