Over the past week, Russian President Vladimir Putin made two major statements concerning the conflict in Chechnya. In his annual State-of-the-Nation address to the Russian parliament, delivered on April 18 over Russian state television, Putin announced: “The military phase of the conflict may be considered closed. It is over thanks to the courage and heroism of Russia’s army and special units.” He then affirmed in a statement apparently intended to echo his oft-cited “rub out the bandits in the shithouse” declaration: “Only a year ago, we were counting how many people we were up against, how many bandits and terrorists there were–2,000 or 3,000, 5,000 or 10,000. Now we’re not bothered about how many there are. What we need to know is where they are.”
Putin then went on to briefly discuss the legal dimension of the current struggle: “There are still many social and economic problems in the republic itself,” he was prepared to admit. “Sorties by the bandits who are left continue to disturb the life of civilians. This should not affect the rights of an entire people, however. We cannot allow this. Everyone resident in Chechnya or originally from there must feel that they are full citizens of the Russian Federation.” “The main task at the current stage,” he concluded his remarks on the conflict, “is, therefore, to restore Russia’s political and legal space in Chechnya, to create effective legal institutions and law enforcement structures of Chechnya’s own. And then, in the long term, there will be free elections, a real system of republican authority and an ordered economic life for the Chechen people” (Russian Television, translation by BBC Monitoring, April 18).
Despite Putin’s confident words, it became clear, on the same day of his address, that the war was far from over. “April 18 proved,” the online daily Gazeta.ru wrote the following day, “to be one of the bloodiest days in the Chechen conflict…. News agencies reported a series of bombings staged by rebels throughout Chechnya. At least seventeen Russian troops were killed” (Gazeta.ru, April 19). Breaking with a chorus of euphoric praise for the president’s speech, Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Union of Right Forces faction in the Russian State Duma, underlined that, while Putin had declared the military phase of the operation in Chechnya to be over, he had said nothing concerning “how the political phase of regulating the conflict will be resolved, which is impossible without a dialogue. And that means that the Chechen problem will have to resolved for yet another 100 years” (SMI.ru, April 18).