Saturday, January 19, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Chechen Fighting Intensifying, MVD Official Says

Paul Goble

Baku, January 19 – Chechen rebels have stepped up their attacks on Russian and pro-Moscow forces in that North Caucasus republic, according to a militia officer of the Grozny government. And his statement thus calls into question the Kremlin’s repeated claims that what it calls “the counter-terrorist operation” there is essentially over.
Moreover, the MVD official -- who spoke with a Caucasus Knot reporter on condition of anonymity – added that for “completely predictable” reasons, the fighting between the two sides will intensify still further in the run-up to the Russian presidential elections in March (
Russian and Chechen officials have discussed this possibility “for a long time,” he said, convinced that the foreign backers of the rebels “are extremely interested in the destabilization of the situation in the south of Russia” in advance of the elections and that they “will do everything they can to ensure that the conflict will continue.”
These foreign backers, the MVD officer continued, have given out large sums of money to the relatively few remaining rebels and “as is said, he who pays the piper calls the tune” – in this case, one that calls on them to step up their attacks. “There is nothing new in that,” the officer said.
At the same time, he continued, the number and size of rebel bands in Chechnya are much smaller than in the past and consequently “the diversionary-terrorist actions” that they can carry out are “petty” in comparison to those the rebels were able to conduct earlier. In any case, he said, their actions won’t have any impact on the overall situation.
But the Caucasus Knot journalist disputed that, noting in his article that “information arriving in recent days from the mountains and the foothills of the republic recalls the reports of the first years of ‘the counter-terrorist operation’” rather than the quieter times of the recent past.
Indeed, he said, “practically ever day there are cases of violent clashes and attacks by militants on the officers of law enforcement organs and the uniformed military personnel of the federal force. To support his point, the journalist cites just a few of clashes that his Internet portal has reported over the last few weeks.
And in addition, he offered the judgments of a 54-year-old Grozny resident about what is going on in Chechnya now. Suleiman [no last name given] said that if the war was continuing, this means in the first instance that it is necessary and profitable for someone.”
“I will never believe,” he said, “that the enormous Russian army and the thousands of officers of the local militia over the course of the last several years could not find and destroy the militants who now number, if one credits certain generals and politicians, no more than 700.”
Given that conviction, Suleyman continued, he was completely convinced that “the situation in Chechnya and in the Caucasus as a whole is being maintained artificially in order to keep Russian society in a state of tension and deflect the attention of citizens of the problems which exist today.”
At the current level of fighting, he said, “the military and the militia could ‘fight’ [there] for another 20 to 30 years,” during which time, “every general will build himself a dacha near Moscow, salt away enormous sums of money, become a Hero of Russia, receive the rank of marshal, and provide a good life for his children and grandchildren.”
Suleyman’s belief that pro-Moscow forces could defeat the rebels if they wanted to might be reassuring to the Interior Ministry official with whom the Caucasus Knot journalist spoke. After all, his words suggest that he has confidence in the ability of the military to defeat the rebels without too much difficulty.
But the Grozny resident’s suggestion that Moscow is continuing a war that still devastates his republic and his people only because senior Russian commanders are thus able to profit personally would be less welcome not only to that Chechen militia officer but to Russian leaders as well.
On the one hand, this suggestion highlights the increasing cynicism of Chechens and others about the Russian authorities. And on the other, such an attitude helps to explain why the rebels are still enjoy support in the population and why the current upsurge in the fighting may not die down anytime soon.

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