Events in Chechnya have once again grabbed the headlines this week. Most notable among them was the review of activities for the years of 2003 through 2008 undertaken at an enlarged session of the Operations Headquarters for Chechnya and the North Caucasus, chaired by Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev. According to Nurgaliev, during this period approximately 2,186 insurgents were killed, 6,295 were arrested as accomplices and 1,125 were persuaded to lay down their arms and surrender. However, on October 8, the day before the session, the Deputy Interior Minister General Arkady Yedelev gave an entirely different number –1,300 combatants killed in Chechnya. Presumably the other 880 combatants were killed outside Chechnya, in other parts of the North Caucasus (Interfax, October 8).
Thus, the total number of neutralized combatants is 9,506! The number is higher than anyone could have ever surmised. Moreover, it is not quite clear from the report whether those who voluntarily surrendered to the authorities were included in this number. In a period of just one year, from 2006 to 2007, as many as 554 such persons were recorded by the ministry (www.mvdrf.ru, October 9). The total number is impressive and confirms the massive scale of armed resistance during the period under review. This represents nearly one percent of the total population of Chechnya involved in the resistance. The report also mentions the discovery of 9,700 rebel bases and secret caches of weapons and ammunition, with over 9,500 small arms, 20 man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), 252 flamethrowers, over 5,000 grenade launchers with more than 54,500 rounds for grenade launchers, approximately 20 tons of explosives and 3.5 million rounds of small arms ammunition. Additionally, over 59,000 shells and landmines were rendered harmless.
The report indicates that the Russian interior ministry sustained 634 casualties and the Chechen police force suffered 787 casualties in the same period. In other words, there were 1,421 policemen killed versus 2,186 militants killed. Given the correlation of police and insurgent forces, it is difficult to label these numbers as an achievement for the interior ministry.
Federal Security Service (FSB) Major-General Alexander Sulimov will now head the joint headquarters. He is currently the chief of the FSB for Chechnya and prior to that he chaired the FSB headquarters for the Caucasus Mineralnye Vody (Mineral Water) region (in Stavropol Krai). As his first order of business, Sulimov will have to find common ground with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov will become the most problematic figure for Sulimov since, as is well known, he conducts all his political dealings unilaterally (with personal protection from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin) and it is doubtful that he will share his plans and operations with anyone else.
The predominant opinion in Russian society holds that the ongoing swap in power players is dictated by the fact that the “army has completed its mission in the Caucasus, and the police established order. Now, the specialists from the FSB are going to stamp out all the bad Chechens” (www.mk.ru, October 1).
According to Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelev, cutting off financial assistance to combatants remains the “eternal” problem, which has existed since the beginning of military action in Chechnya (www.rbc.ru, October 9). Similarly, Georgia has not escaped Yedelev’s scrutiny, since according to him it is precisely there that foreign instructors “prepare diversionists for infiltration of the North Caucasus region.”
Meanwhile, the former defense minister of Ichkeria (under the deceased separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov) Mohammed Khambiev, currently an aide to Ramzan Kadyrov and a Chechen parliamentarian, thinks that the transfer of operational leadership to the FSB “will yield nothing good” and the fight against the militants will be disrupted (Gazeta, October 9).
Yedelev, while considering “the big war in Chechnya [to be] long over”, believes that the military grouping will remain in Chechnya until 2014 (www.gruzny-inform.ru, October 8). Thus, the federal authorities admit that the situation in Chechnya and in the entire region is still far from peaceful, and plan to keep the military grouping in the region for another five years. It is not a surprising announcement by the Russian leadership against the backdrop of providing security for the Olympic Games in Sochi and given the results of the August 2008 war with Georgia (which resulted in the recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence and did nothing to promote peace in the region).
Despite Kadyrov’s optimistic statement that the rebels have been driven into the mountains and are being hunted down there, Grozny, the republic’s capital, was rocked by a powerful blast on October 9 that claimed the life of one police officer. Twelve other policemen were wounded, along with three bystanders. Two of the policemen are in critical condition (Interfax, October 10). Presumably, the explosion was caused by the use of a grenade launcher intended for a patrol vehicle, but missed it, hitting the wall of a nearby building instead. Afterwards, when other policemen gathered around the vehicle, a blast rang out (Ekho Moskvy, October 10). The Ingush opposition website raised questions about the official death toll, alleging that there were far more casualties than officially announced (www.ingushetiyaru.org, October 10).
Just days two days before the October 11 municipal elections, Kadyrov addressed the citizens of the republic directly, announcing that if anyone disturbed the peace on election day, then punitive suffering would be inflicted not only on the organizers and perpetrators, but also on their relatives. In his republic-wide television address, Kadyrov called on parents to contact their children by any means possible (via internet, or telephone) and warn them that they will not remain unpunished (Vainakh republican television, October 9).
While it is unlikely that the October 11 elections will bring any changes in the political life of the republic, still, some analysts have suggested they will be a step, albeit a small one, in the direction of dismantling the system that has formed in Chechnya (www.rian.ru, October 9). Nevertheless, one should not expect a weakening in Ramzan Kadyrov’s unilateral rule anytime soon.