The commander of the federal Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops, Col.-General Nikolai Rogozhkin, told a press conference in Moscow organized by the Itar-Tass news agency that there are 22,000 Interior Ministry troops currently deployed in the North Caucasus. “Our first and foremost tasks there are to ensure public order, to ensure security at important state facilities as well as to deal with terrorist forays which are taking place in the republic,” Rogozhkin said.
Earlier this month, Defense Minister Serge Ivanov reported that the number of troops in Chechnya had actually increased. On March 18, Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted Ivanov as saying that the number of troops in the “rebellious republic” – including those belonging to republican armed structures – totaled around 80,000. The newspaper noted that back in October 2003, then commander of the North Caucasus Military District Col.-General Vladimir Boldyrev reported that a total of 75,000 servicemen were deployed in Chechnya, including 33,000 Defense Ministry troops. This means that the total number of troops in Chechnya has increased by 5,000 over the last two years, thanks mainly to additional special forces and police personnel. Nezavisimaya gazeta asked rhetorically why it was necessary to increase the number of troops “if, as Chechnya’s Interior Ministry claims…they are capable of coping with the terrorists on their own? Is it that it is not so much the Chechens who hide in the mountains that worry the military (the special forces fight them, as a rule), as it is those who in Chechnya are called ‘Kadyrov’s Guard’?”
Nezavisimaya gazeta also raised questions about Ivanov’s statistics concerning troop casualties in Chechnya. The newspaper quoted the defense minister as saying that around 1,000 servicemen died in the republic 2001 while some 250 died there in 2004. Last October, however, Oleg Khotin, the head of the provisional joint grouping of Russian Interior Ministry detachments and subunits in Chechnya, told a Chechen Interior Ministry board meeting in Grozny that 532 Russian Interior Ministry employees had been killed or wounded in Chechnya over the first nine months of 2004. In addition, the number of Interior Ministry staff killed in the neighboring republics – including Dagestan, Ingushetia and Karachaevo-Cherkessia – is growing rapidly.
Meanwhile, some Russian media reported earlier this month that conscripts serving in the 503rd Motorized-Rifle Regiment of the 58th Army, based in Ingushetia, were being forced, in some cases violently, to sign contracts for continued service in the unit. The regiment is switching over to contract service but not finding enough contract service personnel. The forced “volunteers” were to be sent to Chechnya, Russky kurier reported on March 11. Meanwhile, Russia’s RTR state television channel reported on March 29 that combat exercises involving only contract servicemen were underway near the Chechen town of Shali.