Russia’s power ministers have admitted that the goals of the military operation in Chechnya have not yet been achieved. Four top officials–Federal Security Service (FSB) Nikolai Patrushev, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky–discussed the situation in Chechnya during an interview with the chief editors of a group of newspapers the Polit.ru website described as the “most loyal” to the Kremlin–Izvestia, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Rossiiskaya Gazeta and Trud.
Patrushev admitted that the task of preventing the return of “international terrorists” to the North Caucasus had been fulfilled “rather successfully but not completely.” Patrushev, whose agency took over management of the Chechnya operation earlier this year, also noted that the pro-Moscow Chechen government had not been able to move completely from Gudermes to Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, because “a number of questions” connected with providing normal working conditions for the government had “not yet been resolved.” The move was recently postponed because of deteriorating security conditions. When asked why the federal forces had not been able to capture or destroy Chechen rebel leaders, given that various media have found it relatively easy to communicate with them, Patrushev basically denied the premise of the question, saying that Shamil Basaev and Khattab are in fact holed up in Chechnya’s mountains, avoid using communication equipment, deal only with trusted people and would strongly resist capture. Patrushev said they could be destroyed even now, but an attempt to either kill or capture them would entail unjustifiably large losses for the federal side. The FSB chief said that the desire to save lives was the only reason the rebel leaders were free today, adding that the federal forces have been carrying out a strategy of destroying the rebels’ middle echelons in order to neutralize the leaders. Patrushev pointed to a recent operation against a rebel unit headed by Arbi Baraev as an example of this strategy being applied successfully. Patrushev indicated that he would rather capture than destroy Aslan Maskhadov, given that he, as Patrushev put it, “was president of Ichkeria.” Ivanov added: “We take into consideration that he was president, although we never recognized the legitimacy of his election.” The Yeltsin administration, it should be noted, did recognize Maskhadov, and signed a peace agreement with him.
TROSHEV REINSTATED AS COMMANDER OF THE FORCES IN CHECHNYA.