On January 31, President Vladimir Putin declared the end of the so-called anti-terrorist operation, the official name of the second Chechen war. “I think we can rightly speak about the end of the anti-terrorist operation with the understanding that the law enforcement agencies of Chechnya practically undertake to be mostly responsible for the state of the law enforcement sphere in the republic,” he said (Interfax, January 31). In the same speech, Putin said that “all government authorities are in place in Chechnya. It means that the government can and will be strengthening the law enforcement agencies, the prosecutor’s office, courts, the bar and certainly the ministry of interior affairs” (Interfax, January 31).
In other words, Putin was declaring that the Chechenization policy, involving the use of local cadres in fighting the insurgency, had been successfully implemented and that the Russian military could wash their hands and leave the region while pro-Russian Chechen servicemen commanded by Ramzan Kadyrov, who became the republic’s prime minister this year, continue in theirs job.
The reality, however, is the opposite of those declarations. Last December, Putin put Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov in charge of Chechnya’s reconstruction. Pro-Russian Chechen President Alu Alkhanov and Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov are supposed to report personally to Ivanov about how every ruble from the government budget is to be spent in Chechnya. Thus, Ramzan’s financial independence was significantly limited, and this was a sign of the Kremlin’s rising distrust of the republican authorities (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, January 26).
Early this January, the Russian generals directing operations in the Chechen war—including General Nikolai Rogozhkin, commander of the Interior Ministry’s Interior Forces; General Yevgeny Lazebin, commander of the United Group of Forces in the Chechen Republic; General Arkady Yedelev, Regional Operations Headquarters for Management of the Counterterrorist Operation (ROSH); Lieutenant-General Oleg Khotin, commander of the Provisional Operations Group of the federal Interior Ministry’s units in the North Caucasus; Lieutenant-General Anatoly Khrulov, deputy commander of the Russian army’s United Group of Forces; and Military Commandant of Chechnya Grigory Fomenko—met in Khankala, the main Russian military base in Chechnya, to discuss future activities in the region in 2006. The result of the meeting clearly demonstrated that the generals disagreed with their Commander-in-Chief’s assessment that the anti-terrorist operation was about to end.
Moreover, security officials believe that the military situation has become even worse and more difficult. After the meeting in Khankala, General Rogozhkin said: “The importance and difficulty of the military missions will increase this year” (kavkaz-strana.ru, January 13). The 2006 plan adopted at the meeting shows that the situation and tasks of the Russian authorities in Chechnya has not changed since the start of the anti-terrorist operation in 1999. According to a press-release put out by Interior Ministry Internal Troops posted on the website of the Russian State Duma, one of the tasks “is for the commandant’s office to support more actively the local authorities and police units,” which means that the pro-Russian government agencies in Chechnya are still unable to function properly without the support of Russian guns. Another task is “to engage the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs in conducting targeted operations to neutralize the bandit underground,” which means that the local police cadres are still regarded by the Russian troops as little more than informers, not as a real force to combat the insurgency. Another task of the federal forces in Chechnya remains “to reduce casualties as much as possible,” which means that despite official statements, the Russian army in Chechnya continues to sustain heavy casulaties.
It should be noted that none of the pro-Russian Chechen leaders or local police chiefs were permitted to take part in the Khankala meeting. The fate of the army of Ramzan Kadyrov, whose widespread image in the world media is that of a powerful figure, was decided without his presence. While Vladimir Putin talked about the Chechen law enforcement agencies taking the responsibility, it was announced after the Khankala meeting that Kadyrov’s gunmen from the Anti-Terrorist Center would be turned into new battalions called “North” and “South,” to be directly subordinate to the central commandant’s office. The formation of these battalions proves more than anything else the failure of the Chechenization policy in the region. Instead of giving more initiative and freedom to the pro-Russian Chechen forces, as the Kremlin has officially declared, the security officials in fact are enforcing control over the local servicemen.
Nevertheless, the most serious evidence disproving the Russian president’s claims that the Chechen war has been won is the recent establishment of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee. The Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee is headed by Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), and includes Igor Sechin, a deputy head of the Russian president’s administration and a Putin adviser; General Yuri Baluevsky, Chief of the General Stuff of the Russian Army; Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev; Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu; the speakers of both Russian parliamentary chambers; and other members of the government (RIA Novosti, March 7). Nikolai Patrushev explained the creation of the Committee by the need “to work out and use new approaches and methods to counteract terrorism.” The FSB director had to admit that terrorism is so serious a threat for Russia that “all resources of the state and of society should be engaged” to fight it (RIA Novosti, March 7).
Ironically, the rebels regard the new committee’s creation as a sign of their victory in the war. Chechen separatist leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev said in a recent statement that “losing control of the situation more and more, the Russians set up the so-called National Anti-Terrorist Committee. In terms of military language, it is the State Defense Committee, similar to the one that was set up during World War II. A military committee is not set up in a country in which war has ended. This is a mechanism of power to be created when the need arises to switch all power and government functions of a country and the entire economy over to the state of war. The Russian leadership’s statements about ending the war and creating a State Defense Committee are completely contradictory” (Daymokh, April 3; see also Chechnya Weekly, April 6).
Indeed, Russia’s policy in the region is clearly skidding without any sign of real progress, and while Moscow has been striving to institute a policy of Chechenization, the rebel’s strategy to extend the war to the entire North Caucasus has prevailed. The second Chechen military campaign, initiated by Vladimir Putin in 1999, was aimed, as the Russian president himself declared many times, at crushing Chechen separatism and preventing separatism and Islamic fundamentalism from spreading beyond the Chechen borders. After six years of an extremely hard-line policy based on the unlimited use of force in Chechnya, Putin, who insists that the war is over, still faces the same problem of militant separatism in the region, with the war is spreading further away from the Chechen borders into neighboring republics.
As it stands now, the Caucasian front that Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev established last year by decree has been the only real result of Putin’s anti-terrorist operation.