On February 21, Gennady Troshev, commander of the North Caucasus military district, held a meeting with the heads of the power structures in Chechnya to discuss plans for reducing the size of the federal troop contingent in the republic. Among those who took part in the meeting were Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo and Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Il’yasov. All of the participants agreed that it was time to transfer the reins of leadership to civilian structures (Kommersant, February 22). However, while the federal authorities have repeatedly announced “the end of the military phase of the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya,” nothing has really changed on the ground. The prime minister of the republic’s pro-Moscow government said that the normal work of civilian administrative structures is disturbed by the abundance of checkpoints around the republic, and called on the military to remove them where they are not needed. The participants agreed to set up a special working group made up of representatives from the military command and the Chechen government will decide which checkpoints to remove. It was also decided that Chechen police would now man the checkpoints jointly with Russian troops in order to reduce tensions with local residents. According to Rushailo, local police units will be created which draw their staff from 100 Chechen villages. This process of creating a new local police force is in fact already underway. Rushailo yesterday also addressed a gathering in Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, in honor of today’s national holiday, Defender of the Fatherland Day, during which he declared it was now necessary to concentrate on “uncovering and destroying individual terrorist groups” (Kommersant, Russian agencies, February 22).
It is clear from all of this that the Russian authorities are trying to demonstrate that the war in Chechnya is over and that peacetime life is gradually being restored. Against the backdrop of the Chechen rebels virtually ceaseless attacks, however, this is difficult to believe. It is worth recalling that during the 1994-1996 conflict, the Kremlin announced that the military phase of the operation had ended and gradually replaced regular troops with those from the Interior Ministry while setting up self-defense units in the villages who were supposed to defend the local population from the rebels. In reality, the war was ended by the Khasavyurt agreements, which were in fact a barely disguised capitulation by the Russian forces (see also Chechnya Weekly, February 21).
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