In another indirect mission that the federal military effort in Chechnya has been a tactical as well as a strategic failure, the Russian Defense Ministry announced on August 17 that it would be changing its methods of fighting the rebel guerrillas. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists that “two new mountain brigades will appear in the NCMD [North Caucasus Military District] for operations in the mountains, where special mountain-climbing training, different weapons – mainly light ones – as well as helicopters are needed.” The implication is that there will be a new emphasis on small, highly mobile counterinsurgency operations rather than the massive, World-War-II-style techniques that marked Russian operations such as the bombardment and capture of Grozny. Whether this emphasis will be consistently carried out in practice remains to be seen.
According to an analysis by Ksenia Solyanskaya published by the Gazeta.ru website on August 17, the new approach is to emphasize “not quantity, but quality.” The new strike forces are supposed to be, in Ivanov’s words, “small (company-size), but mobile subdivisions, ready in five minutes on an order of commander to be moved into any place.” The new mountain brigades are to be all-volunteer units staffed by professional “kontraktniki” soldiers rather than by short-term draftees.
Solyanskaya calculated that the new policy would mean an increase in Defense Ministry personnel deployed in Chechnya and Ingushetia by about 3,000 to 5,000 troops. This will be on top of increases already announced in the combat units of the Interior Ministry—further belying the Kremlin’s claims of “normalization” in the region.
But in a subsequent article by another correspondent, Yekaterina Achina, Gazeta.ru reported on August 20 that Alu Alkhanov is continuing to spread the old line that the federal military presence in Chechnya is shrinking. The near-certain successor to Akhmad Kadyrov told journalists on that day that the unneeded federal troops were to be withdrawn from the republic. When asked precisely when this would be happening, he replied: “This process is underway. Perhaps it will be this year, perhaps next year. But the fact itself is unavoidable, that is beyond question.”
Solyanskaya noted that the new federal policy amounts to a declaration of no confidence in the indigenous Chechen interior troops commanded by Kadyrov ally Sulim Yamadaev. Ivanov’s statement, she concluded, “means that there is no stability in the North Caucasus, and that there will not be any in the foreseeable future.”
Meanwhile, four federal or pro-Moscow soldiers and policemen were killed in Chechnya during a 24-hour period ending on August 17, an unnamed official of Grozny’s pro-Moscow administration told the Associated Press last week. One of the police was shot dead in an open-air market in Grozny. During the same period, said the official, “zachistki” security sweeps detained at least 150 more Chechens across the republic.
As the August 29 special election drew closer, rebel activities surged further. The Associated Press, as usual citing a source within the pro-Moscow administration who insisted on anonymity, reported that at least 23 federal and pro-Moscow Chechen troops and police died in fighting in two Grozny neighborhoods during the night of August 21 to 22. The rebel guerrillas opened fire on three polling stations.