Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 205

The refugee crisis on the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia has led some Russian observers to start worrying about another problem–the apparent lack of government control over the army units operating in that region. Yesterday, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev said that he had ordered his republic’s Justice Ministry to investigate whether Russian military units in Ingushetia–which he referred to as “armed formations”–were acting lawfully. Russian military and Ingushetian officials exchanged accusations over who was to blame for the situation at the Kavkaz-1 crossing point between the two republics, where thousands of Chechen refugees have gathered (see the Monitor, November 3). Ingushetia’s interior minister, Khamzat Gutsiyerev, charged yesterday that Russian troops had forced his men away from the crossing point (NTV, November 3).

The events of the past week along the Chechen-Ingushetian border have led to open speculation about the degree to which the Russian forces there may be freelancing. Earlier this week, one newspaper devoted an article entitled “Military Coup” to the issue of who is controlling the Russian forces in Ingushetia. In it, the author, a resident of Ingushetia, quoted one Russian military officer blaming everything on the local civilian authorities and promising to “impose order” (Novaya gazeta, November 1).

The worries expressed by the paper are given credence by a number of recent statements made by senior military officials. On October 30, for example, General Gennady Troshev, commander of the eastern group of forces operating in Chechnya, said: “For some reason, I trust [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin.” On the same news program, General Vladimir Shamanov said: “The most terrible thing is that a bitter taste remains from the last [Chechen] war–that the soldiers and officers of Russia gave everything they had, but were betrayed … I will tell you directly and openly: For me this war is above all to restore the trampled-upon honor of my motherland” (ORT, October 30). General Viktor Kazantsev, commander of the North Caucasus military district, said yesterday that if the Chechen operation was brought to a halt now, officers and generals would view that as a “betrayal” (NTV, November 3). Shamanov, the commander of the western group of forces in Chechnya, warned in an interview published today that if “politicians” prevent the armed forces from winning in Chechnya, “there will be a powerful exodus of officers of various ranks, including generals, from the armed forces, because the officers’ corps may not survive another slap in the face.” Shamanov said that some even believe that if such a scenario plays out, “the country will be driven to the brink of civil war” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 4).

These comments suggest a less-than-strict subordination of the military leadership to the civilian one, and, while not openly insubordinate, some of them could be viewed as containing an implicit threat. Indeed, the increasing unease over the perceived growing independence of the armed forces was apparent on the front page of a major Russian newspaper today. In an article on the deteriorating relations between the local authorities in Ingushetia and the Russian military units there, subtitled “Russian politicians do not want to control the actions of the military men in the Caucasus,” the paper noted that Russia’s Federal Migration Service, Ministry of Emergency Situations and Interior Ministry–in conjunction with the local civilian authorities–should be in charge of handling the refugee problem on the Chechen-Ingushetian border, not the Russian military commanders on the scene. The paper was clearly concerned about the precedent possibly being set. “No one is planning to intrude on the zone of responsibility of the military and determine for them the advisability of this or that action,” it wrote. “But one would hope that the generals, in a state of euphoria over the success and public approval [of the Chechen operation], will not in the future, relying on the Chechen-Ingush precedent, begin to interfere in civilian affairs” (Izvestia, November 4).

The situation on the Chechen-Ingushetian border, in fact, is not the only such precedent for the Russian military encroaching on the turf of the civilian authorities. Soldiers in the western Siberian region of Altai last month seized an electric power station and held it for more than a week. Major General Konstantin Svidersky said that he gave the order to take over the power station because the local electricity supplier–Altaienergo, which is the local branch of United Energy Systems, the state electricity monopoly headed by Anatoly Chubais–threatened to cut off electricity to military bases in retaliation for unpaid bills. According to the general, cutting off power would have violated a 1997 government order forbidding electric companies from pulling the plug on strategic military facilities (Moscow Times, November 4).