Combat operations in Chechnya are entering a new stage. The Kremlin and Defense Ministry have given up active combat operations. In the future the military group in Chechnya will focus on guarding and defending civilians. Only special forces will continue the hunt for militants, primarily in mountainous areas. By the end of January 2001, the United Group of Forces in Chechnya (UGFC) will have a new structure. Military garrisons are currently being organized in more than 200 populated spots (there are about 350 towns in Chechnya), and these garrisons will be 100-120 men strong.

The garrisons will include representatives of local law enforcement agencies, units of the Interior Forces, as well as police from other Russian regions. This garrisons are being introduced because the militants have begun to combat civilians as well as the military, said General Staff Chief General of the Army Anatoly Kvashnin in his interview to Krasnaya Zvezda on December 15. December 26, President Vladimir Putin confirmed this news in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Putin said that the new plan of action for federal forces in Chechnya “is subject to practical testing.” In other words, details of troops operations associated with the new structure will still need to be corrected.

Meanwhile, critics of these plans have already become vocal. Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov told Internet Gazeta.Ru: “After the meeting in Khankala (the meeting dedicated to establishment of military garrisons in villages) I discussed this issue with Kvashnin, Baranov, the Commandant of Chechnya, and the presidential envoy for a long time. I informed them about my vision: we may be given two scenarios, we may win or may lose. If we set up garrisons in populated spots which vary from 50 to 100 people we will expose the servicemen to the militants who also stay in villages, towns, and settlements. Another situation is possible. If there is an attack at a garrison artillery and aviation strikes are directed to the neighborhood. In this case the population will be under attack. This is one problem.

The second aspect of which I am afraid is we should not let these garrisons exercise arbitrary rule. Not all federal soldiers are good and law-abiding. To avoid unpleasant incidents I offered the following suggestion. If there is a garrison in a populated spot, there should be people from this populated spot with the same rights as members of the garrisons. There are a number of advantages in creating joint garrisons. First, the local population we will know about penetration of militants to a town or a village. The military will also behave well. This was my suggestion. Kvashnin agreed and said they were considering it.”

What does the General Staff offer? According to its Chief, the major role in defending the Chechen population will belong to district commandants, who will perform the function of task staff commanders. These command bodies will include commanders of military units deployed in a district, directors of temporary and permanent Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service divisions, as well as commanders of units of the Interior Forces. Together, these forces will make decisions regarding defense of the population on a consensus basis. This is an alarming feature. There should be single-man command in the troops. Collective decisions will obviously be formulated in the form of the garrison commander’s orders. At this point the role the UGFC command will play is still unclear. The federal center will hardly decide to decentralize the military command in the republic. Especially since large forces will be deployed in Chechnya.

The Defense Ministry will permanently deploy the 42nd mechanized infantry division (18,000 servicemen) in the republic, although in accordance with the new plan its units will perform the auxiliary function. In addition to the Defense Ministry’s units, Interior Forces battalions deployed in Chervlenaya, Gudermes, Kurchaloy, Urus-Martan, Vedeno, and others up to 500 men strong each will also support the small garrisons.

Thus, the overall strength of the UGFC will total 50,000-60,000 Defense Ministry, Interior Forces, and police servicemen in the near future. Half of them will be stationed in Chechnya permanently (the calendar service term of officers, warrant officers, and contract servicemen is not less than two years). Large-scale construction has been launched to house these people. Almost all infrastructure objects for the mechanized infantry region deployed in Kalinovskaya garrison, as well as houses for officers and their families were built in 2000. In Khankala, the headquarters of the 42nd mechanized infantry division is located, construction of officers’ hostels and barracks is nearing completion. Military construction workers are also arranging military infrastructure for the mechanized infantry regiment in Shali. Here servicemen currently live in tents. In other garrisons over 40 housing objects are under construction. These objects are based on quickly assembled modular constructions. The federal budget has assigned about 2 billion rubles to set up military installations.

It is planned that the military contingents will include not only representatives of federal agencies, but also local armed organizations to improve relations between the garrison and local population closer. The local structures should also function as a channel warning about militant attacks.

At present it is difficult to say how efficient the new structure of the UGFC will be. However, according to General Staff representatives, this is the most optimal option under conditions when the militants have launched open terror against civilians. It is possible that military garrisons themselves may become targets for militant attacks. For this purpose fortified installations are currently being arranged around the garrisons, including minefields. Collaboration plans with garrisons of the Defense Ministry, aviation, artillery, and other units which have to parry the militants according to the General Staff, are also being developed.

Thus, the transition from active combat operations to peaceful life in Chechnya is associated with big risks both for the Chechen population and for the servicemen, who may be attacked by militants at any time. Will they be strong enough to resist? Maybe scattering forces is the biggest mistake the federal center has made yet? Only time will show.

So far the federal center has been listening to proposals of Chechen leaders loyal to Moscow. It has been decided that a Chechen representative should be the head of the local administration. At present this is Akhmad Kadyrov. According to his request the number of checkpoints will evidently be reduced in the republic. Meanwhile, there were also other proposals regarding transition to peaceful life. For example, the newly elected Ulianovsk Governor General Vladimir Shamanov proposed a complex approach. According to him, to solve the Chechen problem it is necessary, first of all, to create a strong power in the person of the UGFC commander. This commander would be a modern analogue to the 19th century general governors who ruled the Caucasus. Second, every agency should perform its own functions in Chechnya, including tasks associated with life support, catching bandits, and so on. The general also says that it is necessary to limit financial and commercial operations of the Chechen diaspora in Russia, and to “direct it in the due direction.” The General was not heard. May be this was wrong? Maybe it was not worth rejecting the historic experience of ruling the unruly republic? There are still no answers to these questions.