Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 23

Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev said yesterday that the Chechen rebel forces today number some 5,000 fighters, 1,500 of whom will never give up their fight against the federal forces. Speaking before the Federation Council, Patrushev noted that this was a significant force, and that the main task today was to put an end to their activities. Patrushev also reported that he knows the location of all the rebel leaders, including Aslan Maskhadov, Shamil Basaev and Khattab, and that actions would be taken based on this information. These actions, Patrushev said, would be of a “local” nature. Meanwhile, Russian troops began a special operation in southeastern Chechnya, the home territory of Khattab and Basaev, aimed at “liquidating Chechen armed formations.” According to the headquarters of the Russian forces in the North Caucasus, two Chechen units discovered yesterday in southeastern Chechnya were subjected to artillery shelling. Russian bomb disposal technicians were fired on while attempting to defuse mines placed along roads and in buildings (Russian agencies, Radio Liberty, February 1).

President Vladimir Putin announced last week that the Defense Ministry had fulfilled its mission to destroy the Chechen formations and issued a decree giving the FSB the main role in combating the separatists. While Patrushev’s comments suggest that the FSB has reacted quite quickly to the president’s orders, the FSB director’s comments did not contain any real information and seemed like little more than propaganda. Not only Patrushev, but any journalist covering Chechnya knows that the main forces of Basaev and Khattab are located in southeastern Chechnya. Patrushev did not name the specific location of the separatist leaders. It is worth remembering that at the beginning of the winter of 1999, the Russian military command claimed that the rebel forces numbered no more than 2,000 and that they controlled no more than four villages in the Chechen mountains. Already by this time independent observers began to question why the Russian air force, which was destroying Chechen villages without considering civilian casualties, had not bombed the separatists last bastions, thereby destroying the remains of the rebel movement. Thus Patrushev’s claims yesterday that the FSB knows where the rebel leaders are would appear to be the same kind of empty claims of victory which were made a year and a half ago.