MORE REBEL ACTIVITY IN NORTHERN CHECHNYA
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 24
On June 4, a special unit of Russian troops entered the Chechen village of Borozdinovskaya in the North of the republic. “They ordered us to lie on the floor with our faces down and to pull our t-shirts over our heads,” a resident of the village told an NTV correspondent on June 17. “We lay in such a position for seven hours.” The people face down in the mud during a heavy rain, while servicemen kicked them and struck them with the butts of the assault rifles. Then they burned four houses and took eleven young men with them. When the federal forces left Borozdinovskaya, the residents found the dead body of an old man and some other human remains in one of the burned houses. There was a rumor that some of the detained people had also been burned alive.
Relatives of the detained men blocked the federal highway to demand their release. They wanted to meet with the commander of the federal forces in Chechnya. Then, some one thousand people left Borozdinovskaya for neighboring Dagestan (the village is located six kilometers away from Chechnya’s administrative border with Dagestan). Borozdinovskaya is inhabited predominantly by ethnic Dagestanis, and the residents have said that they moved to Dagestan because they were scared by the Russian forces’ brutal mopping-up operation. The refugees from Borozdinovskaya made a tent-camp near the Dagestani town of Kizlyar and refused to go back to Chechnya when local policemen tried to force them to leave Dagestani territory.
Dmitry Kozak, the Russian president’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, has announced that a Special Commission will be formed to investigate what happened in Borozdinovskaya. But to really understand what happened in the settlement, one needs to see first how the situation in the area has been developing over the last several years.
Borozdinovskaya is located in the Shelkovskoi district of Chechnya. The region, together with two others – Nadterechny and Naursky – forms what is usually called North Chechnya, which is the territory upstream on the Terek River. When Russian troops entered the republic for the first time in 1994, they took over the area, facing almost no resistance. Northern Chechnya has no mountains or big settlements where a serious opposition can be organized; furthermore, the local population was more loyal to Russia than those Chechens who inhabit the central and the southern parts of the republic.
In the period between the first and the second wars, the situation changed. The majority of the Chechens with strong pro-Russian feelings and ethnic Russians (Cossacks) left the north and more Chechens came to the area from the mountains. Yet when the Russian army invaded Chechnya for the second time, they again took control over the north without any big problems. This time the locals were ready to resist, but the terrain did not let them do so effectively. Many young Chechens from the Nadterechny, Shelkovskoi and Naursky districts went to the south to joint the squads loyal to Ruslan Gelaev, Doku Umarov, Arbi Baraev and other Chechen field commanders.
In 2002, the Chechen separatists managed to overcome their internal dissension. At a big meeting that took place high in the mountains, the field commanders agreed to establish a unified resistance structure over all of Chechnya. Chechen territory was divided into three parts. The part east of the Argun River was called the Eastern Front and the territory west of the river was called the Western Front. Northern Chechnya, the territory to the north of the Terek River, was named the Northern Front. As one of the commanders who took part in that meeting explained to this author in 2003, the Northern Front has more a political rather than a military significance for the rebels. It is very important for them to show that the anti-Russian resistance exists everywhere in Chechnya. The separatists believe that if peace negotiations start some time in future, the Russian authorities could agree to give independence to Chechnya but will never withdraw the federal troops from any of the three districts in the north. The reason is that historically these districts belonged to Stavropol Krai.
When Shamsudin (Leche) Eskiev, also known as Amir Kamal, was appointed commander of the Northern Front, he had a very difficult task of organizing guerilla warfare in the plains. Nevertheless, Eskiev managed to do it: he found places for his fighters to hide and maintain arms caches. Though 70% of northern Chechnya is steppes and open fields, there are forests along the Terek River. Insurgents use these forests as their base. In the Naursky district, small sabotage groups hide in the forests between the villages of Isherskaya and Alpatovo. From time to time, they go out to blow up Russian military trains that carry troops and ammunition to the units located in the republic. In 2003-04, there were several serious acts of sabotage in Naur. The rebels in the Shelkovskoi region have the capability of stepping up their activities and moving around the big forest line stretching along the Terek from Borozdinovskaya to the village of Staroshedrinskaya. There is also a strategic road running along the Terek that connects Chechnya with Dagestan. Military trucks and armored personnel carriers as well as police cars have been ambushed regularly during the last several years. Guerillas have also attacked police and military garrisons located in the villages. For example, on September 15, 2003, a guerilla group attacked the barracks of Russian policemen from Murmansk located in the settlement of Shelkovskaya.
This year insurgent attacks have significantly increased in the district. Rebels have killed or disarmed Chechen policemen and repeatedly ambushed Russian police and military patrols. The Russian command eventually came to see the ineffectiveness of the pro-Russian Chechen police and the Russian police units located in the area. Therefore, special Russian Army groups were sent to comb the forests. As a result, two big clashes took place in the Shelkovskoi region this May. On May 14, a federal reconnaissance unit encountered a group of insurgents in a forest near Borozdinovskaya. Russian servicemen left the forest and shelled the area with mortars. According to Igor Potabnyak, deputy commandant of Shelkovskoi district, the shelling continued for an hour and a half. NTV reported on May 28 that another big fight in the Shelkovskoi district took place in a forest near the village of Paraboch.
It soon became evident that even the army had failed to change the situation. The rebel attacks continued. A decision was then apparently made to scare the population so as to force them to stop helping the insurgents. The last straw for the federal forces was the attack by rebel forces at Borozdinovskaya on June 3, when two policemen and a forest ranger were killed. The son of the latter is a Chechen who is serving in the Russian army (gazeta.ru, June 3).
Subsequent punitive operations in Borozdinovskaya were unsuccessful, and the guerillas have since continued their work. On June 8, rebel forces attacked a military car near the village, killing three servicemen. On June 17, 30 insurgents entered the settlement of Kurdukovskaya close to Borozdinovskaya. According to RIA Novosti, the militants disarmed three Chechen policemen. Clearly, the atrocities in Borozdinovskaya caused a serious political and social crisis, but did not affect the activity of the rebels.
Clearly, the atrocities in Borozdinovskaya resulted in a serious political and social crisis, but have not seriously affected the activity of the Chechen rebels. Undoubtedly, they will intensify their attacks in the north in the coming weeks. A central objective of the rebels is to establish the same degree of control in the Chechen North as they currently maintain in the southern mountainous areas of the republic. If successful, the separatists would then pose a serious challenge to the federal and local authorities. So far, the insurgents are slowly winning the battle to make the federals nervous and force them to continue making blunders like the brutally senseless zachistka (cleansing operation) that occurred recently in the village of Borozdinovskaya.