On December 5, Ramzan Kadyrov, the prime minister of Chechnya’s pro-Russian government, triumphantly declared that “the illegal armed formations in Chechnya have almost been destroyed” and that the republic has become a part of Russia, like any other region of the country. “We have cleaned up the republic’s well-known bandit leaders, like Maskhadov, Basaev, Gelaev and Abu Hafs,” Kadyrov said (Interfax, December 5).
Ramzan Kadyrov is famous for his optimism; he consistently states that there are only a small handful of militants left in Chechnya and that all Chechens support the Russian cause. Russian generals, however, are not as optimistic as Kadyrov, and this disagreement between pro-Russian Chechen authorities and the Russian military command is now blatantly apparent.
In early November, General Baryaev, the commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, said that “sabotage, terrorist acts and raids of the militants have increased” and that there were 700 rebels hiding in the mountains of Chechnya (Chechnya Weekly, November 9). He added that “the reason for the presence of such a large quantity of militants is the flow of young people to the illegal armed formations.”
Ramzan Kadyrov fiercely rejected Baryaev’s assertions. During a meeting on November 14 in Khankala, the main Russian base in Chechnya, where Baryaev was also present, Kadyrov said, “Some security officers have declared that there has been an increase in the activity of the illegal armed formations, but I cannot agree with this. There is no increase in the rebels’ activity in the Chechen Republic. Several bandits made a raid, attacked a car, but it does not mean that their activity has increased” (Kavkazky Uzel, November 14). Kadyrov referred to his recent meeting with chiefs of six mountain districts of the republic. He said that all the chiefs who attended the meeting had agreed that there was no deterioration of the situation in the republic’s mountainous areas.
The generals, however, disagreed with Ramzan Kadyrov. During the Khankala meeting, they criticized the Chechen prime minister and the pro-Russian Chechen authorities as a whole for their inability to prevent young Chechens from joining the rebels. Kadyrov responded by claiming that more money was needed for anti-insurgency propaganda in the region. “Stable material and moral support is needed from the government, but not only when the authorities need it,” he said.
The generals were hardly happy with Kadyrov’s request for additional funding for the pro-Russian Chechens. Russian security officials are quite aware that many village chiefs in the republic, as well as other local officials, give money to the rebels. Furthermore, Kadyrov had to recognize that low-level civil officials could not confront the insurgents. During the same meeting, Kadyrov said, “70 district chiefs and 60 imams were killed in Chechnya since the year 2000.”
The controversy between Ramzan Kadyrov and the Russian generals is understandable: the generals know that they are unable to win the Chechen war by using only military means and they require the assistance of the pro-Russian Chechen authorities. However, Kadyrov is simply unable to help them since his real influence in Chechnya is very limited and he and his men are unable do anything without the assistance of the Russian forces.
It seems that the situation in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus as a whole is forcing the Russian generals to provide more accurate assessments and to refrain from coordinating their statements with Ramzan Kadyrov – or even, perhaps, with the Kremlin.
On December 1, Nikolai Rogozhkin, commander of the Russian Interior Forces, made an even more frank statement than the one Baryaev made a month ago. Rogozhkin stated that there are up to 1,000 rebels in Chechnya and that they are operating in both the mountains and the plains (Interfax, December 1). It should be noted that a month ago, Baryaev said that only 700 militants were operating in the mountain areas. Rogozhkin did not want to hide the fact that Chechnya continues to be the main headache for the Russian military. “The counter–terrorist operation in the Chechen Republic remains a priority for the command of the Interior Forces,” Rogozhkin told the Krasnaya zvezda newspaper, the official organ of the Ministry of Defense (Krasnaya zvezda, December 4). He added that the number of servicemen in the 46th brigade of the Interior Forces in Chechnya had been increased to 15,000, while new special-task regiments had been deployed to the Chechen settlements of Gudermes and Urus-Martan. In addition to Chechnya, the Interior Forces commander did not forget to mention other Caucasian regions, noting that “the leaders of the bandit underground are still trying to expand their terrorist activities to other members of the Russian Federation.” According to Viktor Ozerov, the head of the Defense and Security Committee of the Federation Council, an additional 400 million rubles (around $15.2 million) from the government budget will be allocated to renovate old and build new facilities for units of the Interior Forces in Chechnya and in neighboring Ingushetia (Nezavisimya gazeta, November 24).
Along with the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry is also taking steps to strengthen its forces in the North Caucasus. General Alexander Baranov, the Commander of the North Caucasus Military District, announced plans to recruit another 10,000 contract soldiers for the district’s units in 2007 (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 11).
Ramzan Kadyrov’s optimism looks increasingly absurd against the backdrop of the recent statements of the Russian generals. Moreover, such radical contradictions in the views of Russian officials on the situation in Chechnya could be very humiliating for the Russian government as a whole. Any journalist brave enough to ask Vladimir Putin to explain such contradictory statements on the issue of Chechnya could make the Russian president look very foolish indeed.