Thursday, October 29, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Plans to Expand Russian Forces in North Caucasus Won’t Solve Russia’s Security Challenges, Experts Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 29 – Moscow is planning to increase the number of units in the North Caucasus military district by a factor of four, according to officers there, but independent experts say that this expansion in Russian forces will not solve either the challenges posed by opposition groups in the North Caucasus or those presented by neighboring countries like Georgia.
Today’s “Nezavisimoye voennoye obozreniye” reported that its sources in the North Caucasus Military District say that Moscow plans to create on the basis of the 58th army an operational command consisting of seven motorized rifle brigades and one tank brigade (
In addition, Moscow plans to increase the number of MVD forces there and is creating for them a new center in Krasnodar and the number of military aviation squadrons by at least five over the next year, all of which are to be supplied, the military affairs journal said, with the very latest military technologies.
While the journal does not say so, this dispatch of additional Russian troops to the North Caucasus clearly represents a victory for those in Moscow and officials in the North Caucasus like Chechen President Raman Kadyrov who argue that the only way to defeat the militant opposition to the existing power structures is to use more force.
But experts have doubts about the utility of this expansion in military units either domestically or internationally. Vladimir Popov, a specialist on the Caucasus, said that such an increase in the number of Russian troops there will “not in all respects promote the stabilization of the situation and the resolution of humanitarian problems.”
On the one hand, he pointed out, past experience suggests that an increase in the number of Russian troops will be matched by an increase in the number of those opposed to Moscow. And on the other, no matter how many troops Moscow sends in, they will not be able to protect any particular individual.
That shortcoming, Popov said, will continue to be exploited by opposition groups who will carefully target particular individuals. Indeed, he said, it is precisely on the basis of such calculations that there have been murders of rights activists and others in Daghestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia in recent weeks.
And at the same time, another expert, Aleksandr Khramchikhin, who heads the Moscow Institute of Political and Military Analysis, argues that this expansion of Russian military forces in the North Caucasus will do little or nothing to promote Russian security or advance Russian interests beyond the Russian border (
Because these new forces and military arrangements will be put in place only “after the present military reform,” he argued, “they will not be able to respond to any threat.” Indeed, he said, Russia’s military forces have been degraded to the point that they “already could not defeat even Georgia.”
Obviously, both Popov and Khramchikhin have their own reasons for making these arguments, but this Moscow decision to increase its force levels in the North Caucasus points to three important conclusions about policy and politics in the Russian capital, conclusions that suggest some very different conclusions than some have been drawing in recent weeks.
First, this decision suggests that decision making on these questions is still dominated by the force structures around Vladimir Putin who has made no secret of his belief in the efficacy of the use of force rather than by political forces around Dmitry Medvedev who have promoted the idea that Moscow must use economic and social tools to overcome problems in the Caucasus.
Second, it suggests that for all the complaints about the downsizing of the officer corps and the military that have been raised in recent months, the Russian army can still get government support whenever it is in a position to make the case that only it is in a position to guarantee that those who are in power remain there.
And third – and most important – the report indicates that the situation in the North Caucasus is much worse than Moscow has acknowledged and the dangers of new clashes between Russia and Georgia much greater than anyone has admitted, an indication that the coming weeks may be more violent and the region no more secure as a result.

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