Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 7

Gen.-Major Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for the Russian military operation in the North Caucasus, claimed on February 14 that Federal Security Service (FSB) and Interior Ministry forces had carried out a special operation to destroy a group of rebels, Interfax reported. Shabalkin said the rebel group numbered up to 15 and was located along the administrative border between the Shali and Groznensky rural districts near the villages of Starye Atagi and Novye Atagi. Six of the rebels were reportedly killed and ten escaped. Shabalkin said the security forces launched the operation after receiving intelligence that a large rebel group was planning attacks on federal military installations. “An ambush was set up on the route along which the bandits were likely to move,” he said. “Around 00:30 on Monday, a group of fighters were spotted. Federal forces went into action against them. The band was dispersed. According to preliminary information, around five militants were killed.”

Radio Liberty’s Russian service reported later on February 14 that seven militants were killed during the operation near Starye Atagi, and that two of them were citizens of Saudi Arabia. It also reported that one Russian serviceman was killed and six wounded in the fighting.

Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov’s spokesman, Akhmed Zakaev, told Agence France-Presse by telephone from London that the federal forces had “provoked” the battle and denied rebel forces had broken the unilateral ceasefire that Maskhadov recently announced. “We have not broken the ceasefire,” Zakaev said. “But there are constant provocations from the Russian special services, as well as disinformation being spread by the Russian army’s press service. They are trying to discredit our idea of a ceasefire.”

A spokesman for the Russian military operation in the North Caucasus also claimed on February 14 that rebels had attacked two cars carrying federal troops in the Kurchaloi district village of Akhkinchu-Borzoi but that none of the servicemen were hurt. The spokesman said spetsnaz that arrived at the scene spotted a group of rebels numbering up to seven and killed three of them, RIA Novosti reported.

The separatist Kavkazcenter website on February 15 commented on the reported Akhkinchu-Borzoi attack: “What calls attention to itself is the fact that while the Russian occupation command earlier rejected all reports by the Chechen side about mujahideen military operations, stating that there is no war in Chechnya, with President Maskhadov’s announcement of a moratorium on offensive operations, the occupiers are now trying in every way possible to stress that the war in Chechnya is continuing. We recall that the Chechen armed forces command categorically rejected all previous statements by the Russian side about military clashes on Chechen territory.”

The federal authorities have long charged that Maskhadov exercises little or no control over the separatist forces, and reports of separatist fighters initiating attacks would give credence to that assertion.