On November 12, the Interfax news agency reported that General Vladimir Shamanov had been appointed head of the Russian Armed Forces’ Main Directorate for Combat Training and Service. According to Interfax, Shamanov will be responsible for “organizing combat and operational training in all branches of the Russian army.” The general will organize and conduct large-scale military exercises with the use of “modern weapons and combat equipment,” the news agency reported.
Shamanov is famous as a Chechen war hero: during the military campaign of 1999, he headed the Western Military Group and was responsible for occupying areas of Chechnya west of the republican capital Grozny (see Chechnya Weekly, April 5).
“The position of head of the Main Directorate for Combat Training and Service of the armed forces needs a decisive man,” Vitaly Shlikov, Chairman of the Public Council of the Ministry of Defense, told Kommersant. “All these years combat training has been far from perfect and nothing new has appeared in training methods,” Shlikov told the newspaper. “Considering the combat experience of Vladimir Shamanov, he will manage to fulfill the tasks that are in store for him.”
A Kommersant source in the Defense Ministry said that Shamanov is famous as a combat general. “He is still remembered in the Russian army; his name is associated with victories in Chechnya,” the source told the newspaper. “People will listen to his opinion not only on combat training, but on political issues as well.” The Kommersant source did not rule out that other “Chechen” generals like Gennady Troshev might also return to military service in the near future (Kommersant, November 13).
Some political observers in Russia regard Shamanov’s appointment as the Kremlin’s attempt to strengthen control over the army on the eve of the upcoming election in Russia. Commenting on Shamanov’s appointment, the Agency of Political News (APN) wrote on November 15 that “new reshuffles in the leadership of the Ministry of Defense should help to control the situation in the armed forces if any large-scale excesses occur during the handover of power” (to a new head of state).
The question is what kind of excesses could occur? Of course, nothing can be excluded and the army might one day get involved in a power struggle inside the Kremlin. At the moment, however, this possibility looks unlikely. New rebel attacks in the North Caucasus look more likely, and the Russian army needs to be ready for them. Shamanov and other “Chechen” generals should prepare the armed forces to repulse any rebel raids in the Russian South during the election campaign. Moreover, it seems that Shamanov does not want to limit himself to military issues only.
Just three days before his appointment, Moscow News published an interview with Shamanov in which he expressed his views on the Kremlin’s policy towards the North Caucasus. In the interview, the general declared that “the counter-terrorist operation” in the Caucasus is not over. Shamanov criticized the Russian political leadership for ignoring the situation in other Caucasian regions while focusing only on Chechnya at the beginning of the war. “Before and during the second Chechen campaign the attention of the terrorists was transferred to other republics, where even at that time the formation of an extremist underground was under way,” he said. “At the same time, we focused only on Chechnya – that is why the conflict spread.” Shamanov said that the situation in Ingushetia and Dagestan ought to be the main concern; as for Chechnya, the general’s view on the situation there is more optimistic. Still, he admits that some Chechen territory is not controlled by the Russian authorities or the pro-Russian forces of Razman Kadyrov.
In his interview with Moscow News, Shamanov sharply criticized the governing elite of Caucasian republics. “Leaders have been replaced in some republics, but this has only led to the changing of clans; the system remains as it used to be,” he said.
Shamanov called for stricter control over financial resources that are being allocated to develop the economy in the Caucasus and proposed uniting two Caucasian republics (Adygeya and Karachaevo-Cherkessia) with ethnic-Russian dominated territories like Krasnodar Krai and Stavropol Krai. He also called for sending better-trained Russian police officers to the Caucasus and for controlling religious activity in the region more closely. In the interview, the general particularly stressed the idea that everything possible should be done to prevent rebel attacks because “two or three large-scale raids by the militants could be used by enemies of Russia against us.” He added: “We should pay special attention to the Caucasus in the coming seven years.”
In the Moscow News interview, Shamanov talked more like a politician than a military general. The appearance of the interview could indicate that the Russian authorities are planning to shift control over Caucasian policy to the army. The idea might be that while preparing the army for combat actions in the Caucasus, Shamanov could monitor the political situation and control the local authorities.
Russian human rights activist were the first in the country to see this possibility and openly protested against such plans. On November 14, the Memorial human rights organization issued a statement saying that “the person (Vladimir Shamanov-AS) who is going to supervise the combat training and education of the Russian military is responsible for war crimes committed in Chechnya” (Newsru.com, November 14).
It is also possible that the Kremlin wants to use Shamanov to spur the governing elites in the Caucasus. If they do not do anything to stabilize the situation in their republics, they will have to deal with the ruthless general.
The appointment of Vladimir Shamanov and his public political declarations could mark the beginning of a political process that will finally lead to establishment of military administration in the North Caucasus. If that happens, it will mean a return to the end of the 19th century, when the military ruled the Caucasus just after the end of the Caucasian war.