On October 12, Russian Colonel-General Yevgeny Baryaev told a meeting of law-enforcement agency representatives in Grozny, the Chechen capital, “At the beginning of October the situation deteriorated in Chechnya, especially in the mountainous Vedeno district.” As an example, Baryaev mentioned that one week earlier a group of Chechen rebels had entered Dyshne-Vedeno village to buy food at the local market, but neither the local Russian garrison nor the pro-Russian Chechen police had done anything to repel them. Baryev said that a unit from the Russian regiment located in Vedeno district (near Selmentauzen village) was dispatched to Dyshne-Vedeno in the middle of the day, but the fighters had already left the village.
Baryaev complained about the lack of information about the rebels and warned that the period between October and early November could be very unstable, because “the number of acts of sabotage, terrorist acts, and raids of the militants has increased.” One week later, on October 19, Alu Alkhanov, the pro-Russian Chechen president, also had to admit, “The militants have become more active in some Chechen settlements.”
Just two days prior to Alkhanov’s statement, rebels attacked a convoy from the pro-Russian “North Battalion” Chechen unit near the village of Katyr-Yurt. On October 18 two Russian soldiers were killed in the same area while they were combing the forest for militants. According to official figures, between October 14 and October 18 Russian casualties in Chechnya (including pro-Russian Chechen forces) totaled six dead and 15 wounded. However, Chechen rebel sources cite much higher figures, claiming that between October 17 and October 19 alone the Russian and pro-Russian Chechen troops suffered 14 dead and 27 wounded in the region (Kavkaz Center, October 20).
Whatever the numbers, the rebels in Chechnya have become quite uninhibited. Sometimes they even set up checkpoints on Chechen roads to search for officers from local law-enforcement bodies. According to Kavkazky Uzel, on October 13 the militants set up a post near Shatoi village in a mountainous area to check the IDs of drivers passing through the region. The insurgents reportedly shot dead a driver who was a Chechen policeman (Kavkazky Uzel, October 20).
Chechen civilians also point to increased activity by the rebels. Lidia Yusupova, a Chechen lawyer who works for the Memorial human rights group’s Grozny office and was nominated this year for the Nobel Peace Prize, told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that in Chechnya, “Russian checkpoints are fired on, [and] armed attacks and disappearances happen more and more often.”
The Russian military leadership in Moscow is even more concerned about the situation in Chechnya than are their colleagues in the North Caucasus. They realize that the deaths of top rebel leaders like Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev and Shamil Basaev did not affect the strength of the Caucasian insurgency.
A source in the Russian Defense Ministry told Agentstvo Natsionalnikh Novostey (ANN) press agency that, after the deaths of Sadulaev and Basaev, all rebel units in the North Caucasus were subordinated to Doku Umarov, the top Chechen field commander. According to this source, Umarov has successfully regrouped the rebel forces, held several meetings, and appointed new commanders, making each of them responsible for a particular zone in the North Caucasus. Tarkhan Gaziev and Suleiman Elmurzaev (Khairullah) were appointed commanders of the Chechen West and Eastern “fronts,” while Rappani Khalilov and Akhmed Evloyev were appointed commanders of rebel groups in nearby Ingushetia and Dagestan (ANN, October 12). The source also noted that Umarov had established “Urals” and “Volga Region” fronts, an indication the rebels plan to launch hostilities in the central part of Russia.
Speaking of the tactics of the rebels in Chechnya, a source from the Russian Ministry of Defense told ANN that along with the use of roadside bombs, the rebels had begun to ambush military and police jeeps, and attacks on military and police facilities were also more frequent now.
While the Caucasian insurgency is becoming better organized, cooperation among security bodies in the North Caucasus is still in poor shape. The ANN source gave the impression that the Russian military is worried about recent clashes between Chechen and Ingush policemen, especially about deepening tension between Alu Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov, the two top leaders of the pro-Russian Chechen forces. The source mentioned an October 5 shootout between their bodyguards that took place on during the opening ceremony for the Chechen civil airport in Grozny.
“Reality demonstrates that the activity of the rebels does not depend on any personalities but on the current situation and capabilities of the field commanders,” Khasan, a Chechen human rights activist, told Kavkazky Uzel. “Negotiations are needed to end the conflict.”
It seems that the Russian generals have also begun to realize this fact, albeit very slowly. Hopes that the death of Basaev would be the end of the Caucasian insurgency are disappearing, but it appears that Russian officials are clueless about what to do next. Moreover, none of the generals dares to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin that they have no way to end the war militarily and that dialogue with the enemy is really needed.