The Federal Forces Are Again Preparing for War” announced a headline in the May 7 issue of Kommersant, which reported on an important meeting held on May 5, in the city of Essentuki, in Stavropol Krai in southern Russia. Present at this meeting were the three Russian “power ministers”–Sergei Ivanov (Defense), Boris Gryzlov (MVD) and Nikolai Patrushev (FSB)–as well as Viktor Kazantsev, plenipotentiary presidential representative to the Southern Federal District, and the heads of all the constituent republics, oblasts and krais of the district.
Admitting that the federal forces were in control of Chechnya only during the daylight hours, MVD head Gryzlov said that henceforth night patrols by the police would be introduced in all Chechen population centers having police stations. “It’s our new tactic. We are trying to control the situation [in Chechnya] twenty-four hours a day.” No more than half of the personnel based at any one police station, it emerged, are to be Chechens. At the meeting, Defense Minister Ivanov repeated an announcement he had made the previous day, namely, that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya (to date, 5,000 have been removed out of a total force of 80,000) has been suspended. The Kremlin had earlier promised to withdraw all but 22,000 troops of the Ministry of Defense and Border Guards by September 2001. “Of course,” Ivanov remarked, “the army has fulfilled its main task. It has other tasks, however, including assisting the special services in neutralizing the ringleaders of the rebel forces” (Gazeta.ru, Kommersant, Izvestia, May 7).
Commenting on this new revised plan, the online daily Gazeta.ru observed: “Obviously in Moscow they have concluded that it is not possible to rely completely on Chechen policemen. What is more, the federal authorities have been forced to admit that the FSB is not capable of directing the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya…. The much publicized troop withdrawals from Chechnya have therefore ceased, hardly having begun” (Gazeta.ru, May 7). In a similar vein, a journalist reporting for NTV said: “Today the chiefs of Russia’s defense and security agencies made it understood that… the Special Services are unable on their own to deal with the rebels” (NTV, May 5, translation by BBC Monitoring).
At the meeting in Essentuki, Gryzlov reacted with approval to proposals from the leaders of the constituent subjects of the Southern Federal District to institute special measures for the registration of all citizens and all motor vehicles in the region (Izvestia, May 7).
What was described by both sides as the heaviest fighting in the war in over a year erupted on May 7 in the republic’s third largest city, Argun, located on the road between Djohar (Grozny) and Gudermes. Russian helicopter gunships hovered over the city for much of the day and Russian heavy artillery launched repeated strikes. The Russian side claimed to have killed twenty-eight rebels, while losing only two of its men (Agence France Presse, Itar-Tass, May 8). The Chechen separatists, for their part, claimed to have killed more than fifty Russian officers and soldiers and to have blown up four armored vehicles, while losing only four of their own men (Chechenpress.com, May 9).