Vienna, March 23 – Even as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made his upbeat comments about conditions in the North Caucasus during a meeting with the presidents of Chechnya and Daghestan, the security situation in that region continued to deteriorate, with anti-Russian militants increasingly active and Russian forces increasingly ineffective.
On Friday, Putin told Daghestani President Mukhu Aliyev and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov that he was confident that “law enforcement organs” could handle what he suggested remains of the militant opposition to Russia in their republics and elsewhere, notably according to the media not using the term “counter-terrorist operation.”
But even as he was doing so, “Nezavisimoye voennoye obozreniye” reports today, “the activity of the militants in the republics of the south of Russia [was] growing” and any end to the counter-terrorist actions of the Russian force structures in that region is “still far away” (www.ng.ru/nvo/2009-03-23/2_front.html?mthree=9).
Not only are the militants becoming more active, but they are claiming more victims among Russian forces. At the end of last week, NVO’s Vladimir Mukhin reports, the Russia side did destroy 16 militants in Daghestan but only after losing five dead and wounded in the process. And despite that “victory,” the militants continued to be active elsewhere.
Mukhin said that in recent times, the militants had been active not just in Daghestan but in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria as well, and he added that the leaders of what Moscow calls “the illegal armed formations” have so stepped up their efforts that they now constitute “a new front of struggle with local organs of power, the militia and federal forces.”
Moscow’s NVO is not the only media outlet reporting on the deterioration of the security situation in the North Caucasus. The Kavkaz-uzel.ru portal noted that efforts by pro-Moscow forces to track down and destroy those who had attacked government facilities recently “had not brought results” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/151210).
Moreover, an article on the Caucasustimes.com site suggested that Ingushetia, which had quieted down some after the replacement of Murad Zyazikov by Yunus-bek Yevkurov, has now become increasingly violent, with the authorities having lost 16 militiamen and two soldiers killed since the start of the year (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=19798).
The republic’s interior minister, Ruslan Meyriyev, says this outcome reflects the response of the militants to the increasingly aggressive approach of the law enforcement organs: “We become more active, and they become more active,” he told a Nazran news conference at the end of last week.
But he did not express particular optimism that conditions in Ingushetia were getting better as a result: “The situation is quite complicated,” he said. “It is not tragic, not a failure; it is simply complicated,” an assessment with which many of the people of that republic would not agree.
“Every day someone is killed,” a Nazran resident told the Caucasus Times. “You don’t know whether your near ones will return home. You go out in the morning, and you may accidently find yourself in a zone where the military is conducting a special operation, and that’s it.”
The hopes that many people had in Yevkurov, who seemed both more open and more effective than his predecessor, are rapidly dissipating. And many of the steps that he took, such as an amnesty, have not had the impact that he expected. As a result, there is an increasing sense, the Caucasus Times writer said, that “there is no way out.”
Indeed, Murat Kardanov said, for Moscow now, the least painful “exit from the situation could be to establish a state border with the Eastern North Caucasus. Undoubtedly, the majority [of people in the region] would be against, but who asked the Tajiks, the Kyrgyz or the Georgians about this in the 1990s?’
“And then one fine day,” he said, the residents of the North Caucasus “will wake up in a new country. And despite everything, they will survive.”