Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 90

Top Russian government officials met in the Stavropol Krai city of Essentuki on May 5 to discuss the military operation in Chechnya and the security situation in the surrounding regions. The meeting was chaired by Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), who, along with other cabinet-level officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov and Health Minister Yury Shevchenko, met with local government officials and regional representatives of federal bodies to discuss ways to stabilize the situation in Chechnya and to fight terrorism in Stavropol. Among the other officials who attended the meeting were Viktor Kazantsev, presidential envoy to the Southern federal district, and the heads of the republics and regions of the North Caucasus.

Although the meeting was held behind closed doors, there was a press conference afterwards, during which Patrushev said the meeting had concluded with “concrete measures for carrying out the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya” and for pre-empting terrorist acts in the North Caucasus. The meeting also focused on the issues of security in regions adjacent to Chechnya, including Stavropol Krai, and the spread of Islamic radicalism–so-called “Wahhabism”–in the republics of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Gryzlov said that it was of vital importance that the federal government and the State Duma pass a series of laws giving legal support to the Chechnya operation, including laws on extremism and governing the imposition of a state of emergency.

For his part, Defense Minister Ivanov announced that the withdrawal of troops from Chechnya would be halted, adding that there were no immediate future plans to resume the withdrawals. Ivanov said that the Defense Ministry’s main task was to properly equip the 42nd motorized division in Chechnya and provide for the families of servicemen. He also said a half billion rubles (some US$17.8 million) had already been allocated for these tasks and that another 1.8 billion rubles (some US$64 million) was needed. The participants in the meeting agreed that the issues raised could not be addressed in a short period and would probably require additional discussion (Russian agencies, May 5).

While the meeting participants tried to paint a picture of general harmony, they could not paper over the continuing tension between the Russian government and the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya. This tension was evident in comments from Ivanov, who criticized that fact that no one from the Chechen administration had been in Djohar on May 1, the day three local residents were murdered there and the atmosphere in the Chechen capital was particularly tense. However, Akhmad Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya’s administration, and Stanislav Il’yasov, the head of the republic’s government, had been in Moscow that day for a working visit, and no one from the federal government even bothered to inform them that the federal government’s “power ministers” were planning to travel to Chechnya on May 4.

In general, the Chechen administration’s top officials have not been masking their happiness with the overall situation. Il’yasov declared this week that republic was approaching a decisive moment, when it would soon be decided whether war or peace would get the upper hand. Meanwhile, Kadyrov openly complained about lawlessness on the part of the security forces in Chechnya. Chechen administration officials have been hearing complaints from local residents daily about relatives being beaten and kidnapped by Russian troops. And it is not only local residents are unable to move around the republic freely. Local government officials are finding that their IDs apparently make no impression on security forces manning roadblocks. At the same time, neither the regular Russian army forces nor those from the Interior Ministry are able to protect either the local population–including religious leaders and teachers, who continue to be targeted for murder–or government officials. Earlier this week, Il’yasov himself was targeted by attackers in a grenade attack which wounded two of his deputies. The same day, drunken federal troops began firing randomly near the Chechen government’s headquarters. Il’yasov said that he had told Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the Russian armed forces general staff, that the regular army troops should return to their barracks and hand over the task of maintaining order to local law enforcement organs, which, Il’yasov charged, have not been given sufficient authority and are being “suppressed” by the federal forces. Il’yasov said he believed that the series of murders recently committed at Djohar markets were carried out by several small bands which could have been neutralized had someone been carrying out proper police work in the capital. At the same time, Kadyrov claimed, rebel field commander Shamil Basaev’s closest associates–some of whom Kadyrov said he has known for many years–are moving around Chechnya using FSB identification cards (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 8).

The situation described by Kadyrov and Il’yasov is similar to what obtained in 1994-1996, during the first Chechen military campaign, when the behavior of the Russian forces was so unruly fashion that it elicited complaints by the republic’s pro-Moscow administration.