Vienna, October 12 – Moscow’s “latest and most significant concession” to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov – giving him control over counter-terrorist actions there – was made behind “a smoke screen” put up by the Kremlin in which Moscow said it was unhappy with the effort of the siloviki there and had decided to return control of operations there to the FSB.
In an article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Andrey Soldatov, a leading Moscow expert on the security agencies and editor of the Agentura.ru portal, describes how the central government effectively handed over control of these actions while suggesting it was doing just the reverse (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=9523).
The current chapter in this story began on April 16 when Moscow declared the end of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya, an action that made it clear that “a struggle for the control of the last important federal structure in the republic – the Operational Staff for Carrying Out Counter-Terrorism Operations – was beginning.”
(A second federal structure involved in this – the Unified Group of Forces – “could wait,” Soldatov says, because “it plays a subordinate role” in comparison with the Operational Staff, a body created in 2001 after “the military operation in the [Chechen] republic was officially concluded.”)
When the Operational Staff was created, it was led by the FSB, but in July 2003, Moscow transferred control over this body to the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) “in order to show that in Chechnya the militants could be put down by the methods of police operations” rather than military or intelligence ones.
But while there was a nominal transfer of control, in fact, the FSB remained very much in charge although in a position to shift responsibility and blame to others. That is because, Soldatov continues, Moscow named Arkady Yedelyev, a deputy interior minister but “a cadre officer of the FSB,” to run the staff.
Yedelyev included “several local Chechen siloviki” on the Staff, but that because the federal officials “did not trust” them, each agency planned its own operations independently, thus “sacrificing coordination,” which was after all the chief task of the Operational Staff, “in order to preserve the status quo and not get into an argument with Kadyrov.”
But “if five years ago, this arrangement might have satisfied Kadyrov, by 2009, the situation had changed,” Soldatov points out. And he clearly saw the declared end of the counter-terrorism operation to be a good time to try to take control over one of the last structures in Chechnya not completely under his control.
Doing so for Kadyrov was important, the Moscow analyst says, not only for symbolic reasons but because the Operational Staff not only gives orders to the Operational Group of Forces but also has succeeded in subordinating to itself the various MVD forces inside Chechnya.
Already at the start of the summer, Soldatov says, there were indications that “the Kremlin intended to return to the FSB control (and responsibility) for the struggle with terrorism” by putting FSB regional chiefs in charge of these operations. But there was always to be one exception: Chechnya, where Yedeleyev was in charge as deputy interior minister.
Kadyrov and the Chechens wanted this “exception” eliminated because if the local FSB head was put in nominal charge of the Operational Staff, then Grozny’s control of that body would be “practically” achieved given that the FSB office there is “the most passive force structure in the republic.”
By “the middle of the summer,” Soldatov continues, “it became clear that sooner or later” Grozny would get its wish, but the question was how could this be arranged so that it would not appear that Kadyrov was simply taking over. And that was achieved when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he was unhappy with the counter-terrorism effort in the North Caucasus.
That provided “the smoke screen” Moscow needed to remove Yedeleyev and to bring the administrative arrangements for Chechnya in line with those elsewhere, a move that given the situation in Grozny appears likely, in Soldatov’s judgment, to have just the opposite impact many might expect.
Only one question remains to be asked, the Agentura.ru editor says. “Are all these efforts of the Kremlin (and judging by everything this was planned in Moscow rather than in Grozny) worth the goal that has been achieved: the loss of the last mechanisms of control over how the struggle with the militants is understood in Grozny?”