Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 210

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced on November 9 that Moscow plans to take a number of steps aimed at intercepting aid to Chechen fighters from abroad. It intends to radically strengthen checks on passage across the Russian-Georgian and Russian-Azerbaijani borders. A number of commercial air routes connecting Makhachkala, the Dagestani capital, with various Muslim countries–including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar–have already been closed (NTV, November 9). Saudi Arabia today called reports that it was aiding Chechen rebels “totally false” (Reuters, November 11).

Putin’s announcement was apparently greeted with anger in Georgia and Azerbaijan, which only increased yesterday after Russia’s Defense Ministry charged that Chechen guerrillas had set up their main bases in Azerbaijan, that both Georgia and Azerbaijan intended to shelter guerrillas and that Georgia had agreed to host a Chechen government-in-exile. Azerbaijan called the accusation “groundless” and “provocative,” while Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze said that “certain forces” in Russia were trying to create tensions and draw Georgia into the North Caucasus conflict (Russian agencies, November 10). Officials in Azerbaijan and Georgia argue–with some justification–that a majority of weapons being used by the Chechen fighters were purchased in Russia. It is clear that Putin understood that his announcement would complicate relations with these two Caucasian states. It should be noted that Moscow is vitally interested in having Baku’s and Tbilisi’s support for the current military campaign in Chechnya. It would thus seem at first glance that it would not be in Moscow’s interest to let relations with them deteriorate. On the other hand, the world community’s mounting criticism of Russia’s military campaign in Chechnya (see the Monitor, November 9) is forcing the Kremlin to mount a counterattack and artificially stir up the problem of aid to the Chechen rebels from abroad.

Meanwhile, the situation involving refugees from Chechnya continues to grow more critical with each passing day. The weather in Ingushetia has significantly worsened this week, and tens of thousands of refugees, including young children, are sleeping in tents without heat. Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations reported today that 28,758 Chechen refugees entered Ingushetia from November 1 through 9 (Russian agencies, November 11).