Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 140

On July 16, Turpal Atgeriev, Chechnya’s security minister, was detained at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport and taken to the capital’s well-known remand prison, Matrosskaya Tishina. Atgeriev was arrested for his participation in the 1996 Kizlyar raid led by rebel Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, the amnesty given to regular soldiers in the Chechen War not having covered participants in the Kizlyar raid.

Not unexpectedly, Atgeriev’s detention sparked an extremely harsh reaction in Chechnya. The military council of the opposition Shura called the detention a declaration of war on Chechnya. Officials in the Chechen Security Ministry, which Atgeriev heads, warned that similar actions might be taken against Russian officials. Yevgeny Balkhavitin, head of the North Caucasus department of the federal border guards service, said there was information that there may be attacks on Russian military units and posts along the Chechen border.

Atgeriev, however, was released after twenty-four hours in detention, and there are indications that Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin was directly responsible for securing his release. Sources in the Interior Ministry said that the criminal code allows a suspect to be released if he poses no danger or provides valuable evidence–all of which applies in the case of Atgeriev (NTV, RTR, ORT, July 16-17).

The Kremlin had to know that if he weren’t released, it could, at a minimum, spoil the planned meeting between President Boris Yeltsin and President Aslan Maskhadov, and even lead to a new Russian-Chechen war. Chechen Vice Premier Kazbek Makhashev said that Atgeriev’s detention was an attempt to ruin the meeting between the two presidents. Atgeriev himself said it was probably aimed at discrediting Stepashin and Russia’s prosecutor general’s office (RTR, NTV, July 17).

Meanwhile in the early hours of July 18, two policemen and four young women were killed when suspected Chechen gunmen shot up a patrol car in the Kursk region of Stavropol. Two other policemen were wounded in the attack. Yesterday, one Russian serviceman was killed and four wounded in the same region when their checkpoint was fired on. The Russian side responded with helicopter attacks on reported Chechen guerrilla mortar positions. Also yesterday, Chechen gunmen attacked police posts and patrols along the border with Dagestan, killing one commanding officer and wounding three. It is possible the attack was in revenge for Atgeriev’s detention, even though he had been released. Official Djohar, meanwhile, denied that the latest attacks along the Chechen-Stavropol and Chechen-Dagestan borders had taken place, calling reports about them a “provocation.” In protest over Atgeriev’s detention, the Chechen government has recalled its representatives in Russia’s cities (RTR, NTV, July 18-19).