In a move indicating that the Russian leadership remains firmly committed to prosecuting the war in Chechnya, it was announced on December 8 that mobile units of Russian internal troops and other personnel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are to be quartered in “200 population points” located throughout the Chechen Republic (Lenta.ru, December 8). Their task will be to “ensure the security of the population and to guard the representatives of the local [pro-Moscow] organs of power.” Presumably, the latter task was uppermost in the minds of Russian leaders.
On December 5, the chief Russian presidential spokesman for issues relating to Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, announced that the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya had resulted to date in the “destruction” of from 12,000-13,000 Chechen fighters. According to Yastrzhembsky, approximately 1,500 active terrorists remain in the republic. Until these “bandits” are destroyed, he concluded, “we cannot say that we effectively control Chechnya” (RIA novosti, December 5), Two days later, Yastrzhembsky announced that forty major Chechen field commanders had been killed by Russian forces (Lenta.ru, December 7).
A leading Russian military journalist, Pavel Felgenhauer, subjected Russia’s policies and activities in Chechnya to close examination over the past week. “The critical change over the last year,” he noted, “is the growing hatred of ordinary Chechens towards the Russian troops. You can be robbed, raped or shot at any time even if you are loyal to Russia” (The Independent, December 1). In an essay published in the December 7 issue of the Moscow Times, Felgenhauer underscored that, “Russian officials regularly tell their Western counterparts that they want to stop the abuse of civilians in Chechnya. But such actions are in fact officially tolerated since they are an integral part of the Russian strategy, which is modeled on Soviet and tsarist patterns of brutally suppressing internal rebellions.”
The November 27 issue of Novaya gazeta (no. 67) carried an interview with another leading Russian military specialist, Professor Yuri Noskov of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, who is also a specialist on questions of religion. “With us [Russians],” Noskov commented, “it is not customary to distinguish the [Islamic] mercenaries from those who have been deceived, who are fighting out of a misunderstanding, or are taking revenge for the actions of individual criminals dressed in Russian military uniforms.” As for the Russian side in the conflict, “The leading motive on our side is the very same revenge. (It has been elevated almost to the rank of state policy: ‘The army must take revenge!’) In essence, the motivation of the soldiers and of many officers of the Russian army does not differ from that of those fighting against them. We are not behaving any more intelligently than the [Chechen] fighters, and we continue to drag the civilian populace into the conflict. In this way, an antiterrorist operation is becoming endless due to the constant influx of new terrorists… This has already become a war ‘to the last Chechen.'” Even Adolf Hitler, Noskov noted, made gestures and concessions to the Muslims of the North Caucasus during the period of the Second World War.
“If one speaks of internal politics as a whole,” Noskov concluded, “then today the chief task is to preserve the existing ties between Islam and [Russian] Orthodoxy. An extended speculation on national sentiments can lead to religious confrontation. And, for us, that would be suicide. Judging by our population, we already have an ‘Orthodox-Islamic’ state.”