Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 130

For the first time since the end of the war in Chechnya, Russian Interior Ministry forces have launched preventive strikes on Chechen guerrillas concentrated in the Chechnya-Dagestan border area. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said on July 5 that at 6 o’clock that morning 200 Chechen fighters had congregated near the Dagestani border with plans to attack Russian Internal Ministry troops posts. According to Rushailo, these plans were anticipated and the guerrillas were subject to artillery and mortar fire. Rushailo said that intercepted radio transmissions indicated that the Chechens had suffered heavy losses, while the Russian side suffered no casualties (NTV, ORT, RTR, July 5).

There is much in the reports about the battle along the Chechen-Dagestani border which remains unclear. Chechen Security Minister Turpal Atgeriev said that the Russian troops did not strike inside Chechen territory. There is even information suggesting the battle did not take place on Monday: According to RTR television, it was July 3, and the reports of July 5 were disinformation on Rushailo’s part.

It is worth noting that all these events are occurring on the eve of the planned meeting between Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, which, according to Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov, could take place this month (NTV, RTR, July 5).

Regardless of whether Russian troops attacked Chechen guerrillas, it is clear that Moscow plans to act from a position of strength in dealing with Chechen forces not under Maskhadov’s control. In a speech to the Federation Council on July 3, Rushailo said that certain forces were creating, on Chechen territory, a “pseudo-Muslim state of a criminal type.” He said that factories for the production of heroin were now in operation there, one of which, he claimed, belongs to rebel Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. Rushailo also said that new private houses were being built in Chechnya with special basements designed to hold hostages. The Interior Ministry, according to its heads, is ready to reply at any moment to any appeal, including one from the Federation Council’s regional policy committee, to impose a state of emergency on the entire North Caucasus region. The Interior Ministry has 17,000 troops concentrated in that region, more than half of which are deployed along the Chechen border. Rushailo said that he has been given and is already carrying out an order to launch preemptive air and artillery strikes against Chechen guerrillas and their military equipment (RTR, July 3).

All of this suggests that Moscow is preparing for a war in Chechnya–granted, not against official Djohar, but against the field commanders who oppose Maskhadov. This was suggested in Rushailo’s Federation Council speech, though he emphasized that military operations will possibly be carried out not throughout Chechnya, but only in areas which border other Russian regions (RTR, July 3).

The first symptoms that the Kremlin was returning to a military solution to the Chechen problem appeared soon after Sergei Stepashin, one of the originators of the Chechen war, was made interior minister. These symptoms increased with Stepashin’s accession to the post of premier.