Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 38

Kavkazky Uzel on October 10 quoted the former commander of the federal Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops, Gen.-Col. Anatoly Shkirko, as saying that the number of rebels fighting federal forces in Chechnya is far higher than the estimates given by officials. “Who carried out evening formation and roll call with [the rebels], who did a head-count of them?” he asked. “All of these numbers are only expert assessments that depend upon the competence of the expert and the political factor. There will soon be parliamentary elections [in Chechnya] and it is necessary to show that only 700 rebel fighters remain.”

Earlier, Arkady Edelev, the federal Deputy Interior Minister who heads the regional operational staff for coordinating Russia’s anti-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus, told the Interior Ministry newspaper Shchit i mech (Shield and Sword) that “at the current time there are operating on the territory of the Chechen Republic under the leadership of Basaev, Umarov, Sadulaev, 70 gangs totaling around 700 fighters and 100 foreign mercenaries.” The actions of the “power structures” in Chechnya and neighboring republics, Edelev claimed, had “to a significant degree” disrupted the rebels’ “existing command structure” and damaged their “material-technical and human resources, in connection with which the illegal armed formations’ terrorist activity has become fragmentary.” The rebels’ ranks, Edelev conceded, are replenished by drawing in youths “on a religious and material basis.”

Shkirko, who commanded the federal forces in Chechnya during 1995-1996, told Kavkazky Uzel that “in reality many more people are fighting against Russia” in Chechnya than the figures given by officials would suggest. Shkirko added that the separatists’ ranks are constantly being replenished with Chechen youths who today “do not know how to do anything other than fight.” According to Shkirko, “the local population help the bandits, inasmuch as they are afraid for the lives: they [the rebels] represent a real danger.” Yet the main reason that the local population helps the rebels, he said, is Russian policy of recent years. “We betrayed the inhabitants of Chechnya who are devoted to Russia—the halting of military actions in the first war, Khasavyurt [the 1996 peace agreement], etc.—that they fear yet another peacemaker will fly in and Russia will again leave, leaving them face-to-face with the bandits,” Shkirko said. “We first must prove that Russia is not represented in the republic only by a brigade of Internal Troops and a Defense Ministry division, but that we will be in Chechnya forever; then the population’s fear of a betrayal will gradually go away and they will stop aiding the rebels.”