Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 8

The March 1 issue of Gazeta.ru reported in detail on a February 27 session of the Russian Security Council, one devoted entirely to the issue of Chechnya, and chaired by President Vladimir Putin. In an unusual step, the first part of the meeting was made open to journalists. In his comments during the open session, Putin declared that he was “extremely perturbed” by the poor results achieved to date by the FSB, the Russian Finance Ministry and the pro-Moscow Chechen administration in attempting to stabilize the situation in Chechnya. He expressed particular ire against the Kremlin propaganda department, accusing it, once again, of losing the information war to the separatists.

After noting that the closed part of the meeting would hear reports on four sets of issues relating to normalization in Chechnya–namely, the military, socioeconomic, political and refugee aspects–Putin went on to offer his own evaluation of the situation in the republic. He flatly asserted that “the power structures have failed to fulfill all of their objectives,” and he added that “the most dangerous rebel warlords have not been neutralized,” that arms, supplies and finances were still getting through to the rebels, and that “foreign mercenaries” were still getting into the republic. While there have been “more evident successes in the socioeconomic sphere,” Putin remarked, substantial improvements were needed there as well. He then mentioned “the acute unemployment in the republic, which in turn leads to more crime, which affects the criminal situation and is one of the reasons that the rebels find support within certain sections of the population.” Putin also emphasized that “the reconstruction of housing in the republic is progressing far too slowly and that the construction industry should be creating many more jobs for locals.”

Putin likewise vented his irritation on the subject of the extremely complicated mechanism by which Chechnya is being financed. The federal minister for Chechnya, Vladimir Elagin, however, “managed to convince Putin that if the system works, albeit imperfectly, it should not be changed.” Putin, it should be underlined, said “practically nothing about a possible political settlement and suggested that the normalization of the situation in the republic is directly linked to the disarmament of the last rebel formations.” At this juncture, therefore, a negotiated end to the conflict appears unlikely.

In his comments to the press, Putin also singled out Russian propaganda relating to Chechnya for harsh criticism: “Regardless of the fact that Chechnya has several regional newspapers, its own radio station and federal television broadcasts,” he commented, “in practice there is an information vacuum in the republic.” Putin’s observations were visibly a source of “great concern” for his aides presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky and Press Minister Mikhail Lesion, both of whom were present in the room. The second part of the Security Council session was closed to journalists, and the representatives of the press were asked to leave the hall. Among those slated to make reports during the closed part of the meeting were FSB director Nikolai Patrushev, the two leaders of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration (Akhmad Kadyrov and Stanislav Il’yasov) and Vladimir Elagin.