While Russian forces have essentially completed the creation of a cordon sanitaire in Chechnya up to the Terek River, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said yesterday that Russian armed forces are ready to move deeper into Chechnya. The Kremlin, it would appear, has no illusions that a military victory over Chechen guerrillas is near (NTV, RTR, ORT, October 6). The Kremlin has also opened the war on other fronts, cutting back electricity and gas supplies and, in general, making living conditions for Chechens and Chechen refugees in other regions difficult.
The military campaign in Chechnya has created a mass exodus of refugees from the republic. According to the Federal Migration Services, the number of refugees has reached 130,000, with 105,000 of them having gone to the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. For Ingushetia, an impoverished republic with a population of less than 300,000, the refugees represent a huge economic and social burden. In the view of Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, the number of Chechen refugees in his republic could soon double. On October 2, Aushev demanded rather sharply that Kremlin immediately give aid to the republic. It was most likely this level of concern on the part of the Ingushetian authorities which led to the visit there yesterday by Valentina Matvienko, Russia’s minister for social policy, during which she visited refugee camps. Matvienko said that it was necessary to create the necessary conditions for the refugees to leave Ingushetia to join their relatives in other regions of Russia.
However, it cannot be ruled out that the majority of Chechen refugees will be resettled in the parts of Chechnya controlled by federal forces. In any case, this idea was stated openly in an interview given to ORT television by Roman Popkovich, chairman of the State Duma’s defense committee. Such a solution to the refugee problem would fully conform with the Kremlin’s plan to split Chechnya into two parts–a Russian section, which will receive inflows of federal funds, and an “independent” section, which will be subject to strict economic sanctions (see the Monitor, October 6). Rem Vyakhirev, chairman of Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly, recently announced that, as of September 30, gas supplies to Chechnya were cut off because of the debts owed by the authorities there. Electricity supplies to Chechnya, meanwhile, have been cut to a quarter of what the republic requires. This followed a recent statement by Anatoly Chubais, head of the United Energy Systems, Russia’s electricity grid, who called for cutting off electricity supplies to Chechnya because of the republic’s debts to the company. Pensions are also being cut off to the sections of Chechnya controlled by guerrillas.
With these actions, the Kremlin clearly wants to show Chechnya’s inhabitants that life will be better for them if they remain part of the Russian Federation (NTV, October 3; ORT, NTV, Segodnya, October 6).
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