Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 40

Two federal servicemen were killed and four wounded in a gun battle with rebels in Achkoi-Martan district on October 18, Radio Liberty reported. The battle took place during an operation to track down a group of insurgents numbering 6-10, who had fired on servicemen from the Federal Interior Ministry’s “Sever” (North) battalion on the outskirts of the village of Katyr-Yurt the previous day. The security operation involved elements of the Achkoi-Martan Regional Department of Internal Affairs (ROVD), the Akhmad Kadyrov Regiment and federal Defense Ministry units. Helicopters were sent out to search for the rebel fighters.

Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on October 17 that the situation in Chechnya has “sharply worsened.” The newspaper reported that armed clashes took place in several parts of the republic on October 16. In the Grozny district village of Prigorodnoe, two unknown persons wearing masks opened fire on local inhabitants, killing one and seriously wounding another. In the village of Prigorodnoe-Komsomolskoe, policemen who were inspecting a car were fired on by its driver. The police shot and killed the driver.

On October 14, a serviceman was wounded in an explosion while searching for homemade bombs on the Kavkaz highway near the Shali district village of Belgatoi, Interfax reported. Another serviceman was wounded in a blast in the same area 15 minutes later.

The commander of the Combined Force in the North Caucasus, Col.-Gen. Yevgeny Baryaev, was blunt about the worsening security situation, telling a meeting of law-enforcement agency representatives in Grozny chaired by Chechen President Alu Alkhanov on October 12 that this situation had not gotten worse from June to early September. “But at the beginning of October, the situation deteriorated,” Interfax quoted him as saying. “Criminal armed groups are preparing for the autumn and winter period” and may have received “significant cash resources,” he added. “In this situation much depends on the military commanders. They must work actively. Much depends on them in terms of obtaining information about the operational situation and their influence on the situation as a whole.”

Baryaev said the situation had deteriorated particularly sharply in the Vedeno district, noting that rebel fighters had turned up in the village of Dyshne-Vedeno at the end of the previous week, “but for 15 hours no information was received about this.” This had happened because of diminished “vigilance,” he said. “If we reduce the level of our activity, the fighters react instantly and match this by increasing their own activity.” He noted that a military unit made up of more than 1,000 men is located in the village of Selmentauzen, not far from Dyshne-Vedeno. “By the time they had learned about what was going on in Dyshne-Vedeno and sent a subunit there, the fighters had already left and it was too late,” he said. Baryaev said the military commander of the Vedeno and Itum-Kalinsky regions had been dismissed, but did not name these commanders or explain the exact reasons for their dismissal. The Combined Forces commander warned that the period of October to the beginning of November “would not be particularly stable.”

Meanwhile, Interfax quoted the acting head of the Vedeno district as complaining during the same meeting: “Members of the law-enforcement agencies and [rebel] fighters both wear camouflage, have beards and use practically the same types of vehicles. It is difficult to tell whether it is a fighter or a policeman wandering round the village.”

According to the news agency, Baryaev’s critical comments were prompted by a report by the Chechen Republic’s military commandant, Grigory Fomenko, which described the situation in the republic as “tending toward stabilization.” Fomenko reported that “three armed clashes, eight explosions and nine shootouts” had taken place in the prior two weeks resulting in the injury of 12 law-enforcement officers and three civilians. However, he did not report any deaths of law-enforcement officers, even though it had been reported earlier that policemen were killed in the Grozny and Shatoi districts.

Interfax on October 12 quoted Alkhanov as describing the situation in Chechnya as “stable, but with elements of tension.” According to the news agency, the Chechen president expressed concern that “certain structures are starting to become accustomed to the situation and are dropping their guard from time to time.” He also warned against making what he said were misleading comparisons between the current situation in Chechnya and that of previous years in an attempt to make the current situation look better than it actually was. “It is absolutely unclear how the current situation can be compared with 2002 or 2001, when the counter-terror operation was in its active phase,” he said. “A comparison should be made with the corresponding period in 2005, and the current situation does not compare favorably with that period.”

Meanwhile, Prague Watchdog on October 18 reported that some 80 houses in the village of Serzhen-Yurt had been damaged to varying degrees by artillery fire from Russian units located on the outskirts of the city of Shali. The website quoted Imran Ezhiyev, director of the North Caucasus section of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (ORChD), as saying that throughout the summer, the residents of Serzhen-Yurt had been subjected to a very high level of stress caused by the shelling. “Each shell flew across the whole village, so we could even hear the sound as it went, and then exploded in the forested area close by,” Ezhiyev said. “Sometimes this went on all night. No one in the village could get any sleep, and some people went down to their basements until the shelling stopped.” He said that the federal units were convinced to stop the sporadic shelling after “lengthy negotiations” and that village residents now plan to create a commission and to take legal action against the soldiers for the damage caused by the shelling.