Just days after the Russian government announced that it had cancelled the ten-year-old counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya (North Caucasus Weekly, April 17), federal military authorities in the republic announced on April 24 that a new counter-terrorist operation had been launched in three districts of the republic: Shali, Shatoi and Vedeno. “With a view to neutralizing activities of members of illegal armed groups the operational headquarters for the Chechen Republic made a decision to launch on April 23 a counter-terrorist operation in the mountain part of the Shali district, including the settlements Chiri-Urt, Novye Atagi, Serzhen-Yurt and in the whole territory of the Shatoi and Vedeno districts,” Itar-Tass quoted Vladimir Patrin, chief of the joint press center of the Russian federal troops’ operational headquarters for Chechnya, as saying.
Two days earlier, on April 22, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Russian service had reported that Chechen officials had reinstated a special security regime in two of the republic’s southern districts. RFE/RL had reported a day earlier (April 21) that Chechen authorities had launched special operations to locate “hundreds” of resistance fighters in Vedeno. It quoted local law enforcement officials as saying that some 500 rebels led by Dokka Umarov are still active in the Itum-Kala and Vedeno districts and that police were stopping and searching all vehicles and individuals they were encountering in the area. RFE/RL also quoted local authorities as saying that two hideouts with weapons and ammunition, as well as two vacated rebel camps, had been discovered.
The news of renewed counter-insurgency activities by both local and federal authorities in Chechnya came amid reports that three Russian Defense Ministry contract servicemen were killed in the village of Bamut in Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district on April 21. Interfax on April 22 quoted a source in the headquarters of the Russian combined federal forces in the North Caucasus as saying that the three servicemen, a sergeant and two privates, were traveling in a tank truck carrying drinking water when unidentified gunmen fired at them, apparently from an abandoned house on the outskirts of the village. The source said that a military patrol arrived at the scene soon after the incident, but that the gunmen had already fled. Reuters on April 22 quoted a spokesman for the Russian security forces in Chechnya as saying that after the three soldiers were shot and killed, their weapons were stolen.
The commentator Yulia Latynina reported on Ekho Moskvy radio on April 18 that on the eve of the announcement of the cancellation of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya, two members of the Vympel special operations unit of the Federal Security Service (FSB), including a high-ranking officer, had been killed in separate explosions in Chechnya. According to Latynina, the federal authorities had not reported the deaths of the Vympel personnel so as not to ruin the celebrations marking the end of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya or possibly delay an announcement that the operation was over. Newsru.com reported on April 21 that the FSB had confirmed the death of one Vympel member in Chechnya and that the slain officer may have been a colonel.
Kavkazky Uzel reported on April 17 that a battle had taken place between rebels and the Russian military in the Shatoi district on April 16 as festivities were underway in Grozny marking the end of the counter-terrorist operation. According to the website, the federal forces had used artillery during the clash.
Meanwhile, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov continued to paint a rosy picture of the situation in the republic. Interfax on April 21 quoted his press service as denying media reports that the situation in Chechnya’s mountainous districts was worsening, but also as saying that rebel fighters were “preparing to get into Grozny to conduct terrorist acts there.” The presidential press service said the republican branch of the Interior Ministry was continuing to conduct “systematic operations” against militants in the mountains but added that the operations were “routine,” Interfax reported. “The people of Chechnya were inspired by the decision to cancel the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya,” the Chechen presidential press service said. “The people fully support the policy of the government and the republic aimed at rebuilding the economy, the social sphere, the creation of conditions to enable people to live, study and work. We emphasize once again that the bandit groups have been defeated. International terrorists have been destroyed” (see Mairbek Vatchagaev’s piece in this issue).