Meanwhile, the situation in Djohar [Grozny] remained tense this week. Two explosions in the city’s Leninsk district on May 12 were apparently targeted at two Russian armored personnel carriers passing by at the moment of the blasts. Because the vehicles were moving at high speed, none of the occupants were hurt, but the incident sparked an exchange of gunfire that lasted thirty minutes. The bodies of three ethnic Russian inhabitants were found in various parts of the capital. The authorities suspected that they were victims of rebel fighters. In general, information from the Russian power ministries suggests that the rebel forces are continuing to gain strength in the capital and have become particularly concentrated in the capital’s Zavodsk district, the areas around the central market and the Katayama area. According to some reports, the rebels may have several hundred men in Djohar. Last weekend, the authorities in the capital limited the flow of traffic in its central section. This, however, did not prevent an unauthorized demonstration from taking place on May 13, during which at least 100 protesters, mostly women, called for an end to the war and the withdrawal of Russian forces. Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, has banned mass demonstrations (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 15).
The Djohar administration has predicted that the situation in the capital will worsen by the end of May. Ruslan Martagov, press secretary of the mayor’s office, complained that the Russian authorities had not taken sufficient measures to eliminate rebel organizational structures while the federal forces used unjustified force against law-abiding civilians. Kadyrov dismissed Martagov’s complaint as “baseless,” claiming that the situation was completely under the control of the federal forces and the republic’s leadership. According to Kadyrov, the rebels do not have the power to retake the capital, as they did in August 1996. Stanislav Il’yasov, head of the Chechen government, said that Djohar residents had no grounds for panic, while Akmed Dakaev, a top Chechen police official, admitted the situation in the capital remained difficult but said that law enforcement agencies were taking a series of steps to stabilize it.
In an interview published today, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov admitted the situation in the Chechen capital was bad, saying that “elementary order” had to be imposed there. He said that the rebels were using the capital’s many destroyed buildings as sniper’s nests, but said that when the military asks permission to demolish those that are not slated for restoration, they get no answers (Izvestia, May 17). The Polit.ru website aptly asked today: “One wonders: Who personally is not allowing Ivanov to tear down the ruins in Grozny? Kadyrov? Putin?” (Polit.ru, May 17).
In the meantime, a shake-up in the leadership of the federal troops in Chechnya has provided another piece of evidence of the problems the operation there is facing. On May 15, General Gennady Troshev was picked to replace Colonel-General Valery Baranov as the commander of the federal troops in Chechnya. Troshev, in fact, is returning to his old post. He commanded the federal forces in Chechnya last year, before being named head of the North Caucasus military district. At the start of the Chechen military campaign in 1999 Troshev was in charge of the federal forces’ eastern group (Russian agencies, May 15). While there was no official comment on the reason for the shake-up, a newspaper reported that Troshev’s return was dictated by the fact that since last April, when Baranov replaced him as commander, the federal forces in Chechnya became “bogged down in financial intrigues and infighting,” with federal troops involved in large-scale contraband oil-production and sales operation and Interior Ministry troops collecting protection payments from Chechens engaged in oil processing. “If the Chechens don’t pay, their oil wells are blown up,” the paper reported. The paper also said that under Troshev’s command, military personnel committed fewer crimes and search operations were not as brutal as now (Vremya MN, May 16). Another newspaper speculated that Troshev’s appointment was a signal that the federal forces plan to conduct a “decisive purge” in Chechnya before withdrawing a significant number of troops. The paper said that Troshev “handled such tasks” during the 1994-1996 Chechen military campaign, during which he commanded the 58th army (Vremya Novostei, May 16). In the summer of 1995, Troshev led assaults against Chechen rebel strongholds south of Djohar.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH SAYS RUSSIAN FORCES KILLED THOSE FOUND IN MASS GRAVE.