On December 15, Russian armed forces chief of staff Anatoly Kvashnin announced that the combined military and MVD task force in Chechnya would be taking their troops out of the safety of army bases and deploying them in small contingents throughout the republic. This decision, which is certain to expose Russian troops in Chechnya to additional danger, was said to be a product of the President Putin’s increasing frustration with the military’s “inability to stamp out rebel attacks and stem a steady trickle of Russian casualties.” The contingents were to be based in more than 200 of Chechnya’s 357 towns and villages (Reuters, December 15).
In a piece entitled “Nobody Wants Responsibility for Chechnya,” the December 9 issue of the online daily Gazeta.ru reported: “President Putin is planning to hold a meeting dedicated to the Chechen situation, and the top officials of the so-called power ministries are bracing themselves for a severe castigation.” The Defense Ministry and the FSB were said to be “very apprehensive about the forthcoming meeting with the president” and “trying to figure out how to shift the blame from their respective ministries.”
Gazeta.ru proceeded to detail some of the reasons behind Russia’s military failure in Chechnya. Almost in passing, the publication noted, “As of October this year, Chechnya ceased to be the top priority for the power ministries.” (If true, this is, of course, an extraordinary development.) It was remarked that operational data collected by the Russian special services in Chechnya, as well as their official reports, “remain neglected for weeks, even months. They are not forwarded anywhere.” In addition, “the command of the unified military group in Chechnya is no longer capable of taking efficient and necessary action.”
In fact, Gazeta.ru went on, at the present time no operational tasks whatsoever are being assigned to military units located in the republic; all they can do therefore is to engage in “mopping up” operations and in the imposition of (temporary) blockades. If unit commanders, acting on their own initiative, send out reconnaissance units in search of separatists, “the units will have to deal with them [the separatists] alone, and reinforcements cannot be relied upon.” The same situation was said to obtain in the case of the internal troops of the MVD.
Apparently envisioning the deployment of military forces to “minigarrisons” located throughout Chechnya as a “PR-action” aimed at appeasing the Russian president, Kvashnin failed to ground his plan in a sense of reality. Kvashnin’s own General Staff press service, according to Gazeta.ru, was quickly required to tone down what the general had said. The garrisons, it emerged, might be staffed by local pro-Moscow Chechen police backed up, if necessary, by special mobile units of the Interior Ministry. Only the Forty-second Division of the Ministry of Defense would continue to be based in the republic, in Shali.
As for the MVD internal troops, Gazeta.ru went on, they were supposed to have taken over full responsibility for the situation in Chechnya back in March of 2000. But, due to a lack of proper coordination, this never happened. “As a result, Interior Ministry troops still only conduct law enforcement actions and do not even take measures to prevent acts of terrorism.” They take action only after terrorist attacks occur. Clearly, if the disorganization and lack of coordination described by Gazeta.ru reflect reality, then Russia’s chances of defeating the separatists during the current winter campaign cannot be considered high.