A special operation in the vicinity of settlements of Arshty and Dattykh ended along the lines of a classic phrase authored by former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin: “We wanted the best, but it turned out as it always does.” This broadly advertised operation implemented by Ingush troops, Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel and police, was intended to send the following message to the outside world: “Look, we are capable of maintaining order at home ourselves.” The large number of militants reportedly killed – estimates ranging from 14 to 18 – allowed the Ingushetia’s president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, to make a virtue of necessity. How else would one explain that simultaneously with the special operation in the foothills of Ingushetia’s Sunzha region (on the administrative border with Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district), Khavazh Geroev, an employee of Ingushetia’s Security Council, was blown up in the settlement of Ordzhonikidzevskaya.
Together with resounding speeches, alarming news started arriving from neighboring Chechnya. Residents of the settlements of Bamut, Achkhoi-Martan and others expressed concern that in the area where their ancestors had been collecting ramsons (wild garlic) for centuries, military operations were being conducted utilizing tanks, artillery, airplanes, and helicopters. In fact, the members of the Chechen sub-ethnic group, the Orstkhoi, who inhabit both sides of the administrative border, do not pay much attention to the official boundaries. At first, the authorities did everything they could to conceal information about the fighting from the general public (www.mk.ru, February 13).
According to various sources, a total of 80-200 individuals came out to collect wild garlic. The FSB did not have enough time to interrogate all those detained in the area of operations. Therefore 70-80 civilians were reportedly evacuated, including those who had already been interrogated and released. However, on February 12, there were reports claiming that some of the residents of the villages of Achkhoi-Martan and Bamut were being buried by their fellow villagers and were likely being identified in official sources as slain militants. It is well known that the Russian government does not release the bodies of slain militants; therefore it is clear that all those buried on February 12 and 13 were exclusively peaceful denizens of Chechen villages. According to Muslim tradition, the dead must be buried immediately on the day of their death before sunset. Therefore, the figure of five Chechens killed (one more is listed as missing) in the Ingush operation does not correspond to reality, because locals say the number of casualties was possibly much higher. It is worth mentioning that so far there has been talk only of Chechen deaths; what happened to the Ingush who were also out collecting wild garlic that day has not been reported so far. People are anxiously waiting for the lifting of the ban on visiting the area of military operations, fearing they will find the bodies of their dead relatives (Kommersant, February 13). The number of dead among civilians can reasonably be assumed to be as high as 14 (www.km.ru, February 13).
Therefore, it is still too early to tally the final numbers of Chechen civilians killed in this operation. It is hoped that as time passes, the exact numbers, despite the veil of secrecy, will be publicized. Meanwhile, the number of 18 militants allegedly killed in the operation dropped back to 14 by the evening of February 13. Of these, only seven were identified as being wanted by authorities (www.ingushetia.org, February 13). Of course, the FSB could not blame the government troops for murdering civilians. According to them, the militants used civilians as human shields and as a result the civilian population suffered (www.vesti.ru, February 14). The FSB analyst did not realize that even if the militants were indeed using human shields, then the authorities should not have risked the lives of innocents. This concept is well-established in the West, but has been ignored by Russia for the entirety of its history in the Caucasus.
The disagreements regarding an apology by Ingush President Yevkurov are evidence that the two neighbors, Yevkurov and Ramzan Kadyrov, have a complex relationship. Instead of visiting the families of victims personally, Yevkurov expressed his condolences through the press to Kadyrov and asked the Chechen to tell the families of victims that he regrets the deaths of innocent Chechen citizens (www.ingushetia.org, February 13). However, the Ingush president’s press secretary, Kaloi Akhilgov, stated that the president had visited the families and expressed his condolences (www.mk.ru, February 13). The Chechen authorities’ calls to coordinate operations in Ingushetia were left unanswered by the Ingush leadership.
Meanwhile, the January 16, 2010 interview with the opposition leader Doku Umarov was posted online (about 18 minutes long). In the interview, Umarov summarized the accomplishments of the past year and claimed that it has been the most successful year since his assumption of command of rebel forces in 2006 (https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xc751r_interv-ju-amira-imarata-kavkaz-dokk_news). According to Umarov, the militants were able to establish proper contact among all commanders. For full coordination, a Great Council of Emirs (Shura) was created, consisting of 49 emirs. Discussing plans for 2010, Doku Umarov said that Russia will feel that the war has arrived throughout Russian territory. In other words, he is planning to expand the insurgency beyond the North Caucasus. He also indicated in the interview that there is almost no difficulty in replenishing the ranks; on the contrary, this process has now become streamlined so that the new recruits are used more effectively.
Ramzan Kadyrov completely disagrees with Doku Umarov. In an interview with the Russian government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Kadyrov claimed that no large formations subordinate to Umarov remain in the republic (www.rg.ru, February 12)). Kadyrov spoke very carefully about the assignment of Aleksandr Khloponin to the post of Russian presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District. Kadyrov recommended waiting for the results of Khloponin’s work to emerge, thus underscoring the fact that he does not believe that the presidential envoy will be successful.
Various events are bringing the North Caucasus into the limelight all across the world, although such an approach is not objective. The opposition movement is the engine of many processes in the North Caucasus. To disregard this fact is to bury one’s head in the sand with regard to North Caucasian politics.