A worrisome aspect of the escalation of tensions around Chechnya is that some Cossack leaders in Stavropol are promising to take matters into their own hands. Vladimir Shevtsov, ataman of the Tersk Cossacks, was quoted as saying that Cossacks may start forming their own self-defense units with the help of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who, according to Shevtsov, had promised 5 million rubles (a bit more than US$200,000) to buy rifles. Sources in the Moscow mayor’s office were quoted as saying that they knew nothing about Luzhkov’s alleged promise to arm the Cossacks, while a source in the Kremlin administration said that the Cossacks led by Shevtsov were already armed with legally acquired hunting rifles.
The same Kremlin source was quoted as saying that the solution for the rising tensions between the Stavropol population and Chechnya was either to deploy regular Russian army troops along the border, or to set up military training camps for the Cossacks run by Russia’s Interior Ministry (Vremya MN, June 22). According to another report, following the funerals of the four policemen in Stavropol, local Chechens living there approached the local authorities and asked for an armed escort out of the region back to Chechnya. Three dozen Chechen families left Stavropol following the attacks, after which several of their houses were reportedly destroyed (Izvestia, June 22).
Meanwhile, Luzhkov himself has suggested another solution to the Chechen problem: Chechnya should be granted independence from Russia if a majority of its inhabitants want it. Luzhkov said that he shared the views of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the subject of Chechnya (Russian agencies, June 21). The Nobel-prize winning writer and former dissident has said that Chechnya should be given independence, and its borders with Russia sealed by the army in order to protect Russia from banditry and other criminal activities (see the Monitor, June 4, 16).
BAN ON LUZHKOV’S HELICOPTER FLIGHT: TESTING THE MILITARY’S LOYALTIES?