CHECHNYA: THE WAR AGAINST SEPARATISTS CONTINUES

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The Russian Federal Government is currently spending more money on the war in Chechnya than on the restoration of the country. The accuracy of the Federal government’s statistics on the armed forces’ activities and casualty rates in Chechnya is questioned.

The situation in Chechnya remains difficult. Against the background of the economy’s restoration, social transformations, and the active work of agricultural enterprises, information about operations of deferral forces, provocations of the militants, ambushes, “clearing up,” special operations, and so on is pouring in an unstoppable stream. Thus, according to the headquarters of the united group of federal forces in Chechnya, last week militants attacked positions of federal forces 123 times. During this period combat engineers discovered and disarmed 249 explosive devices, including 37 high-explosive bombs. Law enforcement agencies detained 37 people under suspicion of participation in the illegal armed forces. A large special operation was conducted near Vedeno. Valery Baranov, commander of the united group of forces in the North Caucasus, reported to journalists that during the operation federal forces destroyed two numerous groups of militants, “one to the south of Benoi, and another one near Ersinoi.”

The number of killed militants totalled 20. Meanwhile, it was formerly reported that there could be 150-200 extremists in the Vedeno District. Thus, during the special operation, which lasted for a week, Russian forces killed not more than 10% of the militants operating in the Vedeno District. The losses of federal forces were unreported. Baranov emphasized, “Losses of the federal forces in the Vedeno District were minimal.”

However, it is difficult to agree with this statement. According to the headquarters of the united group of forces, on August 16, a Mi-24 helicopter of a separate helicopter regiment of the Defense Ministry crashed in the area of the special operation, 2.5 kilometers to the north of Tsa-Vedeno. According to preliminary information, militants shot from the ground at the helicopter from an under-barrel grenade launcher.

Estimates show that at least 1,000 servicemen of the federal forces fought against the militants near Vedeno, according to tactical norms, the strength of forces should be at least 500-600% more during counter-guerrilla operations. Localization of the area for a special operation requires many servicemen and much armament. These forces were evidently concentrated near Vedeno. If there were combat operations near Vedeno, losses of federal forces were simply inevitable.

However, there was no information summarizing these losses. Only scarce cases of terrorist acts and explosions were reported. Why?

It seems that it is not beneficial for the federal authorities to show that the situation in Chechnya resembles a war and that every day brings losses. First of all, this is unbeneficial because federal authorities plan to return several hundred thousand refugees to the republic. One of the main requirements for their return is a quiet situation. Second, federal authorities need to show to the international community a quiet and peaceful life in Chechnya. Third, federal authorities need to portray the effectiveness of federal forces operations in Chechnya for political purposes. This is one of the most important indicators of efficiency of President Putin’s rule. His ratings will fall if the public is being permanently informed about the losses of federal troops in Chechnya. Unfortunately, these losses remain large.

According to unclassified information, last week alone in addition to the Mi-24 a Mi-8 helicopter of the Federal Border Guards crashed to the ground in Chechnya. On August 17 an armored personnel carrier of the federal forces exploded on a mine in the Leninsky District of Grozny. Two servicemen were killed and one wounded. Federal troops are also bearing losses during the current special operation near Argun.

Despite all efforts, governmental information agencies cannot hide the truth about what is going on in Chechnya. Forces of the militants are not so small as federal authorities say, and their estimates are sometimes at odds with facts. Thus, back in January 2001, Colonel General Yury Baluevsky, director of the main operational department of the General Staff, announced that there was only about a thousand militants fighting against the federal forces in Chechnya. Meanwhile, on July 5, Colonel General Sergei Arenin, director of the interior affairs department in Chechnya, announced during an operational meeting of criminal police and the department for combating organized crime in the North Caucasus that approximately 2,000 militants are operating in Chechnya, including 300 mercenaries.

How many militants fight against the federal forces in reality? This question remains without an answer. However, it is possible to agree with opinion of General Arenin only partially. There are much more passive militants who have settled in Chechnya and fight from time to time. Otherwise, such powerful federal forces would not have been used against them. Conversations about the withdrawal of a part of forces from Chechnya started in February 2001 remained mere conversations.

According to officers of the Defense and Interior ministries, there are at least 60,000-70,000 servicemen of the Defense Ministry, Interior Forces, police and OMON (special police forces) remaining in Chechnya.

For example, on June 15 Deputy Commander of Interior Forces, Stanislav Kavun, announced that 28,000 servicemen of Interior Forces were serving in Chechnya, and that the group of Interior Forces in Chechnya would not be reduced in the near future. In March, the former Chief of the General Staff, Valery Manilov, stated that the group of Defense Ministry forces in Chechnya totalled about 40,000 servicemen. Between March and April, a part of the forces was withdrawn. However, according to the general, their main part remained. According to Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov of Chechnya, there are about 5,000 policemen in the republic including 2,500 local policemen.

Thus, combat operations in Chechnya continue. The military remains the master in Chechnya. There is one serviceman per three to four civilians. Meanwhile, budget assignments on maintenance of the federal forces in Chechnya exceed the spending on restoration of the republic. Thus, on August 21, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin announced that in 2002 the federal government would assign 4.5 billion rubles on the restoration of the economy and social infrastructure in Chechnya, translated, as both assignments remaining actually on the same level.

Meanwhile, experts estimate money allowances of servicemen of the federal forces deployed in Chechnya at more than 8 billion rubles.

All of these figures show that the state will have to spend huge sums on combating bandits and the restoration of the economy in Chechnya. The government is currently spending much more money on Chechnya than on other regions. However, these expenditures are obviously inevitable and are conditioned by the need to provide for security of the state.

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