We wrote back in April that the Chechen militants’ renewed combat operations needed to be viewed with a certain degree of caution (Chechnya Weekly, April 3). The reasons for such caution had to do with the two-year reduction in such activities related to the deaths of prominent political leaders of the Chechen resistance movement, including Aslan Maskhadov, Abdul-Khalim Saidulaev, Shamil Basaev and a number of high- and mid-level field commanders, which had significant impact on the military organization of the North Caucasian resistance movement in general. Many even rushed to “bury” the Chechen resistance movement, as they were convinced that the blow to its leadership was fatal.
Such analysts did not take into account the fact that the death of this or that leader cannot remove from the political scene a force that has been forged as a military brotherhood and has undergone a considerable ideological transformation. Today, the North Caucasian resistance movement, including the Chechen factor that represents its foundation, functions as a political party with a specific agenda. Each resistance fighter knows the overall objectives and is ready for possible leadership loss at any moment. Thus, the movement learned lessons from its past. This new political force is capable of carrying out a war of attrition that will be costly and exhaustive for the authorities. Such a modus operandi will also allow it to constantly replenish its ranks with new and young people, who aspire to achieve independence and build a sovereign state.
According to various estimates, several dozen militants participated in the recent military operation led by Amir Osman (Uthman Muntsigov), who commands the Dargin Sector of the Eastern Front of the Armed Forces of the Caucasian Emirate (www.echo.msk.ru/news/520695-echo.html; Chechnya Weekly, June 19). It should be noted here that the aforementioned military operation took place in an area where several military structures are deployed, including a military intelligence base in the vicinity of the Benoi settlement (not to be confused with Benoi-Vedeno, but geographically adjacent). That is why Ramzan Kadyrov immediately criticized the military for their inaction (www.ng.ru/regions/2008-06-19/7_grozniy.html). There are also several thousand police officers present in that area, according to a simple principle—one police station for every village. This is in sharp contrast to the Soviet period, when one local police officer was assigned to each village, while a police station was more often located in the district center.
The aforementioned military action clearly demonstrated that no one from the so-called “Chechen police” wanted to risk his life by venturing at night into the districts seized by the militants. The police itself admitted the fact of the seizure by militants, but decided to intervene only in the morning, thereby leaving their colleagues and government officials in the village to fend for themselves. The Chechen police units’ first combat encounter is usually sufficient to significantly diminish their loyalty to the Russian flag. Left face-to-face with the militants, their attitude to law enforcement service changes drastically and they begin to “serve” both sides, which is something that we witnessed in Chechnya during the first military campaign (1994-1996) and at the beginning of the second military campaign, when it was not clear yet who would prevail—the Chechens or the Russians. This means that each combat incident of this kind will systematically undermine the authority of Ramzan Kadyrov, who seems to think that his well-stocked coffers serve the best guarantee of the Chechen law-enforcers loyalty to the new authorities. In practice, however, each police officer is much closer to his family, and this will prompt him to “not notice” movements by militants and in some cases even to assist them by giving them advance information about planned operations or by hiding them right under the noses of those who are looking for them. In the meantime, the militants are targeting not so much personnel as property, burning down the houses of those who work for the pro-Russian administration. This is done for intimidation purposes as well as to demonstrate that it is very easy to inflict harm on those who may believe that the militants will never return. This operation will make many think about the role and place of militants.
The attack on a motorcade in the Argun Gorge, which took place in broad daylight on the road Grozny-Shatoi-Itum-Kale just 500 meters from the settlement of Chishki in Grozny district (www.vz.ru/news/2008/6/16/177898.html; Chechnya Weekly, June 19), would have been left unnoticed were it not for the fact that it claimed the lives of three members of the border guards unit of the Federal Security Service (FSB), including two officers, and was carried out entirely by the newly recruited militants.
Resistance information sources quoted the statement by the Emir of Chechnya’s Urus Martan district, Abdul Malik, which presented the aforementioned military operation as the first combat experience of the young members of the Argun Jamaat under the leadership of Emir Asad (Chechencenter.com, June 17). There is, of course, an element of propaganda in this, but the fact that the operation took place was confirmed by the Russian sources as well.
Little attention was paid to the attack by the militants on the police in the vicinity of Agish-Batoi in Chechnya’s Vedeno district (RIA Novosti, June 16; Chechnya Weekly, June 19). This village is located close to the route taken by Ramzan Kadyrov during his regular pilgrimage to the holy places associated with the name of the Sufi saint Kunta-Haji (Ramzan Kadyrov considers himself an adherent of Kunta-Haji). The attack there raises questions about the level of militant activities in the entire mountainous part of Chechnya, which undoubtedly worries the military command and the pro-Russian administration in Chechnya. The latter is trying to do its utmost to suppress news reports about militant activities, as is Ramzan Kadyrov, who during a meeting with law enforcement representatives urged the media to devote more attention to the film festival that was taking place in Chechnya at the time (www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=188744).
Other military operations carried out by the Chechen militants are evidence of their stepped-up activities around the republic but go virtually unnoticed. Examples include an attack on police in Grozny on June 16, which claimed the lives of two police officers (www.rian.ru/incidents/20080616/110596282.html), and an attack on an armored personnel carrier close to Bamut (Chechnya Weekly, June 19). These sorts of incidents have become routine in Chechnya.
Such actions are also interesting from a broader perspective, given that Chechnya for a long time has not been the site of large-scale rebel operations, with militant attacks concentrated primarily in the neighboring regions of Ingushetia and Dagestan. The authorities are at present compelled to maintain force levels and special operations units in Chechnya, which requires a redistribution of military forces across the entire North Caucasus. In 2005 the departure of Chechens and Karachays from the military arena (in terms of their respective levels of activity) had a negative impact on the rest of the jamaats, while the present situation is self-correcting in favor of the overall resistance line, which leaves vulnerable only the jamaats in Adygea and Karachaevo-Cherkessia (after suffering losses, the Karachay jamaat was merged into a unified jamaat of Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay under the leadership of Anzor Astemirov, aka Emir Seifullah). All the other regions—from the Caspian Sea in the east to the Cossack lands of the Black Sea coast in the west—are areas where elements of the North Caucasian resistance movement are actively present. This will have a negative impact on Russia, where the more active the militants are, the greater is the likelihood is that the youth will gravitate towards them, given that the militants are romanticized as Robin Hood-like fighters against the Russian system in the North Caucasus.