Rebels Battle Security Forces in Chechnya, While Moscow Bolsters the Military in the Republic

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 2

In accordance with a tradition that has been in place since 2005, Ramzan Kadyrov rang in 2012 with his estimate of the number of insurgents in Chechnya. Citing numerous operational sources, he stated that there are only 50 or fewer militants left in the republic. Kadyrov asserted that members of the illegal armed underground who recently surrendered had confirmed this information (www.rg.ru, January 3). However, Kadyrov did not elaborate on how a low ranking militant could have known how many rebels there were left scattered across Chechnya. It is unlikely that even Chechen rebel commanders of the highest rank know for certain the real number of militants. The rebel commanders, with the exception of Doku Umarov, might know only the number of men in his own unit. It is worth remembering that in the past, Kadyrov has supplied approximately the same figure for the number of rebels – that figure usually being several dozens. During those same years, over 1,000 militants have been arrested or killed in Chechnya.

On January 5, the military clashed with a group of some 10 suspected rebels in the forested mountainous terrain near the village of Yandi, which is located in the foothills of the Achkhoi-Martan district on the Nitti River (www.interfax.ru, January 5). The peculiarity of these armed clashes was that, according to the locals, military jets and artillery were used against such a small group of militants (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 6). This allows us to assume that this was not simply a group of militants, but rather that the security services had figured out that the North Caucasian rebel leader Doku Umarov might be among them. It is hard to explain otherwise why military jets and artillery were used.

This area in Chechnya is essentially Doku Umarov’s base. He spends most of his time in this part of the republic, which is situated between Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district and neighboring Ingushetia. The Russian security services and local government agencies constantly hunt for Umarov there to capture him alive or kill him, competing with each other. In the past, Umarov’s death in this border region with Ingushetia was announced several times, but Umarov (like Mark Twain), refuted these claims each time with visible satisfaction in his video addresses.

The selection of this region of Chechnya by the rebels’ leader as his hideout is understandable from the standpoint of security. In this mountainous part of the republic there are no actual settlements, but there are hundreds of destroyed and abandoned Chechen farms. Moreover, in the mountainous and forested areas there are roads that have not been used since the deportation of the Chechens in 1944. The main advantage of these roads is that they are not marked on the military maps of the Russian army, which uses maps from the 1980s.

Another type of armed clash took place in an area near the Tazen-kala settlement in Chechnya’s Vedeno district on January 7-8. Multiple military units were sent in to seal off the area. However, in the end, having lost three men, the group of five to ten rebels escaped the area, killing three police officers and injuring 16 (www.svobodanews.ru, January 9). Ramzan Kadyrov himself participated in that operation. According to Kadyrov, the group of rebels were under the command of Muntsigov Usman (aka Shatral), Makhram and Khanif, who are known as mid-level commanders.

Meanwhile, Chechen law enforcement agencies reported that they arrested two suspects who had organized attacks on law enforcement agents in the republic. According to the press service of the republic’s Interior Ministry, those arrested confessed to one such attack. On January 3, they allegedly attached a homemade explosive device to the bottom of a car of a Chechen Interior Ministry official in an attempt to kill him. According to the ministry, the explosive device was poorly attached and fell off the car and exploded. No one was hurt in the incident (http://chechnya.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 6).

The federal military command in Chechnya, meanwhile, reported it had received receiving new military command and communication vehicles consisting of armored personnel carriers equipped with video cameras and GLONAS, the Russian analogue of the GPS navigation system, which should improve navigation and even permit battles with insurgents to be filmed. The machines are expected to improve the Russian military’s ability to carry out tactical tasks (http://voennovosti.ru, January 4). The upgrade went into effect not only in Chechnya, but all over the North Caucasus – evidence the region apparently remains a priority for Moscow in terms of financing, especially when it comes to the military deployed in the region.

In the run up to the Winter Olympics set to take place in Sochi in 2014, an unprecedented rearmament program is under way in southern Russia. As a rule, overall military spending in the region over the past 10 years has outpaced government spending on developing the region economically. The rearmament process has been the fastest in the whole post-Soviet history of Russia (www.ng.ru/nvo/2011-10-25/6_kavkaz.html). All tank brigades in the south of the country have been rearmed with the new T-72B tanks with upgraded rocket and cannon systems. Infantry units in North Ossetia and the Volgograd region and tank battalions in Dagestan and Abkhazia have been entirely rearmed with T-90A tanks, BMP 3 infantry fighting vehicles and BTR-82A APCs. Anti-aircraft guns and new air defense systems were overhauled, starting with those in Chechnya. The new Barnaul-T air defense system has been installed at the Kalinovskaya military base, which is in the northern part of Chechnya close to the Terek River (www.itar-tass.com, December 14, 2011). The North Caucasus is arguably the Russian region most densely packed with military hardware.

Thus, the Russian government shows it is worried about this region and the spending resulting from this is a headache in the Kremlin. This allows us to presume that the developments in the region are far from the positive trends that Moscow predicted and expected. Given the general deterioration of the situation in the region, the central government is trying to play the nationalist card (the Circassian question) and the Islamist card, especially in Chechnya, where Islam had become the dominant political factor, one which now outweighs the Russian constitution. Despite Moscow’s attempts to play nationalists against Islamists and vice versa, all of them in the end are turning against Russian rule.