Vienna, March 26 – Officials in the Russian defense and interior ministries say that the end of “the counter-terrorist operation” in Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov has announced is “not so much connected with successes in the struggle with illegal armed formations as with [the country’s] economic problems,” Moscow’s “Kommersant” newspaper reports today.
Yesterday, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said that because of the successes Russian and Chechen forces have achieved, Moscow plans to end its 10-year-long war in his republic by lifting on March 31 “all the limitations” it had imposed on Chechnya and thus effectively concluding its military effort there (lenta.ru/news/2009/03/25/finish/).
But in reporting this declaration today, “Kommersant” says that its sources have indicated that any such decision, which they say would have occurred at the March 20th meeting between Kadyrov and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, reflects crisis-imposed financial constraints rather that victories in the field (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1144273).
These sources, which the paper says are “highly placed” officials in the defense and interior ministries, told the paper that “under the conditions of the [current economic] crisis, supporting the group of federal forces in Chechnya is becoming simply [and clearly increasingly] difficult.”
Aleksey Malashenko, a specialist on the Caucasus at the Moscow Carnegie Center, agreed. “It is obvious,” he told the paper, “that under the conditions of a financial crisis, paying for the many-thousand-man strong grouping of forces together with all its weaponry and command structures is beyond the capacity of the powers that be.”
“Under conditions of the crisis,” he continued, Moscow “will have to choose how best to spend the money, to give them to the Chechen president for rebuilding the republic or as before to continue to expend them on the rebuilding effort and on the support of [Russian and Chechen] forces.”
Kadyrov not surprisingly stressed the progress these forces have made against the militants, saying that reports of their numbers and activities were “strongly exaggerated” and that in fact there are “no more than 70,” even though Moscow lists 480 and Caucasus specialists suggest that the number may be increasing (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=19849).
But however that may be, three other comments suggest that the situation is less promising that the Chechen president has suggested. First, Russia’s deputy interior minister Arkady Yedelev said that Kadyrov’s declaration about the end of the counterterrorism operation was “the first time [he’d] heard about it (www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=49CB2F22AD8AE).
Second, officials in the office of President Dmitry Medvedev who would have to sign off on any such policy shift given that the war was started by an order of an earlier Russian president said that it was premature to talk about an end because “the question about this is still only being worked out” (http://lenta.ru/news/2009/03/25/finish1/).
And third, Akhmed Zakayev, the prime minister of the government of Chechnya-Ichkeria, now in exile, told Moscow’s “Kommersant” that “it is possible to make [any kind of statements about the situation] one wants on paper, but in fact nothing has changed” on the ground in his homeland or between Moscow and Grozny.