There was increased speculation in Moscow that hardline generals, intent on avenging their defeat in the “first” Chechen war, were running the show in the north Caucasus under only minimal oversight of the civilian leadership. Indeed, a Russian daily reported on November 5 that one of the architects of Russia’s military operations in the region–General Staff Chief General Anatoly Kvashnin–had threatened to resign if the Kremlin caved into Western pressure and agreed to begin negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Military leaders quickly denied the story, but there was little reason to doubt that splits over Russian policy in Chechnya are forming between and among various groups within the civilian and military leaderships.
Those emerging splits are likely to widen under the pressure of three converging developments: the looming start of a decisive phase in the military operation in Chechnya; the approach of Russia’s parliamentary elections; and an intensification of criticism from abroad of Russia’s actions in the Caucasus. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sits at the nexus of these tendencies. His political survival, not to mention his rising poll ratings, are a product in large part of his role in what most Russians still regard as a successful military campaign in Chechnya. But reverses in Chechnya could quickly sour the public on Putin and on the military campaign overall. That would probably mean Putin’s demise. What is less clear is whether the Russian political leadership could then rein in a military leadership that has used both the war in Chechnya and recent tensions with the West to establish itself as an important political force in the country.