As rebel attacks on police increase across the North Caucasus, Moscow is stepping up its activities to prevent large-scale raids in Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria. Anti-terrorist drills are conducted around-the-clock, involving numerous military and police units (see EDM, August 1).
The Kremlin has tapped Federal Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev to prevent any major outbreak in the Caucasus as Russia prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008.
Nurgaliev toured the region in July. His itinerary revealed which parts of the North Caucasus are top priorities for the Kremlin. Interestingly, not only did he focus on known hot spots, he also toured the most prosperous and stable Caucasian region: Krasnodar Krai, an ethnic-Russian republic that lies along the Black Sea Coast.
On July 14 Nurgaliev visited the port of Novorossiysk in Krasnodar Krai to personally observe police anti-terrorist drills. His deputy, Police General Mikhail Sukhodolsky, also observed the exercises. As police officers explained to a correspondent from the local newspaper, Novaya Gazeta Kubani, the drills were designed “to improve coordination of law-enforcement agencies in an emergency.” The newspaper emphasized that it was no accident that Krasnodar and Novorossiysk had been chosen to stage the exercises. The city is a major port that has many strategic facilities and a high cargo turnover. It could be a potential terrorist target (Novaya Gazeta Kubani, July 20).
The drills had three stages. Stage one checked the ability of the local police department to quickly put all police forces in the city on alert. In stage two, police learned how to establish a central command post in the event of a terrorist attack. Stage three had special-task police units (500 policemen in total) improve their skills for conducting commando raids to destroy a terrorist cell and release hostages. Following the exercises Nurgaliev said that he was fully satisfied with the readiness of the Kuban — the unofficial name for Krasnodar Krai — police to respond to terrorists.
Similar anti-terrorist drills are underway across the North Caucasus. But many observers are puzzled about why the interior minister decided to observe the drills held in the quietest portion of the North Caucasus, instead of a region facing a genuine threat?
Viktor Ilyukhin, deputy chair of the State Duma’s Security Committee, claims that he knows the answer, based on information he received from the Kremlin. On July 10, Ilyukhin told journalists, “The separatists in the North Caucasus are regrouping” and the rebels are going to transfer their main activity to Dagestan, Adygeya, and Krasnodar Krai (Regions.ru, July 10). This shift suggests that the insurgents might be preparing to strike areas that could cause maximum military, strategic, economic, and political damage to the Russian state. Krasnodar Krai could be the best option for this scenario, especially now that Sochi, the Russian resort city south of Krasnodar, will host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
After Novorossiysk Nurgaliev went to Ingushetia and Chechnya. On July 26, he held a special meeting with Arkady Edelev, his deputy and the commander of all Russian anti-terrorist forces in the North Caucasus, and other security officials in Magas, the Ingush capital. That same day Nurgaliev declared the beginning of a large-scale security sweep in the republic and then departed for neighboring Chechnya.
The main objective of the interior minister’s trip to Chechnya was to provide moral support to local police, which have been hit by numerous desertions, rebel infiltration, and corruption. During a meeting with Chechen police officers Nurgaliev expressed the Kremlin’s concerns about the region. “Separatist leaders have plans to destabilize the social and political situation not only in Chechnya, but in the whole North Caucasus,” he told the officers (RIA-Novosti, July 27). He also reported that the leaders of illegal armed groups have “started recruiting new members more actively, especially young people.” “We should be very self-disciplined and should be ready to rebuff any provocation staged by destructive forces and completely exclude the possibility of terrorist attacks by the underground,” the minister said. “All instances when Chechen policemen act as accomplices to militants should be cut off and corruption should be rooted out,” he added.
Nurgaliev did not go to Dagestan, but he issued a special directive to the local Interior Ministry that reads: “The war on terror continues and it demands more efforts and emotions. …law-enforcement agencies continue to suffer casualties, the number of killed policemen during the last two months equals the number of those killed during previous five ones. Our irresponsibility should be blamed for it” (RIA-Novosti-Dagestan, August 6).
The Kremlin has assigned an extremely difficult task to Nurgaliev. Whether he will become a hero for keeping the insurgents at bay ahead of elections, or the scapegoat for any staged attack, remains to be seen.