Last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed the Russian government’s concern about the situation in Georgia’s breakaway republic of South Ossetia. The Ministry said on August 3 that the threat of an all-out war there was becoming “increasingly real,” and late on August 6 a Russian Foreign Ministry envoy rushed to the Georgian capital Tbilisi to discuss the prospects for peace talks between the Georgian government and the South Ossetian separatists. At the same time, there is a region within the borders of the Russian Federation where the situation could be described as even more tense and alarming than in South Ossetia. Yet no official in Moscow has publicly expressed any concern about what is going on there. That region is the North Caucasian republic of Ingushetia.
Since early this year the insurgents in Ingushetia have been continuously increasing their attacks against the republic’s law-enforcement personnel. Last week, however, guerrilla activity on the part of the republic’s rebels reached an unprecedented level. According to news reports coming from the republic, at least one policemen or Federal Security Service (FSB) officer was killed or wounded every day there over the past week. Late at night on August 4, rebel squads entered Ingushetia’s largest city, Nazran, and attacked mobile police posts. According to the Ingushetiya.ru website, the main targets of the rebels were private houses belonging to Kharun Dzeitov, the republican prime minister, and Khizir Tsoloev, the imam of Nazran. Their houses were attacked with assault rifles and grenade launchers. The militants also fired on police positions in order to prevent possible attempts by police to thwart rebel plans to destroy the houses of the officials. According to the website and official reports (Ingushetiya.ru, Interfax, August 5), police checkpoints came under fire that night near the Dynamo Sports Arena, Tsentr-Kamaz (the elite residential area where houses of high-ranking republican officials are located, including those of the prime minister and of the city’s Imam) and Mutalieva Street (also in the Nazran downtown).
According to reports by Ingushetiya.ru on the night of the rebel raid on Nazran (August 4-5), Russian troops that had moved to the center of the city to assist Ingush police units fired at an apartment building on Mutalieva Street. They probably thought that the rebels who fired at the policemen were hiding there. It is noteworthy that the troops did not try to surround the area where they assumed the rebel positions to be, but just fired on the suspected rebel positions. The Russian military and police troops simply blocked all entrances to the Tsentr-Kamaz district of Nazran to defend the houses of Ingush officials. However, the rebel squads had left the area by that time but remained in other parts of the city, including Mutalieva Street. As it later turned out, the rebels controlled the street until the middle of the next day (August 5).
Early on the morning of August 5, Bekhan Burzutanov, a police officer with Ingsushetia’s anti-organized crime department, made a grave mistake: he drove to work via Mutalieva Street, thinking that the insurgents had already left. Burzutanov’s car was attacked by automatic weapons and grenade launchers and he was killed.
Following that attack, a real rebel bacchanalia started in Ingushetia. Rebel groups moved freely throughout the republic, shooting at any policeman they encountered. During the day on August 5 two police officers from the Central Directorate of the Russian Interior Ministry for the Southern Federal District were attacked on the Kavkaz highway. One of them was killed and another was wounded. A police car in which several policemen were riding came under fire in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya, a police station was attacked in the village of Troitskaya and an officer from the republic’s anti-organized crime department was killed in his private home in the village of Yandiri during the funeral ceremony for his brother, also a policemen, who had been killed several days earlier.
Top Russian security officials, including former FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev (who is now Secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council) and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, visited Ingushetia many times this past winter. Several sessions of the regional Anti-Terrorist Commission have been held this year and the Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District visited Ingushetia several times to meet with its president, Murat Zyazikov. During these meetings, many nice words were spoken about the development of the regional economy, about improving coordination between different security agencies and about effective methods of anti-insurgency propaganda. The “effectiveness” of these talks can now be seen in Ingushetia’s hospitals, which are filled with wounded policemen and military servicemen.
It should be noted that starting in early July—according to official reports—the police responded to rebel attacks by activating the Krepost (Russian for “fortress”) special plan more often than the Perekhvat (“intercept”) or Vulcan (“volcano”) special plans. The difference between the Krepost plan and the Perekhvat or Vulcan plans is that the former is defensive while the latter are offensive. Plan Krepost means that the police and military forces stay inside their buildings, ready to repulse a rebel attack, while Plan Perekhvat or Plan Vulcan means that the security forces take measures to find and destroy a rebel group. The fact that security officials in Ingushetia today prefer to declare the defensive Krepost plan rather than the other plans means that the situation in the republic has reached a phase in guerrilla warfare known as the “guerrilla offensive period.” According to guerrilla warfare theory, war has several stages. The first stage is when government forces try to destroy rebel squads in remote areas of a country, such as mountains or forests. Failing that, the war enters a second stage, in which the guerrillas initiate regular sabotage operations, coming closer to the main centers of the country (large settlements). If the rebels are successful and the security forces cannot disrupt them, the guerrillas begin offensive operations near or inside major populated areas. At the same time, the police and the army lock themselves inside their garrisons. The next stage—the collapse of the government— usually quickly follows.
One can see the way that guerrilla warfare followed this pattern during the American campaign in Vietnam, the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the first Russian military campaign in Chechnya. It appears that the same scenario is now unfolding in Ingushetia. The Ingush police and Russian armed forces in the republic now care more about their own safety than about the general security situation in the republic. Zyazikov and his government are located in the capital Magas, a fortress city heavily guarded by Russian military units. Kidnappings, a problem in Ingushetia that human rights activists like to talk about, have almost stopped now, a fact allowing one to reach the paradoxical conclusion that the more police officers get killed by the rebels, the fewer civilians are detained or kidnapped in the republic.
If we do not soon see any radical changes in Russian policy towards Ingushetia, the republic may in the near future become the first real province of the insurgents’ Caucasian Emirate.