Several weeks after the official announcement of the end of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya on April 16, little has changed in the region. It is evident that the situation in the republic remains tense. Reports from the region indicate that, notwithstanding the end of the counter-terrorist operation, the armed opposition (represented by the jamaats) continues its activities across almost the entire North Caucasus region on the same level as they were during the counter-terrorist operation. These are not conventional military operations, which have not been carried out in the region for several years, but rather militant activities circumscribed to daily assaults on Russian law enforcement structures and on those, who—according to jamaat members—collaborate with the pro-Russian authorities on the local level.
It is not surprising, then, that the military’s announcement of the launch of local counter-terrorist operations (in a particular region or in a given area or settlement) caused indignation of the Chechen leadership, which had presented the end of the counter-terrorist operation as a complete and final victory over the armed opposition as represented by the jamaats. An even more unpleasant surprise for Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov was the fact that on April 20, a counter-terrorist operation was declared in several settlements in the Itum-Kale district and the mountainous regions of the Vedeno district of Chechnya. Three days later, on April 23, counter-terrorist operations were carried out in three other districts of Chechnya: Shatoi, Vedeno and the mountainous part of the Shali district (www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=49FAA7310D9B2). This upset Kadyrov to the point that he publicly denounced the aforementioned actions by the law enforcement authorities (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/153360) and demanded their immediate cessation. Indeed, it is difficult to convince the Chechen people that there has been a victory over terrorism when almost one third of the entire republic is still under a partial counter-terrorist operation regime. The Chechen leadership is more worried about the creation of the image of a peaceful territory, which in their view implies that such terms as “counter-terrorist operation” and “militants” must be relegated to the dustbin of history. In an interview with the Austrian newspaper Die Presse published on May 3, Kadyrov tried to present the region as being attractive for foreign investment and promised to make the republic free of Russian federal budget subsidies by 2012. Equally interesting was the fact that he apparently aims to remain the president of Chechnya until 2019, which by then—in Kadyrov’s view—will have become a flourishing republic (http://www.ruvr.ru/main.php?&q=112342&cid=437&p=03.05.2009).
At the same time, according to open source information obtained by the on-line news portal Kavkazsky Uzel, approximately 88 special operations and shootouts and three terrorist acts that claimed the lives of four law enforcement officers and wounded 12 took place in Chechnya from January to March. During just those three months no less than 66 suspected militants and their accomplices were detained and 37 munitions caches and 17 bases of militants were discovered. According to law enforcement officials, no less than 1,060 explosive ordnances were defused (www.newsru.com/russia/27apr2009/kavkazz.html).
The April-May period will in all likelihood be even more active when it comes to militant attacks. In fact, militant actions are occurring practically every day from the end of April to early May. For instance, on April 28, there were news reports about assaults on the columns of cars in the Shali and Achkhoi-Martan districts of Chechnya (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/153626). On May 1, a serviceman with the interior ministry forces was severely wounded as a result of an explosion (Itar-Tass, May 1). On May 2, a car in a convoy hit a landmine in the vicinity of the village of Shuani. One person was killed and several wounded (www.regnum.ru/news/1158654.html). On May 3, two suspected militants were killed in the settlement of Chernorechnye in the Zavodskoi district of Grozny, Chechnya’s capital (www.yuga.ru/news/153608).
This spike in militant activities could explain the reanimation of the constant accusation by the Russian military that the Georgian authorities are supporting the Chechen militants. The focus of this accusation is on the financial support for the militants directed from the territory of Georgia and Azerbaijan. According to Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, “the financial means for illegal armed formations in the North Caucasus are delivered by couriers who infiltrate through the adjacent states—Georgia and Azerbaijan” (www.newsinfo.ru/news/2009-04-30/chaika/178186). The Georgian authorities quickly reacted to accusations of this sort and denounced the assertions of Russian representatives as groundless (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/153604). Russian political scientist Igor Dobaev also disagrees with the Russian prosecutor general. Dobaev thinks that funds from Muslim countries compose the main source of income for the armed underground (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/89319).
Similar accusations against Georgia have resurfaced periodically whenever the relationship between these two countries has become tense. This time it seems that it is related to the NATO military exercises in Georgia and the deployment of Russian border guards along the borders of South Ossetia with Georgia, which implies one more step toward unification of the breakaway Georgian republic with the Russian part of Northern Ossetia-Alania.
Against the backdrop of statements about the absence of militants in Chechnya, news reports increasingly feature stories about detentions of former members of the armed underground. These detainees can be anyone, including volunteers who fought in the first military campaign (1994-1996), as well as those who simply sympathize with the militants. It is obvious that the police are carrying out prophylactic measures in order to demonstrate to the skeptical public that their activities are fruitful at the expense of those who even once carried a machine gun during the first war (www.newsru.com/russia/03may2009/chechn.html). It is no longer a surprise that the detainees facing these trumped up charges, or those inclined to surrender, always reveal hidden weapons cache (or if he doesn’t have one, the accused must buy machine guns in order to present them as weapons surrendered to the law enforcement authorities voluntarily). A suspect must also identify several new people so that the authorities can then follow the chain and continue to operate this assembly line of artificially “surrendered” militants.
Meanwhile, human rights defenders quote figures indicating that from the start of the year through April there was a noticeable growth in the abductions of people by “unknown military structures” in Chechnya. This is precisely the sort of categorization that has been employed to identify all law enforcement bodies that carry out special operations in Chechnya. Thus, according to the Memorial human rights group, out of approximately 34 people who have been abducted, 27 have been released, two were found dead, two disappeared without trace and three were found in the pre-trial detention facilities (http://www.newsru.com/russia/27apr2009/kavkazz.html). Since the majority of abductees (20) are from the village of Dargo (in Chechnya’s Vedeno district), it is possible to infer that these actions taken by the law enforcement authorities were directed against the family members of militants in order to apply pressure on them by abducting their relatives. This method is actively used against all members of the armed opposition in Chechnya.
At the same time, it became clear that the abolition of the counter-terrorist operation does not automatically mean the lifting of the ban on journalists’ access to Kadryrov’s "paradise." The Russian Foreign Ministry’s official representative, Andrei Nesterenko, noted that the “previously established order for the travel of foreign correspondents to Chechen Republic” remains in place (http://www.vz.ru/news/2009/4/29/281848.html). Considering that the international human rights watchdog Freedom House, in its recently published annual report, named Russia the most dangerous country for journalists (www.freedomhouse.org/uploads/fop/2009/FreedomofthePress2009_OverviewEssay.pdf), it is possible to predict that for journalists, the rules of travel to this special region of southern Russia will remain the same.
Thus, the recent developments in Chechnya give little reason to believe that the resistance to the authorities on the part of the jamaats is ending. Moscow and the official Grozny continue the public relations game for the public at large by investing funds into the reconstruction of Chechnya that they themselves devastated, and all of it is presented as proof that the war has ended. Yet, the war will end only when the issue of the armed resistance’s ideology is resolved satisfactorily, and not through the authorities’ physical intimidation of their relatives.