Staunton, December 7 – When reports surfaced that the United States was sending tanks to Afghanistan, international reaction was shift and nearly unanimous: US forces there, commentators in both Russia and the West suggested, are going the way of their Soviet predecessors and now face defeat.
Yesterday, Russia’s Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev announced that the internal troops were re-introducing artillery units to combat militants in the North Caucasus, the first time the Russia side has done that since 1994-95 in the course of the initial post-Soviet Chechen war which Russian forces decisively lost (www.ng.ru/nvo/2010-12-06/1_nurgaliev.html).
And while the introduction of artillery units may not presage the same outcome in the current fighting, Moscow’s decision to employ such weaponry both highlights the strength of the opposition forces it faces and undercuts its claims that Russian forces are making progress against them and bringing peace to the region.
But perhaps even more indicative of the deteriorating security situation Moscow faces in the region is these the new units will be responsible not just for Chechnya but for the entire North Caucasus “except Stavropol” and that they have been charged with ensuring security for the Duma elections there next year.
The decision to exclude Stavropol represents a concession to officials and the population in that kray who are angry that their predominantly ethnic Russian region has been included in the North Caucasus Federal District rather than as it was before the NCFD was restored in the Southern Federal District.
The new units, the 46th brigade based in Chechnya and the 450th battalion in Daghestan, will assume some of the responsibilities that regular army artillery units have played in the past, “Nezvisimoye voyennoye obozrenie” commentator Vladimir Mukhin says, but how effective they will be remains to be seen, especially the latter given that it consists of local people.
According to the military experts with whom Mukhin spoke, this step constitutes “a recognition by the generals” that their subordinates now need to use artillery more frequently, something that they say shows that the supposedly “disappearing” militants are currently capable of mounting a well-organized and powerful resistance to Russian forces.
The interior forces actually have significant experience in this regard on which to draw. Not only did MVD units employ artillery in the first post-Soviet Chechen war but 1500 internal troops took part in fall exercises in Rostov oblast recently in which they practiced with armored vehicles, helicopters and artillery.
In his remarks, Nurgaliyev tried to put the best face on things, recounting how many militants have been neutralized and arms seized over the past year. But he acknowledged that there are as many as 500 “armed bandits” who are continuing to offer resistance to federal authorities and who must be suppressed by the use of artillery so that elections can take place.