The cycle of violence in Chechnya appears to be escalating, with Russian forces targeting civilians for increasingly punitive “mopping-up” or “cleansing” operations in response to rebel attacks. Mopping-up operations in the town of Argun, the village of Aldy and other adjacent areas entered a third day yesterday. Dozens of people have been detained over the course of the operations, including Apti Kharaev, identified by Russian military officials as a rebel field commander who was a close friend and associate of Arbi Baraev, the rebel warlord notorious for involvement in the hostage-for-ransom business who was killed last month during a Russian special operation. The federal forces also carried out mopping-up operations in villages along the border with Ingushetia, where a number of police and army personnel died in apparent rebel attacks earlier this week.
One of the villages targeted for “mopping up” was Sernovodsk, where on June 1 a remote control bomb blew up a jeep carrying five policemen. According to eyewitnesses, the blast, the equivalent of thirty kilograms of TNT, hurled the jeep fifteen meters into the air. All five policemen in the jeep died in the blast (Glasnost Foundation, Gazeta.ru, Radio Liberty, July 4). Federal troops also carried out searches in the village of Assinovskaya, following a July 2 incident, in which six soldiers from the 19th motorized rifle division died when their armored personnel carrier was blown up just outside the village. Four other servicemen were injured in the blast (Military News Agency, July 4). The head of the Sunzhensk administration reported that all males aged 15-60 in his district were being detained (Gazeta.ru, July 4).
Meanwhile, federal troops have carried out several repeat mopping-up operations in the village of Alkhan-Khala, where Baraev was killed last month. According to one report, some twenty villagers accused of being “accomplices in the slave trade” conducted by Baraev were killed during the operation against him and another 800 villagers were taken into custody. Alkha-Kala residents who managed to escape to Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, or Ingushetia complained that Russian soldiers looted their homes during house-to-house searches (Gazeta.ru, July 4).
The federal forces are also continuing an operation in the Sharo-Argun Gorge, located along the border with Georgia. According to Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin, federal forces there have blockaded a unit led by the rebel field commander Magomed Tsagaroev which had been moving from Georgia into central Chechnya. The federal forces claim they have already killed around thirty rebel fighters (Kommersant, July 4; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 5).
The cycle of violence continued in other parts of the republic. On July 3 a mine was detonated under an automobile near the village of Nagornoe in Chechnya’s Djohar [Grozny] district, after which gunmen fired on it. Two policemen who were traveling in the car were killed. Meanwhile, a lieutenant with a Russian OMON special police unit was killed during a house-to-house search in the town of Urus-Martan, when the commandos were fired on while entering a home. Urus-Martan was completely blockaded yesterday (July 4) in an attempt to find the shooter or shooters. In all, federal troops came under fire ten times over the period of July 3-4, and bomb disposal specialists managed to defuse eleven explosive devices around the republic.
The latest wave of punitive actions by the federal forces against the civilian population has increased the number of Chechen refugees fleeing into neighboring Ingushetia from both the plains and the mountainous regions of the republic (Radio Liberty, July 4).
THE “VILNIUS TEN” JOINTLY PROMOTE NATO’S ENLARGEMENT.