Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 16

The situation in Chechnya is reaching the boiling point, and the heads of Russia’s Federal Security Service do not rule out the possibility that a civil war could break out at any moment. On January 21, a group of officials from Chechnya’s Ministry of Sharia Security arrived in Urus-Martan–the heart of the opposition to President Aslan Maskhadov–to establish the circumstances surrounding last December’s murder of four Western telecommunications engineers. The officials were stopped, however, at the outskirts of the city by fighters who attempted to disarm them. In the ensuing exchange of gunfire, one person was killed and several others wounded. Chechen Vice Premier Turpal Atgeriev said that “the latest events have showed that the forces opposing the president are preparing a coup d’etat.” Valentin Sobolev, deputy director of Russia’s FSB, agreed with Atgeriev, telling a press conference that he did not rule out a large-scale conflict in the republic (Kommersant daily, January 23).

The latest escalation of the conflict coincided with the January 22 demonstration by inhabitants of Stavropol Krai’s Kursk region, which borders Chechnya. The demonstrators blocked three roads leading into Chechnya and Dagestan, demanding that Moscow recognize the Kursk-Chechen line as an international border. The inhabitants of the region are disturbed by the unending raids from the Chechen side: Bandits have been kidnapping people for ransom, robbing motorists and stealing cattle. The demonstrators said that only by recognizing Chechnya as an independent state, setting up international borders and establishing a visa regime for Chechen citizens will inhabitants of Stavropol be protected from bandit attacks. Stavropol Krai leaders spoke to the demonstrators, promising to transmit their demands to the authorities in Moscow. When the demonstrators were told that the Stavropol governor would fly to Moscow to inform the federal government of the critical situation in the krai, they ended their road blockades. The blockades, however, are likely to reappear soon if Moscow fails to satisfy the demands of the local inhabitants (NTV, RTR, January 22).