July Becomes a Hot Month for Moscow in Chechnya

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 12 Issue: 15

News about increased military operations against rebels in Chechnya has unexpectedly been coming out of Chechnya over the last two months. What has been unusual about the reporting is that they describe full-scale warfare, which has not taken place in Chechnya since the end of 2010. Therefore, it is no surprise the region has also experienced an influx of additional security forces from other parts of Russia, as news outlets in various Russian regions have reported. For example, sources in Perm Krai were quoted in the Perm edition of Argumenty i Fakty reported earlier this month that the number of special groups and units from this Russian region that have been deployed to Chechnya, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria since last winter has reached “unprecedented levels” (www.perm.aif.ru, July 12). The newspaper reported that Perm Special Forces are tasked with conducting surgical strikes targeting militants in the mountainous villages of Benoi (in Chechnya’s Nozhai-Yurt district) and Aghishty (in Chechnya’s Vedeno district).

There have been similar reports about the Tambov Oblast riot police force, which is stationed in Grozny with the sole purpose of “obliteration of the militants.” Similar information is distributed in all regional publications in Russia. This allows one to conclude that people in Moscow do not place much hope on in the many thousands of the local policemen in the North Caucasian republics, but rather are attempting to change the negative course of events in the region (from Moscow’s perspective) by recruiting multiple special forces, riot police, etc.

Thus on July 2, a policeman was killed and 2 other law enforcement officers received injuries of varying degrees in a clash with rebel suspects in the vicinity of the Vedeno district village of Khatuni. Vedeno district is in the mountains of Chechnya bordering both Dagestan and the Shali district in the Chechen foothills. Just days later, on July 13, another policeman was killed and seven others were injured in Vedeno district in a shootout with a group of militants. Interfax reported that the battle took place near the village of Kharachoi. According to the Rosbalt news agency, apart from the local policemen, Russian interior ministry forces took part in the operation (www.rosbalt.ru, July 14). So it was a combined police-military operation and part of the larger campaign that has been ongoing in the North Caucasus since February.

An event that followed indicated that the joint Chechen police-Russian interior ministry operation has been futile. According to Russian information agencies, on July 18, two policemen were killed and seven were wounded in an explosion that took place while police conducted a search operation some eight kilometers from Kharachoi. All of the victims appeared to be patrol servicemen from the Shali district police (Interfax, July 18). Despite such large-scale police and military operations, there have been no reports of losses among the militants. It appears that a previously unknown group of militants is operating in this area, although it is not surprisingly a group under the command of Khussein Gakaev. This group killed five policemen and wounded 16 in two weeks.

Nor was much attention paid to the attack the Chechen policemen in the settlement of Levoberezhnoe in Chechnya’s Naur district on July 5. Two policemen received shrapnel wounds after unknown assailants hurled a grenade at them as they patrolled the street in their car (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 6). Given the fact that this incident took place in the northern part of Chechnya, beyond the Terek River, it deserves more careful analysis than anything else that has happened so far in July in Chechnya.

The special operations in Chechnya’s Vedeno and Shali districts and the militant attack in the Naur district were accompanied by the imposition on July 5 of a counterterrorism operation regime in Grozny rural district; the Urus-Martan district, situated in the foothills; the Shatoi district in the mountains; and the Achkhoi-Martan district, also in the foothills (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 5). On July 17, government forces managed to kill two rebels in Urus-Martan, which is situated southwest of Grozny. Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov personally told journalists that one of the slain rebels was identified as the Urus-Martan district’s emir, Yunadi Bataev, who had been on the wanted list for six years. Two days before that, on July 15, two other militants were killed in the Shali district village of Avtury. News reports about the arrests of rebel suspects or their accomplices are quite common on Chechen TV.

It should be noted that the primary information resource of the armed resistance in the North Caucasus, Kavkaz Center (www.kavkazcenter.com), provides most of its information utilizing Russian sources. This probably indicates that the split in the Chechen armed resistance movement has not been mended. The website still does not cover the areas where the commanders who broke away from Doku Umarov operate. Therefore, this demonstrates that there is lack of contacts between the two conflicting sides that precludes the timely transfer of information about militant actions.

According to the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website, the government in Chechnya continues to commit acts of intimidation against the relatives and family members of rebels. A resident of the village Geldygen told the website that three houses in which suspected rebels had lived were set on fire. Such methods of putting pressure on the families of rebels are not rare in the republic. Kavkazsky Uzel recalled that this practice of arson attacks on the homes of relatives of rebels dates back to 2006. Chechen rights activist Natalya Estemirova tirelessly campaigned against this practice before she was killed by unknown assailants in 2009 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 15).

It can be concluded from the information provided by official sources that the government’s intense military campaign against the militants in Chechnya and elsewhere is not a temporary or isolated event. The fact that the large-scale security operation has been going on for five months is indicative of the failure of the government’s policies in the North Caucasus.