Rebels and pro-Moscow Forces Exchange Fire Across Chechnya

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 30

The past week saw yet another spate of rebel attacks in Chechnya (Chechnya Weekly, July 12). ITAR-Tass reported on July 19 that two policemen were killed and three wounded when their outpost came under fire near the village of Assinovskaya in Chechnya’s Sunzhensky district earlier that day. The news agency quoted a Chechen Interior Ministry source as saying that an armed group of up to 10 people had fired on the police officers with automatic weapons at the police post, located on the Kavkaz federal highway. “One of the attackers was killed by return fire,” the source said. “He is now being identified. Judging by the traces of blood on the scene, several bandits have been injured.”

Russian news agencies reported that five officers of the Chechen Interior Ministry’s patrol-inspection service were wounded in Grozny’s Oktyabrsky district on July 22 when unidentified individuals opened fire with automatic weapons at the UAZ vehicle in which they were traveling. A search was launched for the attackers. The separatist Kavkaz-Center website reported on July 23 that 10 “munafiqs,” or hypocrites – a reference to pro-Moscow Chechen forces – from the Chechen Interior Ministry’s patrol-inspection service and OMON special purpose force were injured in the attack. Meanwhile, the Chechen Interior Ministry reported that a serviceman with the federal Defense Ministry’s 42nd Motorized Rifle Division was wounded by an explosive device that went off 5 kilometers south of the village of Dekhista in Chechnya’s Shatoi district on July 22, while an explosive device went off in Grozny’s Leninsky district on July 21 as a Niva car carrying an employee of the Chechen Interior Ministry’s personal security directorate was passing by. The employee was not seriously hurt.

The Moscow Times reported on July 24 that a local officer was injured when an unidentified attacker fired a grenade launcher at his car in Grozny on July 23, while two other officers were wounded in a land mine explosion in the city that same day. Also on July 23, three members of the Perm Oblast OMON special purpose police unit were wounded when the car in which they were traveling was fired on in the outskirts of the village of Germenchuk in Chechnya’s Shali district, Interfax reported.

On July 25, an improvised explosive device was detonated in the path of a UAZ vehicle carrying four Tyumen Oblast OMON officers near the village of Andreyevskaya Dolina in Grozny’s Zavodskoi district, RIA Novosti reported. According to the news agency, none of the OMON officers was hurt in the attack. A Chechen law-enforcement source told the news agency that the IED was made from a 125-mm shell. Meanwhile, also on July 25, unidentified attackers fired on a group of Internal Troops who were conducting a search and rescue operation near the village of Gukhoi in the Itum-Kalinsky district. A contract serviceman was injured in the attack and hospitalized.

The week’s biggest military action erupted in southern Chechnya’s mountainous Vedeno district on July 23, when servicemen from the Vostok Battalion of the federal Defense Ministry’s 42nd Motorized Rifle Division blockaded rebel fighters who reportedly answered directly to Dokka Umarov, the rebel leader and president of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). The battle took place in a wooded area near the settlement of Tazen-Kale. Interfax on July 23 quoted State Duma deputy Khalid Yamadaev, brother of Vostok Battalion commander Sulim Yamadaev, as saying that six rebel fighters were killed in the fighting and others were wounded, while one Vostok serviceman was killed and another injured.

The separatist Kavkaz-Center and Chechenpress websites on July 23 cited “occupation sources” as reporting that a battle in Vedeno had resulted in dead and wounded on both sides. The websites, however, provided no other details. Kavkaz-Center, meanwhile, claimed in another report on July 23 that rebel forces had expelled “occupation formations and their accomplices” from parts of the Nozhai-Yurt district and had erected roadblocks along the administrative border between the Nozhai-Yurt and Kurchaloi districts. The website claimed that “permanent checkpoints” had been set up in the Nozhai-Yurt village of Regiti. Kavkaz-Center also reported that Umarov recently conducted an inspection tour of the area, holding meetings with the rebel Eastern Front’s command and various field commanders. According to the website, a source inside the command said rebel forces have established control over “significant” portions of Chechnya’s mountains during the last four to five months. The source said that rebel roadblocks and checkpoints, as well as secret and mobile posts, are operating in the Vedeno, Nozhai-Yurt, Itum-Kale, Shatoi, Kurchaloi, Achkoi-Martan and Urus-Martan districts.

