Russia’s current campaign strategy in Chechnya relies on security agencies and the local government to the region as having a normal, controlled security environment. Russian security structures operating in Chechnya continue to find large weapons caches, making much of the attending publicity to show that they are busy monitoring the movement of arms in the area as well as to reveal the presence of an extremist element and an “anti-terrorist” mission still in progress.
The June 17 killing of the president of the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, does not represent a breakthrough in Russian and pro-Moscow agency efforts to curtail rebel violence. Instead, Russian security agencies hope that his death will breed division among Chechen separatists. Ekho Moskvy radio reported on June 17 that Moscow considers Doku Umarov as Sadulaev’s most likely successor (see EDM, June 22).
This spring the Federal Security Service (FSB) publicized the discovery of a large arms cache in the Achkhoy-Martanovsky district of Chechnya. Russian FSB officers working closely with the republic’s Zapad battalion found assault rifles and machine guns, one portable Igla air-defense missile system, and a large quantity of explosive materials in an abandoned house. These materials were shown on Russian television, with the FSB keen to play up the potential for Chechen terrorism. On May 19 RIA-Novosti reported another arms find, this time in Grozny, including 24 rounds for an air-defense system, 1.5 kilograms of TNT, and an improvised bomb (RTR TV, May 19). On May 20-21 yet more arms finds were reported in Chechnya, ranging from mortar bombs to anti-tank mines, and these discoveries were linked to the arrests of alleged criminal gangs in Roshni-Chu during a sweep by the Urus-Martanovsky district police and Chechen Interior Ministry police (Interfax, May 22).
In this context Russian authorities have forged ahead with what appears to signal reductions in forces based in Chechnya and more cooperative work with pro-Moscow Chechen authorities. Lieutenant-General Sergei Bunin, head of the Internal Troops Main Staff, has intimated that over 3,000 Russian Internal Troops will be withdrawn from Chechen territory and returned to their bases. “The reduction in the combined group of troops is due to the transfer to the Chechen Interior Ministry of a number of functions in ensuring public safety and law and order in the republic. The number of checkpoints has also been cut back,” he said. According to Bunin, the combined group of troops in Chechnya currently numbers 25,000 servicemen (Itar-Tass, May 19). The Sever battalion, stationed in Groznyy, numbers 700 servicemen. The battalion of Russian Internal Troops consists of 500 servicemen, with its headquarters is in the republic’s Vedensky district, and companies in Shatoysky, Sharoysky, Kurchaloyevsky, Itumkalinsky, and Shalinsky districts. Sources close to Chechen Prime Minster Ramzan Kadyrov believe this battalion will be the most combat ready unit, utilizing local recruits, in Chechnya (Interfax, May 22).
Russian military commanders still are convinced that Chechnya can be contained by the use of military forces. More than 50 command-post exercises involving units and subunits, and around 150 battalion- and company-level tactical live-firing exercises were held in the North Caucasian Military District (NCMD) over the winter. Army General Alexander Baranov, commander of the NCMD, highlighted the success of a major command-post mobilization exercise involving about 1,500 reservists that had been held in North Ossetia in that period, and considers the readiness of these forces to be high. Some 350 million rubles had been allocated from the Defense Ministry budget to support training. Forty command-post exercises are planned for the 2006 summer training season in the NCMD, including one-third of all scheduled live-firing sessions, which will be held in night-time conditions (Itar-Tass, May 16).
At the geopolitical level, it is hardly surprising to find that the Moscow-backed Chechen President Alu Alkhanov is accusing the United States of pursuing a Janus-faced policy, reflecting the often-cited critique offered by Russian authorities. In fact, Alkhanov’s remarks suggest a new sense of confidence in pro-Russian circles, promulgating a Russian view of a normalized Chechnya. “The multi-ethnic people of the Chechen Republic have chosen their political, economic, and legal path, the bandit groups have been totally routed on the territory of the Chechen Republic, all branches of authority are functioning, and the situation in the republic is stable and under control,” according to Alkhanov (RIA-Novosti, May 22).
Of course, the military is seen as playing a less direct role in normalizing the republic, and the Russian government still insists in offering little hope of political negotiation and designating the operations security forces there as “anti-terrorist.” On May 16 Nikolai Patrushev, head of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee and Russian Federal Security Service Director said the National Anti-Terrorist Committee will collaborate with President Vladimir Putin’s plenipotentiary representatives in the Federal districts “to ensure operations by federal, republican, and executive agencies to counter terrorism are coordinated.”
Patrushev has explained that the committee wants to enhance the way the anti-terrorist campaign in the North Caucasus is managed. Committee members include Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, FSB Deputy Director Vladimir Bulavin, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Lebedev, Federal Bodyguard Service Director Yevgeny Murov, Federal Financial Monitoring Service chief Viktor Zubkov, and Valentin Sobolev, deputy secretary of the Russian National Security Council. Its second session involved plenipotentiary representatives, federal ministers, Russian military district troop commanders, Interior Ministry chiefs from the Federal Districts, and the chairmen of security agency councils within the districts (Itar-Tass, May 16). The success or failure of Russian security plans lies openly on the FSB and the wider intelligence community, which is keen to widen the net to involve other agencies.