STEPASHIN TIGHTENS THE BORDER WITH CHECHNYA.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 84
On April 26, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin made an official trip to the Kursk region of Stavropol krai. The purpose of the visit by Stepashin, whom Yeltsin appointed as a first deputy prime minister two days later, was to tighten the border between Russian and Chechnya to prevent penetration by bandits, which Stepashin promised to do. Almost immediately after his arrival in the region, Stepashin visited Cossack villages, where he inspected militia formations recently created to patrol the Russian-Chechen border area. Stepashin also announced that the border will be strengthened materially: Four helicopter gunships will be in the air around the clock with the goal of identifying and destroying criminals.
Evidence that Stepashin’s promises are serious came on April 29, when the Russian Interior Ministry’s internal troops held a training exercise in areas of Stavropol bordering Chechnya. The exercise involved improving tactics of intercepting Chechen fighters crossing the border. That day, Stepashin, on President Yeltsin’s orders, met in Georgia with ministers of the interior for the Caucasus states. They discussed joint measures to stabilize the region and to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime. “Solving the problem of Russia’s North Caucasus, we cannot lock ourselves into that region alone; nothing will happen without mutual actions with the Caucasian republics,” Stepashin said (Nezavisimaya gazeta, April 27; NTV, RTR, April 29).
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov announced on April 28 that preparations for his meeting with President Boris Yeltsin are going ahead at an “intensive pace,” but did not say when his visit to Moscow will take place. Maskhadov said that the meeting will be an historical moment in relations between the two states (Kommersant, April 29).
Moscow’s current intense activity in strengthening the border with Chechnya suggests that Moscow does not share the Chechen president’s optimism. It is possible that if the ongoing negotiations between the two sides do not bear fruit, Moscow will try to isolate the “rebellious” republic from the outside world. There are doubts, however, over the effectiveness of such a tactic. The war in Chechnya demonstrated that the federal troops are in no condition to isolate individual towns and villages, much less hundreds of kilometers of border. One need only recall that Chechen field commander Salman Raduev was able to slip out of the Dagestani town of Pervomaiskoe while it was surrounded by a triple cordon of Russian troops and armor.
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