General Vladimir Shamanov, who heads the Russian Armed Forces’ Main Directorate for Combat Training and Service, told Krasnaya Zvezda that the Defense Ministry has decided to cut the size of its Chechen-manned battalions.
In an interview posted June 24 on the military newspaper’s website, Redstar.ru, Shamanov was asked about the fate of the Vostok (East) and Zapad (West) battalions, both of which are subordinated to the Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). The Vostok battalion has come into conflict with forces loyal to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who has demanded that it be disbanded (North Caucasus Weekly, June 19; Chechnya Weekly, April 17 and 24; May 1, 8, 16, 22 and 29; June 5 and 12).
Shamanov responded: “Fulfilling the tasks of the command of the Unified Group of Forces, these battalions, formed from local inhabitants, carried out dozens of successful operations during eight years of existence, destroying a lot of militants. However, having received ample independence, Vostok and Zapad truly resembled army units less and less in recent years.” According to Shamanov, a Defense Ministry probe of the Vostok and Zapad battalion launched following Kadyrov’s complaints about the units found “a number of violations in the process of military training and organizing daily activities.” As a result, said Shamanov, “the Minister of Defense [Anatoly Serdyukov] made the decision to carry out a recertification of the command and personnel of both units and reduce their numbers by 30 percent and not send any more conscripts to them.”
Shamanov said that those who are still members of the units will undergo “systematic training” in a number of areas but that both battalions will remain part of the Defense Ministry’s 42nd Division. Given the rebel attack on the village of Benoi-Vedeno on June 13, the Vostok and Zapad battalions have “enough work” to do, Shamanov said, adding that that they are also currently carrying out “peacekeeping tasks” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Meanwhile, Kommersant reported on June 25 that the Vostok battalion may be purged of those members who have aroused the ire of the Chechen authorities, and also of those who left the unit after its conflict with forces loyal to Kadyrov broke out in April. Still, Kommersant, which also interviewed Shamanov, said he refused to comment on reports that Sulim Yamadaev had been removed as Vostok commander—something that Kadyrov had asserted publicly. “Personnel appointments in the North Caucasus Military District are outside the competence of the Main Directorate for Combat Training,” Shamanov told Kommersant.
Sulim Yamadaev’s older brother, former State Duma deputy Ruslan Yamadaev, told Kommersant that he and his brother support the Defense Ministry’s decision to reduce the size of its units in Chechnya. “There is a huge [Chechen] MVD, and, according to the Chechen authorities, it is successfully battling against the militants,” Ruslan Yamadaev told the newspaper. He added that his brother is waiting for a decision from the Russian military command about a new assignment. “A decision about Sulim’s transfer was taken a long time ago, even before the conflict with President Ramzan Kadyrov,” Ruslan Yamadaev told Kommersant.