Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov declared on March 25 that the counter-terrorist operation in his republic will be completed by the end of this month and that already by the end of next week all federal limitations on the republic will be lifted. “In Chechnya, the battle against terrorists was completed already a long time ago,” Itar-Tass and Interfax quoted Kadyrov as saying. “According to the information of the special services, the militants in the mountains of Chechnya number 480, but according to my data, there are no more than 70 of them and they will be done for in the coming month.”
Kadyrov said that the remnants of the militants consist in particular of followers of Dokka Umarov, and he described them as “mercenaries and those bandits who could not go to the prosecutor’s office and give up their automatic rifles, because they have a bloody past.” The Chechen president also insisted that there are practically no Chechens left in the ranks of the “illegal armed formations.”
Answering journalists’ questions, Kadyrov said that Umarov himself buried once and for all the idea of creating a so-called independent Ichkeria. “Earlier, they said they were fighting for the independence of Ichkeria,” he said. “Under that flag they committed terrorist acts, flooded the republic with terrorists and representatives from the special services of dozens of countries. They have been routed. Now Doku [sic] Umarov announced that he is creating some kind of emirate in Caucasus. What emirate? Who asked for and who needs it? It is clear that no one needs the Umarov emirate. And that there is no return to Ichkeria. We must build a new life without the former leaders of Ichkeria.”
Kadyrov claimed that Chechen separatist leaders are ready to return from abroad, where he said they are hiding. “They are practically all ready to return home, to work together with us for the good of the Chechen people,” he said. He also claimed that practically all of the former representatives of Ichkeria now living in the West welcome Russia’s policy in Chechnya but “because of false pride they don’t talk about this publicly.” He added: “I spoke on the telephone with Akhmed Zakaev. He unambiguously declared that he is happy about the changes in Chechnya and approves of the course of the leaderships of Russia and the Chechen Republic, but that he cannot voice this officially, because he’s been on the run for 10 years.”
As Newsru.com noted on March 25, Anzor Maskhadov, the son of the slain Chechen president and separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov who now lives in exile in Norway, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty earlier this month that he and his family have received messages threatening their relatives living in Chechnya if he does not return to Chechnya (North Caucasus Weekly, March 13). In addition, Kadyrov has been accused of running a “secretive department” charged with repatriating Chechens in exile and targeting some Chechens living abroad who had either fought against him or had “otherwise attracted unfavorable attention” for assassination (North Caucasus Weekly, January 15).
In any case, in his comments on March 25, Kadyrov said that security is no longer an issue in Chechnya. “The republic is in fact one of the most peaceful regions of the country,” he said. “And today we can even share the experience of that struggle with other regions.” He said the most important issue for Chechnya now is the economy, adding that despite the fact that Chechnya is Russia’s most stable region, there is still no customs office there, the Grozny Airport has only domestic flights and there are other limitations on the republic that have been in place for the last 10 years.
Now, “the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation and the FSB (Federal Security Service) and other power agencies have come to the realization that all of these limitations can be lifted,” Kadyrov claimed, adding: “We have reliable information that as of March 31, the correspondent federal agencies will adopt a normative act lifting all the limitations in relation to Chechnya.”
Asked on March 25 whether the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya is really about to be completed, an unnamed source in the Kremlin administration told RIA Novosti: “That question is being worked out, but it’s too early to speak about dates.”
On March 26, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelev, when asked about Kadyrov’s claims that the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya is about to be brought to an end and limitations on the republic lifted, told journalists it was the first he had heard of such plans. However, Interfax quoted State Duma Deputy Boris Gryzlov as saying that such a proposal had been sent to the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK), and that the committee would take up the issue on March 31. An interior ministry source confirmed to Interfax that the NAK will address the issue. “The NAK is having a planned meeting on March 31, on the agenda of which are several issues, and among them, possibly, will be the official cancellation of the counter-terrorist operation in the republic,” the source said.
Gryzlov, for his part, supported Kadyrov’s claims, stating that the situation in Chechnya had reached the point where it is possible to announce an end to the counter-terrorist operation. “The situation has normalized, therefore I believe that the issue of ending the counter-terrorist operation in the republic can be raised,” Itar-Tass quoted Gryzlov as saying. Gryzlov also noted that the current large-scale presence of federal forces in Chechnya is very costly financially. “And that is rather problematic under the conditions of the global financial crisis,” he said. Gryzlov said that according to the law on combating terrorism, any decision to end the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya must be made by the NAK. According to Gryzlov, members of the State Duma’s Security Committee visited Chechnya on March 25 in order to assess the situation in the republic first hand. “According to them, the situation has strongly changed for the better,” Gryzlov said.
Yet, Kommersant wrote on March 26 that since the current counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya was launched with a presidential decree signed on September 23, 1999 by then President Boris Yeltsin, it can be ended with a decree issued by the current Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev.
Kommersant also quoted unnamed high-level officials in the Russian Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry as saying that the upcoming declaration that the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya has been completed will be the result not of a victory over the “illegal armed formations,” but of the economic problems facing Russia. “It is obvious that in the conditions of a financial crisis, maintaining the many thousands of members of the Combined Group of Forces [in the North Caucasus] … has simply become unaffordable,” Kommersant quoted one such official as saying.
Meanwhile, Interfax on March 26 quoted an unnamed source in “Russian power structures” as saying that if an official decision is taken to declare the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya over, more than 20,000 interior ministry internal troops could be removed from the republic, out of the total of roughly 50,000 Russian servicemen currently deployed in Chechnya. The news agency noted it had no official confirmation of this information.