Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 14

On March 29–the day after Vladimir Putin had announced major personnel changes within the Russian power ministries–he met with the members of the newly recast Security Council, whose secretary is now Vladimir Rushailo, formerly the Russian minister of internal affairs. (For a detailed biography of Rushailo, see Stringer, no. 10, 2001.) According to some reports, Putin also met with Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow Chechen government, and Stanislav Il’yasov, prime minister of that body, as well as with retired General Viktor Kazantsev, presidential plenipotentiary representative in the Southern Federal District, before chairing the session; according to other versions, the three were invited to attend and participate in the session itself.

In televised comments made following the Security Council meeting, Putin noted that the problem of Chechnya had previously featured on the agenda of a number of Security Council meetings and that two entire sessions had been devoted to the subject. But, he underlined, “I cannot say that we the see the effect we are expecting” (Reuters, March 29).

At Putin’s insistence, the March 29 session of the Security Council resolved that “the restoration of the social sphere of Chechnya must become the most important component of the counterterrorist operation.” The members of the Council present uniformly stressed that such an approach must be “rational;” the federal government should not make investments into something which could subsequently be destroyed” (Gazeta.ru, March 30). In a report presented at the Council meeting, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko maintained that “the resolution of the sharp social and economic problems in the Chechen Republic would assist in the final pacification of the region.” However, Khristenko and others present at the Council meeting also took note of the fact that, “the restoration work is being conducted against the background of the mine war which has flared up, of shooting at units and objects of the federal forces, and of unceasing terrorist acts directed against local inhabitants loyal to Moscow.” That is why, they said, “the entire complex of restoration measures must be underpinned by the effective actions of the Combined Group of Forces. And this will have to be done under conditions of a continuing withdrawal of a part of the forces from the republic” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 30–unless otherwise indicated, the quotations which follow have been taken either from this newspaper issue or from Gazeta.ru, March 30).

Both President Putin and the participants in the Security Council meeting expressed sharp disapproval of the conduct to date of Russian troops in the conflict. “It is important,” it was underlined at the Council session, “to halt the unlawful actions of [Russian] soldiers in relation to the local [Chechen] populace. Such facts, unfortunately, exist, and they in no way assist the forming of a dialogue between the federal structures and the inhabitants of Chechnya.” In the future, the members of the Council resolved, so-called military “mopping-up operations” would take place only in the presence of a prosecutor and of the local Chechen head of administration. “Not surprisingly,” it was reported, “the military are against this measure.” At the meeting, Putin also emphasized that he wanted to curtail “the illegal activities of the [Russian] military in the sphere of the oil business [in Chechnya].”

Another decision taken during the Security Council meeting concerned the perceived pressing need to return Chechen refugees residing in Ingushetia back to their home republic. In the future, it was said, humanitarian aid should be directed to Chechnya and not to Ingushetia. Akhmad Kadyrov pledged to return some 50,000 refugees to Chechnya by the end of this summer. It was noted that some 10,000 refugees could be housed in the Kurchaloevsky District of Chechnya alone.

Particular attention was devoted at the Security Council session to restoring the oil industry of Chechnya which, since December of 2000, has generated an estimated US$13 million in revenues. Unfortunately, the theft of oil from Chechen pipelines and the illegal refining of gasoline serve to divert greatly needed funds; such pirate activities also contribute to an environmental situation described as “close to a catastrophe.” The Council’s conclusion: a reliable system of guarding the republic’s pipelines and oil wells must be established. A crackdown on the massive theft of funds and material resources earmarked for Chechen reconstruction must also take place. Finally, the well-to-do Chechen diaspora living within the Russian Republic must be encouraged to invest in Chechnya.

One point Putin emphasized was the need for more effective propaganda work in Chechnya. “The Security Council understands that ‘mild mopping up operations,’ gas, water and pensions will not be enough to win the support of the Chechen populace. Therefore, the most important component of the restoration process will remain propaganda. Television and radio broadcasts are to be restored to the whole of the republic to inform ‘the republic’s inhabitants of the progress of the restoration work.'”

As a number of Russian commentators have stressed, General Rushailo’s appointment as secretary of the Security Council marks a significant change in direction for that body. “From the resolution of global tasks [under Sergei Ivanov] the new Rushailo Security Council must move to concrete Chechen efforts.” Gradually, the FSB is going to lose its leadership role in the current “antiterrorist operation.” “Without excessive noise,” the FSB’s role will de facto be reduced to conducting “periodic special operations” (Grani.ru, March 29).

A specialist in combating organized crime, Rushailo would seem, some commentators wrote, to be an appropriate candidate to crack down on the “strongly criminalized” oil sector in Chechnya (Strana.ru, March 29). Rushailo is also an appropriate official to oversee the building up of a pro-Moscow Chechen police force.

A number of Russian press commentators pointed to significant problems inherent in the Security Council’s new approach to Chechnya. Writing in the March 30 Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Mikhail Khodarenok observed that the restoration of local organs of power and the formation of units of the MVD from the ranks of local inhabitants, as well as the restoration of the economy of Chechnya, had already been attempted-and had failed–once before, in 1995-1996. The web site Grani.ru predicted that the Security Council would prove unable to prevent the Chechen militia and the internal troops of the MVD, as well as Russian Defense Ministry forces, from continuing to plunder the Chechen oil sector (Grani.ru, March 29). And, Aleksei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the Duma’s Defense Committee, noting that “the equivalent of US$1 billion” in funds earmarked for Chechen reconstruction had been plundered during the 1994-1996 conflict, predicted that a similar situation would recur during the present war. “Those who represent the interests of Chechnya,” he remarked, “say that there exists complete anarchy there and that the funds which they have begun to allocate are not being used for the intended purpose” (Izvestia, March 30).