Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 130

At the behest of President Boris Yeltsin, Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin has made a tour of inspection in Stavropol Krai and Dagestan. In Stavropol, a special antiterrorism and anti-kidnapping administration has been set up, combining all the elite units of the federal forces stationed in the North Caucasus under a single command. It is headed by the chief of the operations staff of the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) in the North Caucasus, Colonel General Leonty Shevtsov.

Troops from the “Alfa” special antiterrorist unit, who have seen action in all the country’s “hot spots,” have been sent to Stavropol and are setting up links with the Chechen Interior Ministry. Though this reminds many observers of 1994 and the final preparations for the war in Chechnya, Stepashin insisted that it is in no way a preparation for military action. (NTV, RTR, July 1)

Stepashin’s visit to Dagestan was no less eventful. After talks with the Dagestani leadership, he announced plans to phase out the fixed OMON posts on the Chechen border. According to Stepashin, it is time to switch to more flexible, mobile patrols. Stepashin stressed that this too should not be construed as preparation for a new war in the Caucasus. He said he supports Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov’s efforts to impose order in Chechnya, and that the MVD’s operational headquarters will conduct a number of joint operations with Chechen forces.

Stepashin attracted attention with his assertion, made at the Makhachkala airport, that people from Moscow are involved in the spate of kidnappings in Chechnya. He warned against “reckless” accusations that only Chechens are involved in hostage-taking, and pointed out that “90 percent of the Chechen population are normal people.” “It is not only the Chechen side that stands behind the kidnappings,” Stepashin said–adding that, since he has been working on the case of Valentin Vlasov, President Yeltsin’s kidnapped representative in Chechnya, “I have become convinced that some of the leads probably also point to Moscow.” (NTV, July 5) The Chechen government has long asserted that the organizers of the kidnappings are not Chechens but Muscovites.