The situation in the North Caucasus has reached what is perhaps its greatest point of tension since the war in Chechnya ended in 1996. Yesterday, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin met with top officials from the “power ministries”–including Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Foreign Intelligence Service chief Vyacheslav Trubnikov and head of the Armed Services’ General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin–to discuss attacks against Russian police and servicemen which took place along the border with Chechnya during the evening of June 17-18 (Russian agencies, June 21; see the Monitor, June 21).
Three Russian policemen were killed and fourteen injured in an attack along Dagestan’s border with Chechnya, while four Interior Ministry troops were killed in an attack along the Stavropol territory’s border with the breakaway republic. In the Dagestan incident, Russian forces counterattacked with helicopter gunships. While Russian officials initially said 200 Chechen fighters were killed, others reported yesterday that thirty attackers had been killed, and some fifty wounded. The Russian authorities subsequently announced they would close all but ten of more than sixty crossing points between Chechnya and the rest of Russia (Russian agencies, June 22).
While the identity of the attackers has not yet been established, they are assumed to have been guerrillas associated with the radical opponents of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Some observers contend that the attackers were “graduates” of terrorist training camps run by the Jordanian-born Chechen rebel field commander Khattab, and that the attacks were designed to upset plans for an upcoming meeting between Maskhadov and Russian President Boris Yeltsin (see the Monitor, June 21). Maskhadov yesterday ordered his government’s defense and security agencies to be ready to carry out “operations against armed criminals” at a moment’s notice. Last night, Ibragim Khultygov, chairman of Chechnya’s National Security Service, escaped injury after unknown assailants riddled his house with gunfire (Russian agencies, June 21).
…OTHER MEASURES: STAVROPOL SELF-DEFENSE AND CHECHEN INDEPENDENCE.