Chechenpress on July 21 published two decrees signed by Umarov naming new top rebel commanders. One decree appointed Akhmed Yaevloev (Amir Magas) military amir of the ChRI armed forces. The other appointed Amir Mukhannad first deputy military amir, Tarkhan Gaziev (Amir Tarkhan) second deputy military amir and Aslambek Vaduev (Amir Aslanbek) deputy amir of the ChRI armed forces. The website reported that the decrees were signed on July 19.

Komsomolskaya pravda reported on July 25 that the fighting around Tazen-Kale showed that the “military situation in Chechnya has flared up again” after “a lengthy lull.” Still, the newspaper said that Russian analysts and politicians do not view the increase in fighting as anything out of the ordinary. It quoted the pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov as saying: “Yes, the fighting shows that the Chechen problem is not yet fully resolved. On the other hand, though, the situation in Chechnya is more stable than in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan.” Federation Council Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Torshin, chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating the events in Beslan, told Komsomolskaya pravda that the fighting was typical of what happens each spring and summer. “Year after year, this is the season when their activity peaks,” he said. “It is convenient to fight now: There is a lot of greenery that can be used as cover, and it is warm in the mountains right now.” He added that the local authorities are methodically finishing the job of “eliminating the remaining separatists.”

Meanwhile, Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov dismissed reports that republican law-enforcement officers have defected to the rebels. In June, the federal Prosecutor-General’s Office stated in an item posted on its website that there is a growing problem in Chechnya with the republic’s law-enforcement officers joining “illegal armed groups” (Chechnya Weekly, June 14). “We have thoroughly checked allegations in some media that a number of policemen have defected to the militants’ side,” Interfax quoted Alkhanov as telling Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov on July 23. “These allegations are groundless and have nothing to do with reality. We regard these rumors as an attempt to tarnish the reputation of Chechen law-enforcement officers who are tracking militants 24-hours a day and eliminating them if they offer resistance … Not a day passes without several former militants being arrested. This is the result of painstaking work carried out by the police in close cooperation with other agencies. Those media outlets that spread lies about the defection of policemen do not realize that they insult the memory of the thousands of law-enforcement officers who have died in the fight against militants.”

According to Interfax, Kadyrov echoed Alkhanov in saying that such “rumors” are groundless and should cease. “People are only just returning to normal life, and we must not make them worry again,” he said. “Sometimes such rumors stem from the absence of information about the real state of affairs. We must immediately react to such cases and tell people what is really happening.” Kadyrov insisted that the situation in Chechnya remains “calm” and shows no signs of worsening. on July 19 quoted Russian politicians who questioned Kadyrov’s optimistic claims about the situation in Chechnya. State Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin said Kadyrov “is attempting to pass off what he hopes for as reality,” the website reported. Gennady Gorbunov, chairman of the Federation Council’s Agrarian and Food Policy Committee, said: “There are no proper grounds for confident assertions that Chechnya is the most stable region in the North Caucasus. Exacerbations of the situation in the republic arise periodically. There are still many difficulties there. Kadyrov’s statements raise certain doubts in me. I really don’t think there are grounds for this kind of optimism.” Valery Fedorov, first deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s Constitutional Legislation Committee, said: “The country’s president, of course, likes hearing these kinds of statements. After all, he is trying to provide stability and security. In my opinion, though, Ramzan Kadyrov’s assertion that Chechnya is currently the calmest region in the North Caucasus is still an exaggeration.”