MOSCOW REDUCES MILITARY PRESENCE IN CHECHNYA

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On January 22, President Vladimir Putin signed the decree “On measures for combating terrorism in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation.” In accordance with this document, command of the antiterrorist operation is taken from the Armed Forces and given to the Federal Security Service. By his decree the Supreme Commander-in-Chief will establish the “task staff for the antiterrorist operations command in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation” which will “command the united group of forces for the antiterrorist operations in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation.” The Federal Security Service Director will be the chief of the new staff. The staff will also include the President’s Envoy to the Southern Federal District, Interior, Emergency Situations, and Justice ministers, directors of the Federal Agency for Governmental Information and Liaison, and Federal Border Guards Service, Chief of the General Staff, Director of the Main Intelligence Department of the General Staff, Senior Deputy Federal Security Service Director, Director of the Federal Service of Railway Troops, and so on. It is necessary to comment that there is no Defense Minister among the officers of the task staff. This is obviously not accidental. Statements of federal officials imply that participation of the Armed Forces in the antiterrorist operation will be minimized.

Colonel General Yury Baluevsky, Senior Deputy Chief of the General Staff, announces that in Chechnya the main burden is currently laid on law enforcement agencies, Interior Forces, and Chechen police. Baluevsky adds that federal forces in Chechnya will operate in accordance with new tactics with a main accent on special operations. Baluevsky emphasizes, “These will be specific pinpoint operations for localization and arresting of certain militants.”

Meanwhile, General Staff Chief General of the Army Anatoly Kvashnin having a rich combat experience of the first Chechen campaign, remains in command of the current operation in Chechnya. He commands substantial military forces permanently deployed in Chechnya. According to Baluevsky, during the entire antiterrorist operation the strength of the Armed Forces group in Chechnya have not exceeded 50,000. At present it includes 40,000 servicemen and 170 tanks. (According to Baluevsky, during the antiterrorist operation ten units were withdrawn from Chechnya. The 138th mechanized infantry brigade was returned to the place of its deployment in the Leningrad Military District, and the 162nd tank regiment was returned to the Siberian Military District. The artillery and mortar units were also reduced.) Of course, this contingent will be further reduced. According to President Putin, who commented on the need of the military command reorganization in the conflict zone, the 42nd division 15,000 men strong and an Interior Forces brigade 6,000-7,000 men strong will remain permanently deployed in the republic. Putin added, “Additional contingent remains, which will be withdrawn, but in due time when the necessary conditions are created.” Thus, the Army will still play an important role in enforcement of order and security in Chechnya.

With regard to the timing and procedure of troops withdrawal Baluevsky explained to journalists that everything would be done gradually. At first units of the Moscow Military District and Airborne Forces will be withdrawn from Chechnya, and then other units will be reduced when it is necessary.

Will the forces remaining in Chechnya be sufficient to counteract to the militants? Baluevsky reports that about 1,000 militants are currently fighting against the federal forces. A part of them is trying to get settled in localities, and a part is organizing scarce diversions. Mainly Arab mercenaries are currently fighting. They arrange ambushes on the routes of military columns movement, and lay mines. The bandits have a rich experience of such operations, because foreign specialists and instructors have taught them.

In these circumstances the country’s leadership decided to organize military commandant offices in majority of Chechen localities. Commandants of districts, who are to be chiefs of local task staffs, will still play the main role in enforcement of security in Chechnya. The commandants, that is, officers of the Armed Forces, Interior Forces, and police, will be subordinated to the commander of the special operation in Chechnya, that is, to the Federal Security Service Director. The commandants will also actively collaborate with the local leadership protecting the economic life of the local population.

However, why the Federal Security Service Director will be commander of the task staff in Chechnya?

Commenting on the President’s decision, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky has announced that appointment of Patrushev “reflects the content of the current phase of the antiterrorist operation, the main goal of which is search and neutralization of leaders of bandit forces and remaining bandit groups.” According to Yastrzhembsky, it is the Federal Security Service that is “the main profile body which is to combat terrorism.”

General Alexander Zdanovich, official spokesperson for the Federal Security Service, has told the journalists that Federal Security Service units taking part in the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya will be reinforced. They will stake at combating small bandit forces and destruction of their leaders.

At this point it is necessary to note that officers of the Federal Security Service have acted in the current antiterrorist operation as skilled professionals. They have organized pinpoint special operations inside the militant forces. According to the Press Bureau of the Federal Security Service, in 2000 militants conducted 431 diversions in Chechnya, but the number of these terrorist acts could have been bigger but for the special forces which prevented 205 of them.

The Federal Security Service also organized over 30 special operations in Chechnya during which it destroyed 832 mini refineries, arrested 1,324,700 tons of oil and 235 tons of diesel fuel during attempts of their illegal shipment from the republic. In 2000, the Federal Security Service also confiscated 215 kilograms of marijuana, 143,000 “effective dozes” worth 4.3 million rubles. In 2000, the Federal Security Service paralyzed activities of the so-called Chechen representative offices and non-governmental organizations in Middle Eastern countries, Lithuania, Poland, and UK, which used the charity channel for assistance to the bandits.

In 2000, the Federal Security Service detected and stopped operation of ten radio and television broadcasting centers of the militants, and confiscated lots of armament and ammunition, including three light airplanes and three combat infantry vehicles in the working condition from discovered secret storage bases. In 2000, the Federal Security Service continued persuasion of the militants and their allies to stop further illegal activities and surrender their arms. First quarter 2000 alone, 104 accomplices of the militants were arrested and given charges according to clause 208 of the Criminal Code. Thus, in Chechnya Federal Security Forces have proven their ability to combat terrorism effectively. They proved it at the moment when the main burden of the militants’ destruction was laid on the Armed Forces and Interior Forces. The Federal Security Service will begin a new phase of its operations. For the first time after breakup of the Soviet Union the main responsibility for enforcement of Constitutional order in a Russian region is laid on the Federal Security Service. This will be a check of effectiveness of not only this special service, but also, to some extent, ability of the President himself to work, because he has come from the Federal Security Service.

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