Control over the anti-terrorist operation in the Northern Caucasus was officially passed over from the Federal Security Service (FSB) to the Russian Interior Ministry on September 1, 2003. It should be noted that all this is very relative, because at present the Regional operational staff is commanded by Rear Admiral Yury Maltsev, Deputy Interior Minister and former operative of the Federal Security Service. Colonel-General Valery Baranov has been appointed as commander of the Joint group of forces. As is known, he worked earlier as deputy commander of the North-Caucasian military district. A bit later he was appointed as first deputy commander-in-chief of the Interior Troops of the Interior Ministry.
In the meantime, military commandant’s offices subordinated to the Defense Ministry control everything in highland districts of the Chechen republic. The Army’s and local administrations’ evaluations of the situation in Chechnya differ. Anatoly Popov, acting president of Chechnya, recently stated that “the situation in the republic is stable.” However, the media report that Russian troops engage guerrillas in the Vedeno district very often. The mufti of the Vedeno district was murdered. Three Interior Troops servicemen perished in the village of Sernovodsk. The newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda reports that Chechen guerrillas attacked policemen of the republican Interior Ministry in Achkhoi-Martan; two policemen were wounded. Unknown criminals wounded the head of the local administration in the village of Prigorodnoye. In addition, guerrillas recently beat locals in the villages of Tsentoroi, Dargo, and Belgatoi.
Krasnaya Zvezda states that military units and police have conducted a range of successful operations against terrorists over the past week. Four guerrillas were killed by troopers of the Army’s Task Force in the Kurchaloi district; nine members of illegal armed groups were killed in the Shali and Nozhai-Yurt districts. Seven guerrillas were ambushed and killed in the Vedeno district.
In addition, the security ministries have conducted several operations against kamikazes. An organizer of terrorist acts involving kamikazes was detained in Ingushetia. Investigators say that this person recruited young girls and sent them to Shamil Basayev’s unit of suicide bombers. It should be noted that he sent his stepsister to this unit (she committed a terrorist act in Tushino on July 5). In addition, policemen found a guerrillas’ cache in Grozny and confiscated 28 kilograms of TNT.
At the same time, the command of the Joint group of forces stated that it plans to withdraw 5,000 servicemen from the republic in the near future. This information comes from Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, an official representative of the Regional operational staff. He said that first of all this concerns military units of the Defense Ministry. He noted that the federal forces have been withdrawing servicemen from the republic since May 2000, when big groups of guerrillas were defeated.
Ilya Shabalkin said, “We are withdrawing troops according to the schedule. On average, we withdraw 500 to 1,000 servicemen a month.”
Some observers say that the situation in Chechnya has been aggravated in connection with the impending election of a Chechen president, which will be held in October. Colonel Ilya Shabalkin and Chechen Prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko think that the amnesty should be prolonged. The point is that law enforcement agencies are now holding negotiations with several groups of guerrillas (around 200 people). In addition, law enforcement agencies have made contacts with a number of people, and are now discussing the prospects of their surrender. In other words, it is not ruled out that the amnesty will be prolonged.
Lieutenant-General Sergei Solntsev, chief of the flight security service of the Russian Armed Forces, recently stated that the aviation’s losses have decreased in Chechnya, which testifies to the efficient performance of the Russian troops in the republic.
In other words, the federal center has retained control over the major part of the republic. Refugees are returning to Chechnya; some guerrillas are giving up. The Army is withdrawing its troops. Meanwhile, the tasks of the federal group of forces have not become easier.