President Vladimir Putin said February 7 that he was open to the possibility of “a dialogue” with Chechen rebels if they first rejected violence and surrendered their weapons. “If one or another [terrorist] structure laid down [its] arms and firmly stated that it had rejected any form of armed resistance to the authorities and the state, then, of course, they would deserve a dialogue,” Putin said in an interview with Spanish media. “But we have to consider what kind of a dialogue and with whom it has to be conducted in each separate case.”
According to RIA Novosti, Putin repeated his “more familiar tough line on terrorists,” saying that “not a single civilized country can allow itself the luxury of conducting negotiations with terrorists, because any talks with terrorists weaken the state and strengthen terrorists” and that Russia would never negotiate with terrorists who have the blood of Russian people on their hands. But he added: “Nevertheless, we are ready to allow any opposition forces, including Chechen militants who have not been involved in murder and blatantly criminal activities, to participate in politics.” Putin estimated that about 50 percent of law enforcement personnel in Chechnya are former militants. “We must involve them in normal life, otherwise they will be excluded from this process,” he said. “Whenever people abandon extreme forms of resistance and become involved…in political activity, this is an enormous plus.”
Putin discussed the North Caucasus in a meeting with senior officials of the Federal Security Service (FSB), also on February 7. According to RIA Novosti, he praised the FSB for anti-terrorism efforts in the North Caucasus in 2005 and called for further vigilance in the region. “On the whole, the objectives set a year ago have been accomplished,” Putin said, adding that FSB units had operated promptly and correctly and had improved coordination with other security agencies. “A whole group of ring leaders was neutralized, and many channels providing information, money and weapons were identified and closed.” Putin cited the operation to suppress an attack by militants in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, last October 13 as an illustration of the “substantial progress” the security services have made. He added, however, that the situation in the North Caucasus “is far from simple, and should be under permanent control,” and that the FSB’s top priority this year will remain the “tough and uncompromising fight against terrorism.”
FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, who also addressed the meeting, said that the threat in southern Russia “connected to the activities of international terrorist organizations and gang formations” has not been eliminated, and that the preconditions for a worsening of “inter-confessional and inter-ethic contradictions” remain. He said that Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Dagestan remain the most difficult areas, Itar-Tass reported.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, for his part, gave a rather gloomy assessment of the situation in the republics of the North Caucasus in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine. “There are still many problems in Chechnya but they are economic and social problems and less and less terrorism,” he told the German newspaper. “We will track down and destroy the bandits who still exist. The situation in the other regions of the North Caucasus, as in Dagestan, is anything but reassuring, however. It causes us more worry than Chechnya itself. In addition to the social and economic problems, the seed is now coming up that was sown after the end of the Soviet Union, when young people were sent to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in which Islam is taught differently, including with extremist solutions. In addition, we have no mechanism to solve the social and economic problems in North Caucasus. Corruption is substantially worse there than in other regions of Russia. Budgetary funds are wasted. We will not have any quick success there.”
Putin also addressed the issue of crime and corruption in the North Caucasus during a meeting at the Prosecutor General’s Office on February 3. “We continue to encounter truly medieval offences such as kidnapping and trafficking in humans,” Interfax quoted him as saying. “This problem is increasingly acute both for Chechnya and a number of other North Caucasus regions.” Putin said an individual investigation should be launched into each instance, report or complaint. “Criminals must be brought to justice regardless of their principles and position,” he said, adding that such measures were “key to reviving the economy and social sector of the North Caucasus.”