Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 131

President Vladimir Putin has implicitly criticized military and security officials for last weekend’s series of Chechen rebel truck bombings. Putin, who made his comments during a stopover at the Russian military base in Mozdok, North Ossetia, while returning from a summit in Central Asia, said that losses from the weekend attacks could have been avoided and that “discipline, professionalism and responsibility” will be needed to prevent more attacks. Despite his criticism, Putin rejected comparisons between the current situation in Chechnya and 1996, when rebels mounted a comeback and eventually drove Russian forces out of the republic (Russian agencies, July 6). More than twenty OMOM police commandos from the city of Chelyabinsk were killed July 2 when a truck, apparently driven by a suicide bomber, blew up near their dormitory in the Chechen town of Argun. There were four other attacks of a similar nature that day, and Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Federal Security Service, said on July 4 that local security officials had been warned that such attacks might take place, but failed to take countermeasures. According to Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s point-man on Chechnya, a total of thirty-three Russian troops were killed and eighty-four wounded in the weekend bombing attacks. Radio Liberty, however, reported that at least fifty people died (Russian agencies, Radio Liberty, July 4).

Meanwhile, special security operations have been carried out in the towns where the attacks occurred, and Russian air and artillery hit targets on the outskirts of Urus-Martan and in Chechnya’s mountainous regions. A curfew was imposed in Chechnya afterward, with the Russian military announcing that any vehicles moving between 9 pm and 7 am would be fired on without warning. Deputy Interior Minister Ivan Golubev, who heads a special commission for investigating terrorist acts, reported that sixteen people had been detained in connection with the explosion near the OMON dormitory in Argun, while two others were detained for attempting to carry out a terrorist act in Urus-Martan. As of yesterday, at least fifty local residents in Argun, Gudermes and Urus-Martan had been in connection with the attacks (Russian agencies, Radio Liberty, July 4-5). Security has also been tightened up outside Chechnya: the Monitor’s correspondent observed an unusually large number of police checking the passports of passers-by in central Moscow yesterday.

It is an open question whether the Kremlin can prevent new terrorist attacks in Chechnya. An explosion yesterday in the Chechen village of Starie Atagi killed two people, while Russian military checkpoints in Chechnya were fired on fourteen times over the last twenty-four hours. There have also been attacks in neighboring republics. Unidentified assailants shot at a police checkpoint near the Dagestani town of Kizlyar yesterday, and a car bomb went off early this morning in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, killing two members of the republic’s anti-organized crime police unit. Since this time yesterday, Dagestani police detained thirty-five Chechens suspected of belonging to “illegal armed formations.” Meanwhile, an oil well was blown up last night in the republic of Ingushetia. The blast reportedly took place moments after a Russian military column stopped nearby (Russian agencies, July 6). Some observers have even questioned whether the authorities genuinely want to improve the security situation. As one newspaper noted, the special services have good information about the rebels’ plans (and possibly even the location of their ringleaders), but seem uninterested in taking any active measures to change the operational situation in Chechnya. This suggests that the current situation fully suits them (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 4).

Numerous deadlines have passed for the military campaign in Chechnya to be ended, but the war in the republic continues. The federal forces’ tactic of discovering and destroying the rebels’ bases and transportation routes has not been effective. What is more, rumors are again circulating that the federal forces are ready to give up Grozny, the Chechen capital, as happened in 1996. Despite Putin’s denials to the contrary, all of this suggests that the recent statement by Movladi Udugov, the Chechen rebels’ main ideologist, that Russia has already lost this war, was not simply clumsy propaganda.