Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 6

The Emergency Situations Ministry reported on February 8 that 13 people were killed and more than 20 injured in an explosion at a two-story military barracks of the Vostok Battalion of the federal Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in the village of Kurchaloi, some 30 kilometers southeast of Grozny, on the evening of February 7. The Associated Press on February 8 quoted a spokesman for the southern regional office of the Emergency Situations Ministry, Oleg Ugnivenko, as saying that investigators believed on the basis of preliminary information that the blast, which caused the barracks to collapse, was caused by a natural gas leak. Indeed, Chechnya’s prosecutor, Valery Kuznetsov, said that no traces of explosives had been found at the site of the explosion and that this suggested that a gas leak probably caused the blast. He added that several scenarios were being considered, “including a terrorist act.” Kavkazky Uzel on February 9 quoted an unnamed deputy of Vostok commander Sulim Yamadaev as saying after inspecting the site of the explosion that the blast was caused by a technical malfunction in a gas pump located in the basement of the building, which in turn had caused a gas-cylinder in the building’s cafeteria to blow up. But Kavkazky Uzel on February 8 quoted a representative of the military prosecutor of the Unified Group of Troops and Forces in North Caucasus, Mikhail Renskov, as saying a bomb could not be ruled out as the cause of the explosion.

Meanwhile, both the Kavkazcenter and Chechenpress separatist websites posted a statement from “the headquarters of the Military Committee of the GKO [State Defense Committee] Madzhilisul Shura” claiming that the blast—which, it said, completely destroyed a barracks for 200 men and the headquarters of the Vostok Battalion—was the result of an operation carried out “special group of mujahideen.” The separatist statement claimed that according to preliminary information, 43 people were killed and more than 50 wounded. “It is possible the number of victims is significantly higher, given that the barracks and the headquarters were totally destroyed.” The separatists denied that the blast was caused by gas explosion and claimed that the authorities had removed the bodies of dead and wounded from the scene of the explosion during the night in order to hide the number of casualties.

Viktor Baranets, military correspondent for Komsomolskaya pravda, told Radio Liberty on February 8: “According to the information that I gained in conversations with specialists, including [specialists] in so-called ‘cylinder explosions’, if you take into consideration the strength of the building—that is, the thickness of the walls— [and] if you judge by the huge crater that was dug up [by the blast], then it is simply laughable to talk in this case about a gas-cylinder. There is ample evidence that the explosion was at minimum TNT. I think, having already looked at the photographs several times, that in all probability a minimum of 10 kilograms of TNT were planted there. I think that certain political motives are at work here. The separatists, when they have large losses, try to attribute them to some sort of accident. I believe that…in the given case the command of the Vostok Battalion would also like this to be attributed to a gas-cylinder explosion, not an act of sabotage or terrorism.”

The Vostok Battalion has been accused of carrying out the security operation in the Chechen town of Borozdinovskaya last June, during which one resident was killed and 11 others disappeared (see Chechnya Weekly, June 30, 2005). The missing Borozdinovskaya residents remain unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, Interfax reported on February 7 that a police officer was wounded in Grozny when his vehicle was blown up by an improvised explosive device made from a 122-mm artillery shell. Also on February 7, Interfax quoted Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov as saying that a large-scale security operation involving traffic police, Interior Ministry Internal Troops, criminal police and riot police, was underway in the republic. The operation’s goal, he said, was to track down and arrest suspects on a wanted list and to check cars entering Grozny. Alkhanov said another operation, to find and seize weapons, ammunition, explosives and drugs, and to identify members of criminal armed groups and their accomplices, was continuing. He said a large cache of weapons once owned by a field commander in the Achkhoi-Martan district, Sayed-Husein, had been discovered. Sayed-Husein, Alkhanov said, was killed some time ago. Also on February 7, a Chechen law enforcement source told Interfax that three militants had been detained, two of them in Achkoi-Martan and one in the village of Katyr-Yurt. The source said weapons caches had been discovered in Achkhoi-Martan, Bachi-Yurt, Katyr-Yurt and Samashki.

Agence France-Presse, citing an unidentified official in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, reported on February 4 that five Russian soldiers had been killed over the previous 24 hours. Three of the soldiers were killed and another three wounded in 14 separate attacks by rebels on federal troop positions, the official said, while three soldiers were injured—one later dying of his wounds—in a drive-by attack on a checkpoint in Grozny. A military engineer died while trying to defuse an explosive device in Garagorsk, northwest Chechnya, while a policeman was found murdered in the basement of an abandoned home in Grozny, the official said.

RIA Novosti, citing a source in “pro-Moscow security agencies,” reported on February 5 that one soldier was wounded in a drive-by shooting attack on a convoy of five Ural trucks and an armored personnel carrier near where a military unit is stationed in the town of Argun. Interfax reported on February 5 that pro-Moscow police had found and destroyed an improvised explosive device planted to damage an oil pipeline in a rural area outside Grozny. A controlled explosion to detonate the device reportedly left a crater two meters deep.