Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 8

Two unpleasant but important truths were confirmed on April 20, when a pro-separatist website broadcast a video documenting a successful April 15 attack on a bus near Grozny. The first of these truths–and one that is no surprise to knowledgeable observers–is that the Moscow-appointed Kadyrov regime in Chechnya is covering up facts that indicate the wide extent of continuing, successful rebel attacks. Indeed, even the attacks that are officially admitted or leaked to the mainstream Russian and western media are numerous enough to make it clear that the situation in Chechnya is far from peaceful and the rebels far from subdued. The Kadyrov regime was completely silent about the April 15 attacks until the rebels released their video. One can only guess how many other such attacks remain unknown, or at least unacknowledged by the regime, for lack of such conclusive videotaped evidence.

The second unpleasant truth concerns the rebels themselves–or at least one band of them. The rebels who attacked the bus on April 15 planted not one but two mines. The second of these was deliberately detonated about two minutes after the first, clearly for the purpose of killing rescue workers who had come to help the wounded. The first mine, if the rebel version of events is correct, was a legitimate military attack on pro-Moscow servicemen. But the second was a calculated atrocity. Such atrocities, of course, have been numerous on both sides.

According to the version published April 20 on the rebel website kavkazcenter.com, the two explosions killed seventeen men, all of them federal troops of the OMON or the Interior Ministry. The website’s dramatic videotape, apparently shot from about one hundred yards away and showing both explosions in gruesome detail, left the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya with no choice but to comment. The administration’s prime minister, Anatoly Popov, admitted on April 21 that such an attack had indeed taken place on April 15. But he claimed that the victims were all civilians rather than military personnel. According to Popov’s version, they were mostly construction workers, and the majority were women.

The difficulty with this official version, of course, is Popov’s failure to explain why he and his colleagues were silent about the episode until the videotape forced them to react. In the past, pro-Moscow officials have been eager to publicize terrorist acts committed by the rebels against peaceful civilians. The only logical explanation for their silence in this case is that the victims were not civilians but federal troops, just as the rebels claimed.

The video shows the bus traveling at full speed along a rural road until it abruptly disappears in a huge fireball. A single dazed survivor then crawls out from the smoking ruins. Would-be rescuers converge on the scene, but the video ends with a second, less powerful explosion. The rebels’ accompanying text states that 15 pro-Moscow troops were killed by the first blast and two more by the second. According to the rebels, the bus was on its way to conduct a special operation in a village near Grozny. (Such operations, of course, are notorious for resulting in the kidnapping of civilians who often are never again seen alive.)

The London daily, The Independent, reported on April 21 that the video had caused “acute embarrassment” in the Kremlin, which has been trying to portray the war as winding down. Compiling reports from various news agencies, The Independent noted that there were additional signs in the following days indicating that the rebels remain a fighting force capable of inflicting damage on their enemies. During the weekend of April 19-20, for example, “rebels opened fire on Russian positions fifteen times, killing at least eight soldiers and wounding several others.” One of the attacks targeted a Russian military barracks in the Kurchaloy region of Southeastern Chechnya; it involved dozens of rebel guerrillas using mortars and machine guns as well as smaller arms.

The Moscow website Newsru.com on April 21 published a list of “all the incidents taking place in Chechnya in the past week, in which Russian police or special operations troops suffered casualties.” It listed only those incidents which were admitted by pro-Moscow officials, noting that this list did not include the April 15 bus explosion.

April 20: The Interfax news agency reported that an armored car carrying a high ranking local police officer and four bodyguards detonated a mine in Grozny. The car was seriously damaged but its occupants were unharmed.

April 17: Four personnel of the FSB, the federal secret police, were wounded in Grozny when a mine exploded under their car in mid-afternoon.

April 17: Two special policemen were killed and three others wounded when their car was attacked with grenade-launchers from the ruins of a building in Grozny’s Oktyabrsky district.

April 15: A mine exploded as servicemen were conducting a security sweep in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district, wounding two.

April 15: An automobile carrying special police detonated a mine in Grozny’s Zavodski district, wounding three.

April 15: Also in the Zavodski district, a convoy of two armored personnel carriers and one automobile detonated a mine. Two servicemen were wounded.

Despite all these and other incidents, the deputy head of the Russian Ministry of the Interior, General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, reaffirmed on April 21 that leadership of “anti-terrorist” operations in Chechnya would be transferred this year to his own Ministry from the FSB. According to Newsru.com, the general stated “that the situation in Chechnya is gradually being normalized, though the rebel fighters are still capable of individual acts of terrorism and diversions.”