Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 22

In an interview with Komsomolskaya pravda published on May 30, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said it was necessary to mount a large-scale campaign to drive militants out of the republics neighboring Chechnya. Asked whether it was Shamil Basaev’s dream “to set the whole North Caucasus on fire,” Kadyrov responded: “It is not the dream of Basaev, but of al-Qaeda, and Basaev is their representative. A large-scale operation is needed — in Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia — to crush [the rebels].” Asked whether Basaev is in Chechnya, Kadyrov answered: “He’s not in Chechnya, no. Of course, we would have caught [him], but he only transits through Chechnya.” Kadyrov indicated that he had recently received a report about Basaev’s whereabouts, but he refused to disclose the rebel warlord’s current location, saying that this was “operational information.” He did say, however, that Basaev was inside Russia.

Apparently not coincidentally, police in Chechnya on May 31 pursued a group of fighters into neighboring Ingushetia, cornering them at a home in the village of Nesterovskaya and sparking a gun battle that killed three fighters and one police officer. The Associated Press quoted Ingush Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoev as saying in televised comments that the fighters had fled from Chechnya’s Achkoi-Martan district after a battle with Chechen police. According to Khamkhoev, the militants moved into Ingushetia, pursued by Chechen forces, winding up in the basement of a house in Nesterovskaya. Roman Shchekotin, spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s department for the Southern Federal District, reported that three of the fighters were killed in the gun battle, which claimed the life of one Chechen police officer and wounded four others. Khamkhoev said three police officers were wounded during the pursuit into Ingushetia and that one militant was killed. According to Russian news reports, the battle in Nesterovskaya ended when the militants blew themselves up.

Nezavisimaya gazeta (June 1) quoted the Chechen government’s press service as saying that among the militants killed in the raid was field commander Ruslan Khaikharoev. According to the newspaper, Khaikharoev was accused of masterminding the bombing of a passenger bus in Nalchik in 1996 that killed six people and wounded 28 and was also suspected of shooting two Russian journalists — Maksim Shabalin and Feliks Titov of the St. Petersburg newspaper Nevskoe vremya — who disappeared in Chechnya in February 1995. (It should be noted that some Chechen activists believe the two journalists were killed by Russian forces.) But Kommersant reported on June 1 that Ruslan Khaikharoev actually had been killed in Chechnya in 1999 and that it was his 19-year-old son, Ramzan Khaikharoev, who was among the militants killed in the Nesterovskaya shootout. Kadyrov, for his part, claimed that the militants who were chased down and killed in Ingushetia had returned from Turkey, RIA-Novosti reported on May 31.

According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, the hot pursuit raid into Chechnya was Kadyrov’s plan being put into action. “It appears that the Chechen law-enforcement organs feel themselves very free and easy on the territory of contiguous republics,” the newspaper wrote, noting that the security forces loyal to Kadyrov, which were recently reorganized into the Yug (South) and Sever (North) battalions of the Interior Ministry Internal Troops, have had confrontations with law-enforcement organs in Dagestan in the past (see Chechnya Weekly, January 13 and 19, 2005). “Now the Chechen police’s zone of ‘battle’ influence is widening to include Ingushetia,” Nezavisimaya gazeta wrote. “This is not surprising.” The newspaper noted that in April, Chechen parliamentary speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov called for the creation of a new region in southern Russia that would include Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia (Chechnya Weekly, April 27).

Meanwhile, Reuters reported on May 31 that two insurgents were killed in a gunfight with police in Buinaksk, Dagestan. A civilian resident of the city, Murad Alibekov, was severely wounded during the shootout and later died at the hospital, Interfax reported. The news agency identified the two slain militants as Timur Kushiev and Zaur Muzhaidov and quoted a Dagestani Interior Ministry source as saying that both men had been on the federal wanted list on suspicion of being active members of “illegal armed groups.”

Radio Liberty’s Russian-language service reported on May 31 that two Chechen policemen were killed and two severely wounded when their car was blown up by a remote control bomb on the outskirts of the settlement of Petropavlovskaya in Chechnya’s Grozny agricultural district. Earlier, on May 26, Itar-Tass had reported that a Russian serviceman was wounded in an attack near the village of Eshelkhatoi in Chechnya’s Vedeno district, while another was wounded while trying to defuse an improvised explosive device found near the village of Elistanzhi, also in the Vedeno district. The website of the Nazran-based Council of Non-Governmental Organizations on May 29 quoted Vedeno district residents as saying that Russian and local security forces had clashed with rebels on the outskirts of several villages over the preceding several days and that, as a result of intensified rebel activity in the district, the Russian military and republican law-enforcement agencies had sent reinforcements into the district. The website reported that Vedeno residents were worried that large-scale fighting involving a “huge number” of troops, hardware, and aircraft could soon erupt in the district.