On April 14, two newly appointed Russian power ministers, Boris Gryzlov, head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Sergei Ivanov, Minister of Defense, had accompanied President Putin on a flying, one-day visit to Chechnya (see Chechnya Weekly, April 19). One of the stops made by the president’s party on that occasion was at Khankala, the main Russian military base in Chechnya, located outside of Djohar. A mere three weeks later, on May 4, Gryzlov and Ivanov were back at Khankala, this time accompanied by Nikolai Patrushev, director of the FSB. What had brought these high-ranking security officials back to Chechnya for a second time in less than a month?
It appears that the three ministers had felt required to rush to the Chechen capital to deal with an extraordinary scandal, one involving a clash of three criminalized factions-one of them elements of the Russian MVD–which had erupted on May 1. On that day, a holiday, soldiers from the 22nd Brigade of the Internal Troops of the MVD had conducted a “mopping up operation” at the Central Market in Djohar. According to pro-Moscow Chechen city authorities working for Mayor Bislan Gantamirov, the Russian Internal Troops came close to fully destroying the marketplace, which they had brazenly entered in armored personnel carriers, and had also fired from the cannons of their vehicles at nearby houses. Spokesmen for the mayor claimed that the MVD soldiers had also looted the marketplace and had beaten up local civilians, and that they had allegedly murdered three Chechen guards at the market by firing at them from a grenade-launcher. The guards’ mutilated bodies had been found the following morning. Reportedly, the MVD soldiers had even physically prevented the Russian military commandant of Djohar–a representative of the Defense Ministry–from entering the market place (Lenta.ru, May 3).
This episode, not surprisingly, served to enrage the numerous vendors at the central market. On May 2, the vendors, most of them women, set up barricades in downtown Djohar, demanding that the authorities locate those who had killed the three men at the market and protesting against the bespredel (anarchy) unleashed by the Russian MVD soldiers. The commander of the pro-Moscow Chechen special riot police (OMON), Musa Gazimagomadov, had been required to appear at the scene of the disturbance and assure the women that, from that day on, he would establish a round-the-clock guard at the market and “no longer allow unlawful acts in relation to vendors.” After a heated two-hour wrangle with the OMON commander, the women finally lifted their blockade. Providing its own unusual view of these events, the office of Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky noted that the three market workers who had been killed “allegedly had contacts with local drug dealers” (Gazeta.ru, May 4).
Gazeta.ru has provided useful background for an understanding of the charged events of May 1-2: “Sources in the Russian special services and in the Grozny mayor’s office informed Gazeta.ru that previously the central city market had been under the control of illegal formations linked to Arbi Baraev. Reportedly, there was a secret arrangement between the rebels and the [pro-Moscow] Chechen militia on neutrality and non-intervention.” After participating in several successful operations against Baraev’s forces, the last of them on May 1, however, the Internal Troops decided to “to deprive Baraev’s men of their influence.” “And Russian servicemen,” Gazeta.ru continued, “who are considered to be one of three influential forces controlling lucrative economic objects in Grozny (the others are Baraev’s gangsters and Mayor Gantamirov’s militia), took advantage of the situation” (Gazeta.ru, May 4).
On May 4, the Interfax News Agency provided additional information concerning the recent misdeeds of the 22nd Brigade of the Internal Troops: “Eighteen illegally held Chechen residents have been discovered in Grozny, on the grounds of the military unit of Russia’s 22nd Interior troops brigade. All of them were freed. They had been held in an empty swimming pool in the basement of a building, and had visible marks of violence…. On May 1, the city Prosecutor’s Office received twelve complaints from the relatives of missing residents of Grozny, in which they claimed that ‘the missing people were detained by troops of the Interior and were held at the base.'”
Having arrived at Khankala, the three Russian power ministers held a lengthy and evidently heated meeting with a number of key military and civilian officials: retired general Viktor Kazantsev, plenipotentiary presidential representative for the Southern Federal District; Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the Chechen civilian administration; General Valery Baranov, commander of the Combined Group of Forces in Chechnya; General Gennady Troshev, commander of the troops of the North Caucasus Military District; General Ivan Golubev, deputy minister of internal affairs; and General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, commander of the Internal Troops of the MVD (Gazeta.ru and RIA Novosti, May 4).
The key role in the vituperative “dressing down” of the assembled officials was reportedly given to Gryzlov, chairman of the MVD, who declared that “the power ministries are cooperating far from as intensively as one would want. In the actions of the internal troops, of the special services, of the law enforcement organs and of the army units there exists dissension at all levels.” Gryzlov noted that the different power ministries even communicate on different radio frequencies from one another and also regularly fail to inform one another of the operations they have conducted (Gazeta.ru, May 4).
Much of Gryzlov’s ire was directed against the mayor of Djohar, Gantamirov. “During the [May 1st] holidays,” Gryzlov said, “to my great regret, there were practically no representatives of the government present on the territory of Grozny, including the mayor of the city. And I consider what happened in those days to be a provocation” (Lenta.ru, May 4). At the meeting, it emerged that two organizations were being given a “final warning”–the leadership of the MVD Internal Troops, and the leadership of the pro-Moscow Chechen police. A report is to be submitted by FSB chairman Nikolai Patrushev to President Putin by May 15 concerning the situation in Chechnya and after that, if it proves necessary, there will follow sweeping changes in personnel.
Another issue discussed at the meeting was the attempt by the Chechen rebels to intimidate so-called “national traitors,” that is, pro-Moscow Chechens. Akhmad Kadyrov stressed that the protection of pro-Moscow local officials must be increased.
FSB director Patrushev announced at the meeting that concerted efforts would shortly be undertaken to kill the leaders of the bandit formations. Defense Minister Ivanov remarked that “for the time being the withdrawal of forces from Chechen territory is being limited to the 5,000 soldiers who recently quit Chechnya. For the time being, there are no further plans for reduction” (Gazeta.ru, May 4). At the meeting, Ivanov also announced the promotion of General Baranov, commander of the Russian Combined Group of Forces, to the rank of colonel general.
Following the meeting, each power minister left “to introduce order among his subordinates.” MVD minister Gryzlov flew to Severnyi Airport outside of Djohar to inspect the 46th Brigade of the Internal Troops (RIA Novosti, May 4).
It seems clear, in conclusion, that President Putin and his team are intensely peeved at the recent developments in Chechnya. Following FSB director Patrushev’s report on or before May 15, Gazeta.ru noted “there will follow definite decisions concerning personnel: in the administration of the president, they are certain that the decline of Putin’s ratings due to the inactivity of the Russian forces in Chechnya must be halted before the beginning of autumn.” (Gazeta.ru, May 4).
But do the president and his team understand what must be done? While cleaning house within the deeply corrupted and violent Russian Internal Troops would obviously represent a step forward, a similar effort would appear to be needed with regard to the likewise corrupt and violent Defense Ministry contingent assigned to the republic. As for the threatened broad-scale purge of pro-Moscow Chechen officials, it might well backfire. The search for effective Chechen quislings will predictably prove as elusive in the future as it has in the past. Russia, thus, seems to be settling deeper and more inextricably into the Chechen quagmire.