Russian authorities are preparing for a summer or autumn rebel offensive in the North Caucasus. “It will be a hot summer,” Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told AFP. As far back as January Russian generals had recognized the possibility of rebel attacks in any part of the North Caucasus (see EDM, January 12). And now, in April, security officials have finally begun to respond to rumors or information about preparations for an insurgent attack.
On April 21, all law-enforcement bodies in North Ossetia were put on alert because of unspecified “information about possible terrorist acts.” A special plan, code-named “Fortress,” was activated in Ossetia; it was developed to prepare policemen to respond properly to a rebel assault at military or police facilities. Police and Russian troops were also put on alert in neighboring Ingushetia for the same reason: circulating rumors of possible rebel attacks (Kavkazky uzel, April 21). According to Interfax, military posts have been set up along the Trans-Caucasian highway, which runs through the republic.
And in Kabardino-Balkaria, in the western part of the North Caucasus, the situation is far from calm. On April 19, Arsen Kanokov, the president of Kabardino-Balkaria, informed the local Ministry of Interior Affairs, “There is information that extremists are preparing new terrorist acts in the republic” (Kavkazky uzel, April 19).
Federal forces are growing more nervous in war-torn Chechnya, as well. As the Chechen Committee for National Salvation reported on April 18, some locals saw a group of Russian gunships flying near Khankala, the main military base in the republic, and the aircraft fired missiles near the base.
To prepare for a massive rebel attack, the Russian 42nd Motorized Infantry Division, the biggest army unit deployed in Chechnya, held a large-scale exercise in the republic near Khankala and Kalinovskaya and Chervlyonnaya, two villages in northern Chechnya (Nezavisimaya gazeta, April 21). One artillery and two motorized infantry regiments took part in the drill. “Judging by the scenario, the military are preparing to handle large armed formations. The army is bracing itself for increased guerrilla activity,” Nezavisimaya gazeta concluded.
According to Lt. General Yevgeny Labezin, commander of the United Federal Group in the Caucasus (now upgraded from the United Federal Group in Chechnya), “The gangs are deteriorating into ordinary criminals in Chechnya.” The Russian generals seem to recognize the fact that the Chechen rebels have become more disciplined and better organized. The generals also recognize that the Chechen insurgency has spread across the entire region. On April 20, Oleg Khotin, deputy head of the Main Directorate of the Interior Ministry for the Southern Federal District, announced that 105 groups and gangs are active in the Caucasus, and they constantly move from one region to another (RIA-Novosti, April 20).
According to a Jamestown source in the Chechen police, the Federal Security Service (FSB) told Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Russian Chechen leader, to order all district police chiefs to take militants’ relatives as hostages to stem the flow of young Chechens joining the rebels. Kadyrov also ordered special days when “volunteer” labor (subbotnik) would clean Grozny, the Chechen capital, of the debris caused by the Russian army’s devastating assaults on the city in 2000, and to clear the Chechen part of the Trans-Caucasian highway of foliage (Interfax, April 10). The Russian military believe that this summer the Chechen guerillas will first try to take control of the capital and the strategic highway, and the bombed-out buildings in Grozny and the bushes along the road might provide them with cover.
The generals are also worried about the remaining refugee camps in the Chechen capital, assuming that militants could disappear into these camps. “Gunmen come here from Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Georgia, disguised as refugees, and join gangs,” General Oleg Khotin said (RIA-Novosti, April 20). The day before Khotin’s statement, Kadyrov demanded that all the camps in Grozny shut down soon because they are “centers of crime, drugs, and prostitution” (RIA-Novosti, April 19).
On April 17, Lt. General Anatoly Khurulev, a Chechen war veteran, transferred from deputy commander of the Russian army’s United Group of Forces to commander of the 58th Army, whose main units and headquarters are deployed in North Ossetia, the center of the North Caucasus (RIA-Novosti, April 17). The 58th Army is the best-trained and best-equipped Russian military force in the Caucasus. In the event of a rebel attack in any part of the region, the Army will support Interior and police efforts to resist the insurgents.
Military maneuvers began in the North Caucasus on April 21. First, “anti-terrorist drills” took place at Novocherkassk in Rostov oblast. Different units of the Russian army, Interior forces, FSB, and police were training how to liberate a settlement seized by rebels in a massive lightening attack. First, MI-24 gunships were used “to clean the area” and then the “militants” were “smashed” by airborne troops (Don TV, April 21). During last year’s drill the military worked on a plan to surround a settlement seized by the rebels, clear it, and destroy the gunmen with a slow mopping-up operation (Izvestiya, September 20, 2005). The failure to implement this plan in Nalchik last fall, when the rebels easily left the city after an attack (see EDM, October 14, 2005), forced the Russian military command to look for quicker ways to respond.
Along with Rostov oblast, the exercises took place in North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria (RIA-Novosti, Kavkazsky uzel, April 25). Maneuvers are also scheduled for Krasnodar krai, Adygeya, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Dagestan. A total of 10,000 troops, 90 local governmental agencies, and 50 military units will take part in the drill (RIA-Novosti, April 21). This year the Russian authorities want to be fully prepared for any rebel surprise.