Vienna, October 8 – Even though Moscow is claiming that Russian forces have killed more than 2100 militants in the North Caucasus over the last six years and captured nearly 6300 during the same period, a Russian general says fighting there even now is “comparable to the operation against the Taliban which NATO countries are conducting in Afghanistan.
Lt. Gen. Yury Netkachev, who earlier commanded the Russian military in the Caucasus, told “Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye” last week that “the scope of military actions of the federal forces” against “the bandits” and the size of the Russian forces involved are roughly comparable to those of NATO in Afghanistan (nvo.ng.ru/news/2009-10-02/2_boina.html).
Both the Russian forces and the NATO forces number approximately 100,000, both have suffered comparable losses – 250 in the Russian case and 350 in the 350 in NATO’s – but, he continued, that means Russian forces are performing much worse because they face a much smaller enemy – 500 to 700 hard core militants as against to 20-25,000 Taliban.
Netkachev made these suggestions as part of his argument that Moscow should not have ended the counter-terrorist regime in Chechnya last April, especially since the remaining militants have proved to be inventive in their use of “partisan and terrorist methods of struggle with the federal forces.”
Not all Russian military commanders agree with Netkachev and his suggestion both that “a hidden war” continues in the North Caucasus and that Moscow’s strategy is not working, but his words clearly touched a nerve, and this week, the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) tried to put a positive spin on what Russian forces have achieved.
The MVD said that over the last six years, Russian Federation forces have killed 2186 militants and captured 6295 in the North Caucasus, of which 270 were killed and 450 captured so far this year alone, including high-profile individuals like Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and field commander Shamil Basayev (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/160376/).
Moreover, the agency said, Russian forces had “liquidated” – that is, killed – 43 mercenaries and “emissaries of foreign terrorist centers” and confiscated more than 9500 weapons, 5,000 grenades, 20 tons of explosives, as well as thousands of bullets and other forms of ammunition.
But this MVD media blitz quickly ran into three kinds of trouble. First, other officials, including prosecutors in the Southern Federal District provided different statistics for the same period, thus reviving concerns that the Russian force structures either cannot keep an accurate count or are simply coming up with whatever figures their Moscow superiors require.
Second, officials, including these same prosecutors, said that crimes involving the use of guns and explosives had actually gone up more than 26 percent over the last year, the result they suggested of the greater availability of weaponry there in the wake of Russia’s military actions in Georgia, yet another example of the blowback of that conflict into Russia.
And third, and perhaps most important, the very figures the MVD has provided shows just how much anti-Moscow resistance there has been in the North Caucasus, thus undercutting Vladimir Putin’s frequent claims of victory and raising new questions in the minds of many Russians about whether it is worthwhile to continue the struggle there.