Thursday, September 23, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Is Moscow Preparing a New Military Push in the North Caucasus?

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 23 – Moscow’s decision to send new draftees to Daghestan resembles the steps the Russian powers that be took before the August 2008 war in Georgia, the head of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee in St. Petersburg says. And these moves suggest that Moscow may be preparing for some new military campaign in the North Caucasus.
Because the defense ministry has promised not to send draftees to hotspots, Ella Polyakova reports, military commanders are forcing draftees to sign contracts as professional soldiers prior to their being dispatched in secret to Daghestan, tactics that raise some serious questions (
Over the past few weeks, the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee in the northern capital has picked the offices of the staff of internal troops there, carrying placards which reflect these concerns. “What is Russia preparing for?” asked one, and “Why are they sending draftees to Daghestan?” posed another.
The Soldiers’ Mothers Committee has been told that the draftees are being sent there to beef up security in advance of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but few members of that group say they believe that. And Polyakova says that many are especially concerned because commanders have prohibited the soldiers from carrying mobile phones, via which they could report their locations.
All this, she continues, “reminds” her and her colleagues of “the situation before the military conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008” and suggests that perhaps “a new war in the Caucasus awaits us.”
But an MVD spokesman has dismissed fears. The only “concrete task” these soldiers have, Colonel Vasily Panchenkov says, is “the preservation of public order” in Daghestan. And he insisted that “no one [in the military] had forced the draftees to sign contracts” as professional soldiers.”
Such agreements were “completely voluntary,” a reflection only of “certain material stimuli. Agitation among draftees of course is carried out but they are offered the right of choice.” And Panchenkov said that the parents of most draftees understand that. Those who have picketed are a tiny minority.
In reporting this exchange in St. Petersburg, the Kavkaz portal asked commentator Konstantin Kazenin for his views on the situation. He replied that he “does not see any evident connection between the Russian-Georgian conflict and the dispatch of subunits of the internal forces from Leningrad oblast to Daghestan.”
“On the other hand,” he continued, “there is now in Daghestan now a quite complicated operational situation. There are a large number of local conflicts – criminal, religious, and political – especially before the elections.” And the powers that be want to bring them under control, something that does not necessarily point to war.
The portal also recalled that in the spring of 2009, Moscow dispatched “several major echelons with untrained draftees” to the Caucasus, groups who were also “deprived of any chance to maintain contact with their relatives and friends, according to Tatyana Kuznetsova of the Inter-Regional Movement of Soldiers’ Mothers. And at that time too, no war broke out.
But both the secrecy Moscow is throwing over all these activities within the force structures, secrecy that may be intensified if the Duma gives final approval to a new law on coverage of the Russian counter-terrorist effort, and the large number of possible targets of a military campaign in the Caucasus, are exacerbating Russian worries about the future.

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