Chechen Interior Minister Tries to Play Down the Insurgency

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 48

Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov

At a meeting with the heads of the combat detachments of Chechnya’s district and municipal internal affairs departments on December 5, Chechnya’s interior minister, Police Lieutenant General Ruslan Alkhanov, said that in the past month alone 10 members of the illegal armed formation were killed and 28 were detained on the territory of Chechnya (http://www.sknews.ru/rubriki/partnernews/15043-tolko-za-poslednijj-mesjac-v-chechne-v.html).

It is worth noting that the news reports issued by the media outlets of the Chechen militants provide more figures about the police officers and servicemen from the Russian armed forces killed in Chechnya. Still, it is possible to infer even from the information provided by the Russian mass media that the number of Chechen police casualties as imagined by Chechen Interior Minister Alkhanov. For instance, five representatives of the law-enforcement authorities were killed and 22 were wounded in Chechnya over the last month alone. The figures for those who were killed do not include civilians, who were assassinated by the militants for their collaboration with the pro-Moscow police: if you add them in, the true number of people killed in the republic over the past month is 12. (These numbers are based on Russian mass media reports during the month of November.) In other words, nine years since the start of combat actions in Chechnya, the number of killed and wounded has remained approximately the same as before. That is why to talk of success in Chechnya still remains a stretch of the imagination.  

Of course, it is possible to agree with Lieutenant General Alkhanov’s statement that the militants do not carry out conventional combat activities and generally avoid open clashes with the armed forces and police when they conduct special operations (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-south/chechnya/1094312.html). This statement, however, appears in reality to be less a rebuke than an admission of the obvious fact that the tactics of the Chechen militants have long shifted to partisan warfare; indeed, this was news in 2002, but not at the end of 2008.
    
The aforementioned accounts by Chechen Interior Minister Alkhanov began to appear in the Chechen press in the form of monthly reports about work carried out by his ministry. It is noteworthy that the reports, which are released to the press, routinely omit information about personnel losses incurred by the law enforcement authorities. Needless to say, the destruction of homes of people suspected of supporting or participating in the resistance movement by the pro-Russian police are also conveniently ignored.

That is exactly what happened on the night of December 5 in the villages of Tevzen and Khatuni in Chechnya’s Vedeno district where, according to the Islamist separatist Kavkaz-Center website, the homes of the relatives of Sheikh Salakh were burned in these villages (http://kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2008/12/05/62621.shtml). The almost blind Sheikh Salakh is famous as a fierce supporter of armed struggle against the pro-Moscow authorities in Chechnya and is popular among members of the resistance movement. This action by the police officers was apparently in response to the operation conducted by the militants on December 3, when they entered the village of Agishty in the Shali district (this village is located close to the villages of Tevzen and Khatuni in the Vedeno district) and killed the entire family of the former head of the village administration, Khozha Saraliyev, including his son and wife. They then proceeded to burn his house and car. This was allegedly done for their collaboration with the Russian special services.

A day later, retaliation came from the Russian side when the houses of the suspected participants in the aforementioned execution of the Saraliyev family were set ablaze. The arson phenomenon—involving the houses of resistance members being burned to the ground—has thus far been characteristic only of Chechnya among the republics of the North Caucasus. This has become a kind of instrument of pressure on militants and their relatives as well as on anyone who dares to criticize Ramzan Kadyrov for the fact that an increasing number of young men are joining the ranks of militants in the mountains while the authorities can do nothing to stop them. The only thing the authorities have not taken into account is that every time their subordinates carry out similar actions, they warm up the interest of young people in the militant cause.

Meanwhile, despite the arrival of the fall-winter period, Chechen militants have not reduced as the number of attacks against representatives of the pro-Russian authorities in Chechnya. Moreover, it is possible to speak about the emergence of a militant underground not just in one particular region of Chechnya, but across the different parts of the republic. Judging by the fact that the operations to detain militants are now taking place in Grozny (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-south/chechnya/1091174.html), it is obvious that the militants have become active in the Chechen capital.

The mine war has not abated and is claiming the lives of new victims every day. On November 30, two Russian military servicemen were blown up by a landmine close to the village of Elistanzhi (www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2008/11/30/n_1302535.shtml). It should be noted here that the Vedeno district prefect, Shamil Magomadov, resides in that village. He is a confidant of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. This means that security cannot be guaranteed even in a village where a high-ranking Chechen government official resides, and the landmines laid at the entrance to the village on November 30 did not represent an isolated incident. Every morning the Russian military must travel the route, which is used by the Russian armed forces on the Elistanzhi-Vedeno highway, in order to methodically clear mines, which are laid the previous night by the militants.  

It appears that both the militants and pro-Russian power structures are paying increased attention to the foothill region in the Urus-Martan and Achkhoy-Martan districts, where Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov’s base of operation is frequently located. RIA Novosti reported on December 8 that a serviceman was wounded in the Urus-Martan district as the result of an armed assault on a column of Chechen Interior Ministry troops. The assault targeted forces that were moving to conduct special operations in the district. In other words, the militants carried out a preventive strike that disrupted a planned operation.

The militants have also not forgotten the value of propaganda activities. For instance, on November 15 Ramzan Kadyrov made a statement that he was unable to find a single militant during a combined special operation by the police, Federal Security Service (FSB) and Russian armed forces in Chechnya’s Nozhai-Yurt district (www.newsru.com/russia/15nov2008/kadr.html). The militants posted an on-line reply in the form of an address posted on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaZfUmza6lk&eurl=http://kavkaz.tv/russ/). In the address, the militants mockingly stated that they themselves were looking for Ramzan Kadyrov and suggested to him that he come to their location. The video by the Emirs of Chechnya’s Shali and Nozhai-Yurt districts, Aslanbek and Hussein, was recorded in a forested area. The footage shows approximately 20 militants with another group visible nearby, implying that the gathering included at least 30 people.

In the meantime, Sheikh Said Buryatsky, who was once a very popular Islamic theologian among Russian youth and is now a member of Chechen resistance movement, felt it necessary to videotape a response to criticism of his earlier statements in which he  urged women to join jihad (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8569804913891970599&hl=en). These statements caused a lively discussion in Russian on-line forums (including http://salaf-forum.ru/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=208&st=0&sk=t&sd=a and http://islamru.com/haber_detay.asp?haberID=241, among others). Buryatsky, the chief ideologue of jihad on the territory of Russia, tried to soften his argument by claiming that he meant assistance to those already embarked on the path of jihad. He denied the criticism that his appeal was putatively related to the need to increase the number of militants by inviting women. Buryatsky stressed that there is no shortage of militants and that what he meant was that each must assist the cause of jihad regardless of where one is and in different ways, and not only by taking upon arms.

The unsuccessful appeal to women to join the ranks of resistance was a mistake that forced Buryatsky to soften his discourse on the need for women’s participation in the jihad. In Chechnya, where the role of women is generally restricted to family life, the aforementioned appeal did not play out in his favor.

Yet it is important not to underestimate those young girls who are captivated by Salafi ideology and can consciously decide to join the ranks of the resistance movement. Although thus far they represent isolated cases, the very fact of their existence has been documented ever since the first military campaign in Chechnya in 1994-1996. It should also be recalled that women frequently become willing participants in suicide missions and know full well the fate that awaits them.