General Yuri Baluyevsky, Chief of the Russian General Staff, has raised the issue of Russia’s ultimate use of military force against terrorists. Baluyevsky signaled the possible of use of military force against terrorists, as a last resort, during a meeting with his Italian counterpart, Admiral Giampaolo di Paola, in Moscow on June 14.
Projecting an image of Russian military strength in the face of multiple and unpredictable security threats from international and domestic terrorists, Baluyevsky told di Paola, “The use of force in the fight against terrorism is a last-resort measure in the event that terrorism develops to a level where it [military force] would be decisive” (Interfax, June 14). Bearing in mind Russia’s definition of its ongoing campaign in Chechnya as an anti-terrorist operation, its concern over the Pankisi Gorge, and the potential for terrorist activity throughout the North Caucasus, Baluyevsky’s remarks ignore the continued lack of definition over the precise nature of terrorism, and exactly when the Russian military can and will be used against such targets.
Once again, Russian Interior Troops Commander Colonel-General Nikolai Rogozhkin has endeavored to promulgate an impression that Russia’s Interior Troops (MVD) can be adequately tasked with strengthening security in the North Caucasus by numbers alone. Such number crunching is not unusual within Russian military circles, but it is a far cry from actual improvement of the stability of the region. “The process of increasing the number of our troops in the North Caucasus has gotten under way. The numerical strength of forces is being increased in Sochi and Nalchik, where a regiment is being formed of three separate subunits, in Elista, where a motorized battalion is being formed, and Cherkessk, where our unit is being increased by one company,” boasted Rogozhkin. Such an approach ignores the priorities of officers and soldiers, who are keen to see basic improvements to service conditions (Interfax, June 15).
The North Caucasus Military Command has handed materials to prosecutors relating to the cases of 672 draft dodgers. More than 2,000 conscripts were fined for failing to report to recruitment centers in good time. The command revealed that 28,000 conscripts were drafted into service in the spring 2005 draft in the North Caucasus, yet the high level of reluctance to serve revealed in these figures not only draws attention to the crisis in the manning system within the Russian armed forces, but also to the unpopularity of the campaign in Chechnya and the relentless reliance on force espoused by Russian politicians in reference to the Chechen question. Such sentiments were in evidence during a protest held by retired Russian officers in Yekaterinburg on June 15. Protesters gathered outside the Volga-Urals Military District headquarters, complaining about the lack of progress on privatizing servicemen’s apartments. Their language alluded to their service in Afghanistan and Chechnya and disillusionment with the authorities for failing to adequately support the housing needs of military personnel (Interfax, NTV, June 15).
The concerns of ordinary soldiers and officers have never weighed heavily upon security thinking in the Kremlin, and there is little sign of their complaints provoking any shift in policy towards the North Caucasus. Indeed, the increase in MVD troops announced by Rogozhkin reflects a growing sense of disparity between senior military planners and middle- and lower-ranking officers. Baluyevsky’s allusion to a military option against terrorists, useful as it was during talks with a NATO counterpart, does not address these concerns: personnel seeking better conditions and hoping for real stability in the region. Russian military commanders are struggling with the inter-related issues of the Soviet military legacy, political machinations over Russian basing in neighboring Georgia, and showing tangible evidence of strengthening the security forces in the region.
Russia’s strategic interests in the South Caucasus are directly linked to many of its complex initiatives in the North Caucasus. Dividing property between Russia and Georgia has proven problematic. Georgia has now acquired the local tank repair plant, while Russia continues to own the hardware there. On June 15 Tbilisi announced the resolution of the final problems that had emerged from the handover to Georgia of the 142nd military plant. Russian media sources attempted to blame Georgia for risking the completion of the tank plant deal (NTV, RTR TV, June 15). Yet in reality the Russians were disgruntled by increasing Georgian control over the activities of the plant. What the complications confirmed was the nature of Russian efforts to retain influence; they will also make more problematic the future withdrawal from Georgian bases.
Baluyevsky wishes to promote an impression of Russia being prepared to act using military strength, and to act decisively against a terrorist threat. He cannot specify the nature of that threat, while the issue remains undefined. Similarly commanders in Russia’s sensitive southern regions would like to have the local populace, particularly its conscript base, believe that increased numbers will herald improve security. Disillusionment, poor conditions, and difficult service remain the stark reality for those Russian servicemen tasked with enacting the failing security policies of the Kremlin in the North Caucasus.