Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 37

The October 10 issue of the newspaper Kommersant contained a report by correspondent Musa Muradov, who wrote that significant structural changes appeared to be afoot in Chechnya. On October 9, the employees of the passport-visa service of the police department of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (VOVD), located in Naursky District in the north of the republic, had “solemnly transferred their functions to [pro-Moscow] Chechen colleagues.” This development constituted the first step in a process whereby Russian police from throughout the Russian republic are to hand off to members of what is expected to be a 10,000-strong police force consisting largely of ethnic Chechens, who are to be part of a Chechen Republic Ministry of Internal Affairs. The handover is expected to be completed by the end of the present month of October.

If the process is in fact completed, it will put an end to a bizarre situation in which “there has been a functioning of two departments of internal affairs-a temporary [Russian] one and a permanent [Chechen] one.” One of the many problems connected with this anomaly has been that the pro-Moscow Chechen police, even those with twenty-five to thirty years of service, have been receiving a mere 800 rubles a month, while their Russian counterparts have been making 8,000-10,000 rubles.

In the opinion of the secretary of the Security Council of Chechnya, Abdul-Rashid Dudaev (no relation, apparently, to the late separatist president of the same name), the delay in making the present change “only served to deepen the criminal situation in the republic.” This was so, he continued: “First, because the civilian authorities of Chechnya had no one to approach concerning the preserving of public order–police sent in from the outside were not subordinate [to the pro-Moscow Chechen government]. Second, because the employees of the temporary [Russian] departments did not know the local situation and, in operational work, could not count on the support of the populace, something which was very much to the advantage of the bandits who were hiding in the villages under the guise of local inhabitants. No one was going to give up a bandit to the Russians–such is the mentality of the Chechens.”

The announced structural change, assuming it goes through, will unquestionably represent a key victory for the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, and for his prime minister, Stanislav Il’yasov. The online daily Gazeta.ru has reported that, on October 10, Il’yasov announced that there would shortly be major personnel changes among the republic’s security forces. General Sergei Arenin is to be dismissed as head of the [Russian] MVD’s main department in Chechnya, while General Sergei Babkin is to be cashiered from the top FSB post in the republic. Both men are ethnic Russians. Neither of them had reported to the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, and neither of them, Il’yasov pointed out, “had wanted to restore constitutional order in Chechnya.”

The online daily continued: “Gazeta.ru has learned that the cadre reshuffles in the Chechen law enforcement structures have been expected since September this year after a General Staff commission from Moscow conducted a thorough inspection in Chechnya and looked into the interaction of the military and local authorities. The commission drew some unfavorable conclusions concerning the running of the federal power agencies’ Chechen departments even before they completed their inspection.” The commission, of course, did not physically make it back to Moscow because their Mi-8 helicopter was “gunned down under mysterious circumstances” on September 17. The Chechen separatists, Gazeta.ru noted, have “denied responsibility for the crash.”

In addition to the imminent removal of Generals Arenin and Babkin, the commander of the Russian Combined Group of Forces, General Valery Baranov, has been, as was reported in last week’s newsletter, replaced by Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi. On October 10, his first day on the job, Moltenskoi met with residents of the village of Prigorodnoe–located four kilometers southwest of the Chechen capital–who had been blocking traffic for four days along the Djohar-Shatoi highway. The death of a ten-year-old boy, Muslim Bisultanov, who had died of shrapnel wounds on October 6, had triggered the protest. Moltenskoi pledged that “those responsible for Bisultanov’s death will be punished severely” and added that “all criminal cases launched in connection with the deaths of forty-two people [in the village] will be reopened and investigated further until the reasons behind their deaths are determined” (AVN, October 10).

On the same day, Moltenskoi announced that the numbers of the Combined Group of Forces in Chechnya are to be curtailed. The “surplus troops” will be returned to their places of permanent basing (RIA Novosti, October 10). No specific dates were cited, but Stanislav Il’yasov had earlier stated that “a gradual troop withdrawal will begin in January 2002” (Interfax, October 10).

What is the meaning of these developments? It may be that President Putin and his entourage have decided to jettison policies toward Chechnya which were patently not working. The new conflict in Afghanistan and the changed situation in former Soviet Central Asia appear to provide an opportunity for the Russian leadership to reduce the huge military and police presence in Chechnya. Battle-tested troops are urgently needed elsewhere. In addition, Putin may have come to understand that the massive corruption and criminalization of Russian military and police forces based in Chechnya constitutes a serious political threat to Russia itself and not just to the populace of Chechnya. So a decision may have been taken to try something new: Chechenization.

Will Chechenization work? It seems unlikely–just as the earlier process of Vietnamization did not work–given that the separatists have to date been at least as hostile toward the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership as they have toward Moscow itself. A number of pro-Moscow Chechen officials have been assassinated during the course of the present conflict. There is also little evidence that the Kadyrov leadership enjoys the trust of the populace, and it is probably as corrupt–albeit in different ways–as the Russian military and police based in the republic have been. On the other hand, there can be little doubt that the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities will treat the republic’s populace less brutally than have the Russian military and police, many of whom have evidently been consumed with violent hatred toward Chechen civilians as well as toward separatist fighters. One corollary of Putin’s apparent decision to opt for Chechenization is necessarily a downgrading of the status of talks with separatist president Maskhadov and his representatives, and, as we have seen, such a downgrading seems to have already occurred. Kadyrov and Il’yasov will insist on support for themselves and their team and on the severing of any ties with Maskhadov and his entourage.

To sum up, Chechenization is unlikely to work but, nonetheless, in some ways, it will perhaps represent an improvement over current Russian policies and practices.