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May 7, 2003
Generals suggest new name for Chechen war
By Artyom Vernidoub

In near future the counter-terrorist campaign in Chechnya may be given a new name and granted a status of a peacekeeping operation. Literally, that means that the federal troops will be pulling apart conflicting Chechen clans – not exactly the plans the military have in mind. The new suggestion is that the federal forces will step aside and give a go-ahead to Akhmad Kadyrov’s men in dealing with Shamil Basayev’s fighters.

A source in the Defence Ministry reported on Tuesday that the military consider changing the name of the counter-terrorist operation in the Northern Caucasus. “Possibly, instead of the counter-terrorist operation it will be granted a status of a peacekeeping mission,” the officer said without elaborating.

Perhaps, the source did not express his thought quite correctly. A status of a peacekeeping mission implies that peacekeeping forces are keeping apart hostile parties, such as Georgians and Abkhazians in Georgia, Serbs and Kosovars in former Yugoslavia, et cetera.

Hitherto, it was widely believed that Russian soldiers in Chechnya are opposing just one side - the guerillas. Besides, a peacekeeping mission requires a UN sanction, whereas Russia has many times made it clear it would not even hear of international interference in its internal affairs.

Maybe, the Defence Ministry has simply ruled that one of the stems of the word “peacekeeping” – “peace” is far more pleasant to one’s ear than “terror” from the word “counter-terrorist”.

Throughout the years of the military campaign in Chechnya, the Russian military spent much effort looking for a euphemism to replace the disagreeable term “war”. Under Yelstin’s rule the campaign was generally referred to as “restoration of constitutional order”; in September 1999, after the rebel troops invaded Dagestan, Vladimir Putin launched the second campaign entitled “counter-terrorist operation”. The military used the term “combat action”, especially for bookkeeping.

In all those years the authorities refrained from calling the Chechen campaign “war”, despite harsh criticism from human rights groups and liberal movements. Late Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov even tried to push a bill through the house, calling for declaring a state of emergency in the area where a counter-terrorist operation is to be conducted.

But declaring a state of emergency entails plenty of problems, both internal and on the international arena. Besides, should such bill ever be passed that would mean that for fighting separatism in Chechnya, Moscow would have to postpone the December 1999 parliamentary and the March 2000 presidential poll, which was absolutely out of the question at that time.

Indeed, the name of the operation is not the only problem that bothers Moscow. The Kremlin is thinking hard how to alter not only the name, but also the nature of the military operation. For two years now, the Kremlin officials have been talking of transferring control over the counter-terrorist operation to the Interior Ministry from the Federal Security Service (FSB), which on its part has taken this responsibility from the Defence Ministry. Two weeks ago the FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev once again promised that this will happen as early as by the end of this year.

“The decision has already been taken, we have time now and a chance to adjust the legislation, so that the Interior Ministry is prepared,” Patrushev said. Defence chief Sergei Ivanov, during his visit to Sweden, was more cautious in his statement: “Gradually, more functions and responsibility for the operation in Chechnya will be delegated to the Russian Interior Ministry on the whole and the Chechen Interior Ministry in particular”.

On his part, the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration Akhmad Kadyrov is more determined to ensure that the situation in the republic is placed under control of the Chechen police as early as possible.

“Each district [in Chechnya] has its rifle companies, manned by reliable boys, who will not be quail at threats, peril of life and will carry out any order, fulfilling their tasks of fighting illegal armed formations,” Kadyrov said on Tuesday.

It appears that if the counter-terrorist operation is granted a status of a peacekeeping mission simultaneously with the transfer of control over the situation in the republic from the FSB to the Chechen police, the federal troops, indeed, will be shoved aside and the separatists will wage war with the pro-Moscow Chechens.

Presently, the federal troops in Chechnya have support of 11,000-strong police force plus Akhmad Kadyorv’s personal guard, commanded by his younger son. That formation actively hunts rebels and forces them to lay down arms under the pain of death. About 15 hundred fighters are on the other side of the barricades, according to the military.

For some reason that figure has remained unchanged over the past 2 years, notwithstanding triumphant military reports of scores of rebels being killed daily. On its part, Chechen police has recently lost two prominent commanders, Dzhabrail Yamadayev and Musa Gazimagomadov (the latter was killed not in combat, but in a car accident). Both of them had vowed vengeance on the rebels, on whose hands was the blood of their kin.

Properly speaking, the counter-terrorist operation for the Chechens has long since turned into a civil war verging on blood feud and jihad.

With the help of local residents the federal special-purpose troops have eliminated many a field commander, but separatist leaders Shamil Basayev and Aslan Maskhadov are still at large. Kadyrov has managed to lure some rebels to his side and his latest achievement is the appointment of his man, Ali Alkhanov, to the post of the republican Interior Minister. Alkhanov replaced Ruslan Tsakayev, appointed to the post by the Kremlin in late 2002.

Tsakayev died of heart attack soon after this appointment. Thus he failed to implement his intent to expose Kadyrov’s plans for recruiting former rebels to serve in the Chechen police. But then the Chechen chief claims he has no intention to conceal those plans, since, in his opinion, there are only two options left for the rebels – to wage war on the side of the pro-Moscow administration, or on the other side.

But in order to make it easier for the Chechens to fight each other, the 80,000-strong federal force must be pulled out. Prior to the constitutional referendum in Chechnya the Defence Ministry solemnly withdrew 1,000 troops from the republic. After the constitution was adopted, festivities were over. Further withdrawal will not begin before the end of spring, a Defence Ministry source said on Tuesday.

Sergei Ivanov, talking to the press in Stockholm, said: "If the situation allows, we plan to further reduce excessive Defence Ministry units in Chechnya”, which may mean that the defence chief does not rule out that there will be no withdrawal at all.

On his part, Akhmad Kadyrov unambiguously hinted that the troops must be removed immediately. The Chechen chief accused the federals of arbitrariness and mass abductions of civil Chechens, who either found dead after being driven away by soldiers, or disappear without a trace. Only the Chechens themselves are capable of fighting the rebels, Kadyrov reiterated on Tuesday. “I have made that proposal before, and the events of late, connected with disappearance of people, prove that such approach would solve many problems,” Kadyrov said.

If the counter-terrorist operation is indeed renamed into the peacekeeping mission, accusations of summary executions, severe security raids, erroneous shelling, and even of mere extortions at checkpoints, brought against Russian “peacekeepers” will sound even more so strange.

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