Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 96

On May 11, Chechen rebels attacked a column of Russian troops in the Sunzhensk region of Ingushetia, killing nineteen Russian servicemen (Russian agencies, May 11-12). The main danger to the Russian authorities is not that the rebels are attacking federal troop columns with surprising regularity and demonstrating the inability of the Russian military command to prevent such attacks. It is that the rebel threats to turn the entire North Caucasus into a zone of resistance can no longer be dismissed as a bluff. The two main danger zones are Chechnya’s neighbors, Ingushetia and Dagestan. Eduard Urasaev, press secretary of Dagestan’s State Council, told the Monitor’s correspondent that approximately 10 percent of Dagestan’s population is fundamentalist and supports the Chechen rebels. The situation in Ingushetia is potentially no less explosive. The Ingushi and the Chechens are very close ethnically: Many ethnologists see them in fact as one people, known as “Vainakh.” Thus it is no surprise that during both the first Chechen War and the current one, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev maintained a much softer line vis-a-vis Chechnya than the Kremlin and insisted on the need for negotiations with the rebels.

The recent attack on the Russian troop column in Ingushetia, however, could lead to a direct conflict between Aushev and the federal center. Aushev placed the main responsibility for the rebel attack on the Russian military forces’ command in Chechnya. He claimed that the Russian military command had received information that Chechen rebels planned to carry out attacks in Dagestan and Ingushetia but took no measures to ensure security in the Russian regions adjoining Chechnya. Responding to that charge, General Gennady Troshev, commander of the federal forces in the North Caucasus, said that the attack in the Sunzhensk region showed that Ingushetia had become a haven for the “bandits.” In addition, Aleksandr Gurov, the head of the State Duma’s security committee, said that acting Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov blamed the Ingushetian authorities for the attack on the federal troop column. Gurov placed the blame on Aushev personally, saying that while the Ingushetian president was presenting himself as a peacemaker, he “ended up being unable to prevent the shooting up of a Russian column” (Russian agencies, May 12).

As a newspaper noted, neither Troshev nor Ustinov is an independent observer, and their words must be taken as official comments. Therefore, if these two officials are consistent, both an antiterrorist operation should be launched in Ingushetia and a criminal case filed against Ruslan Aushev (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 13).

Meanwhile, Pavel Krasheninnikov, who heads both the State Duma’s legislative committee and the recently formed nongovernmental commission on Chechnya, said that he could not rule out the possibility that the attack in Ingushetia was a reaction by rebel hardliners to his recent meeting with former Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev, a representative of Chechen President Alsan Maskhadov. Krasheninnikov said that if this is the case, then it confirms the existence of a group of irreconcilable rebel fighters who will do anything and everything possible to prevent a negotiated settlement of the Chechen conflict. Early next week, Krasheninnikov is supposed to give President Vladimir Putin his suggestions for resolving the Chechen crisis (Russian agencies, May 12).

The attack in Ingushetia appears to have suited the purposes of both Russian and Chechen “hawks.” Yesterday was the deadline for Chechens to turn in their weapons under a Russian amnesty arrangement approved last December 13 by the State Duma. On February 24, Putin extended the deadline to midnight, May 16. The deadline is unlikely to be extended further, given that no one has spoken out in favor of the idea and that the Russian military leadership has spoken out categorically against it. In the view of General Troshev, everyone who wanted to use the amnesty has already done so, and if the deadline is endlessly extended, the Russian side will become the object of ridicule. In an interview published today, Troshev said that the “toughest” measures will now be taken against “illegally armed persons.” The general declared that one of the main remaining tasks for the federal forces in Chechnya is to search out and capture Chechen rebel leaders, including field commanders Shamil Basaev, Khattab, Ruslan Gelaev and Arbi Baraev (Trud, May 16).