A Green International in the North Caucasus mountains (weekly review)
By Dzhambulat Are
GROZNY, Chechnya – What makes it quite hard to grasp just how successful the law enforcement bodies have been in the struggle with the illegal armed formations in Chechnya is the fact that for many years various officials have stuck within the limits of the same propaganda model, which insists that the power of the "bandit underground” is on the wane, and that the law enforcement bodies have either detained, thwarted or eliminated its members.
The republic’s head, Ramzan Kadyrov, himself says that there are no clandestine armed groups left in Chechnya. During an interactive online interview organized by the Rosbalt news agency, a naive reader named Irina had the temerity to ask Kadyrov when the shooting in the republic was going to stop. The Moscow-backed Chechen president replied in a highly emotional and none too polite voice: "Dear Irina! Are you from another planet? There hasn’t been any shooting in the republic for a long time."
It is unlikely that Ramzan Kadyrov’s readers interpreted his assertion as a literal assessment of what is happening in Chechnya. Everyone knows that the shooting is continuing, but there is no accurate or reliable information as to its extent.
The thoughtful observer who is interested in the course of events therefore has only one recourse: to compare and match reports from various sources, trying to sift out the element of propaganda. For example, during a working meeting in the Chechen interior ministry in Grozny, Russia’s interior minister Rashid Nurgaliyev issued the following statement: "Today, the Chechen interior ministry is probably one of the most effective fighting units of the Russian police, and the testimony to this may be seen in the results in the prevention of terrorist threats and in strikes against the members of illegal armed formations. During the first nine months of this year four bandit groups were eliminated and more than 200 members of bandit formations were detained. The total number of crimes registered in the Chechen Republic during the period in question is down by 21.8%.”
One of the figures in Nurgaliyev’s report – the one for the number of guerrillas detained – looks quite provocative. To the figure of 200 must be added the fighters from the four “bandit groups”.
These figures are clearly at variance with the assessments that are frequently heard coming from military and government officials. Back in September 2006, Kadyrov claimed that only some fifty or sixty fighters were left in the mountains. These men, he said, were simply unable to lay down their arms: because of the crimes they had committed they could not hope for leniency at the hands of the authorities.
It is to be expected that in his polemical ardour Ramzan Kadyrov often takes a rather free hand with figures and statistics. Thus, he recently promised that more than 100% of voters would take part in the Chechen elections. So in stating the number of mujahideen, he probably had in mind not their actual strength but the insignificance of the phenomenon itself, the scale of which could only be defined in tiny and elusive measurements.
There has always been a very considerable diversity of estimates of the number of members of the illegal armed formations in Chechnya. The main reason for such inconsistency has obviously been the lack of real operational information about the activities of the underground and about its structure.
It follows that, of the more than 200 detained guerrillas claimed by Nurgaliyev, a significant number of these men may not be members of armed groups at all, especially as the mujahideen try to avoid the shame of being held prisoner and tortured, and usually prefer to die fighting with weapons in their hands, as martyrs for the faith. Even though the figures quoted by Nurgaliyev are only partly true, they mean that the activity of the armed underground remains at a very high level.
Back in early September the anti-war web site Voinenet.ru published a study of its own which shows that this year for the first time since 2004 the number of casualties and losses in the North Caucasus has not diminished but has actually increased. This conclusion cannot be treated as definitive, as there is not enough statistical data on which an accurate calculation could be based. But even the random figures which end up in open sources, if they are closely monitored and analyzed year by year, as is done by Voinenet.ru, can give some idea of the general trends in the development of the armed conflict.
It is safe to say that this summer may become a turning point in the fighting in the North Caucasus. Last week video appeared on one of the Caucasus Emirate web sites showing the attack on a convoy of federal troops in Ingushetia on October 18. The mujahideen say they destroyed around ten armoured vehicles, and put the number of losses among Russian troops at 60. Those who took part in the attack say that the convoy was such a long one that it stretched for two kilometres along the road.
However, official federal sources said that there were only a hundred soldiers in the unit and that there were three casualties.
Even if one treats the guerrillas' claims of high losses on the Russian side with extreme caution, it can still be argued that the underground resistance has not conducted military operations on this level and of this scale for several years.
For this there are two possible explanations: either the mujahideens’ forces and reserves have grown so much that they are able to afford to engage with large enemy units, or after the proclamation of Caucasus Emirate the motivation of the Islamic fighters has changed – it has become more tough and uncompromising.
Circumstantial evidence that the profile of the mujahideen is altering and becoming internationalized is provided by three emirs who took part in the attack, and talk about the events in Ingushetia on October 18. One of them is a Vainakh, one a Ukrainian, and one a Turk.
Photo: Hunafa video frame.
Previous weekly reviews can be read at http://www.watchdog.cz/weekly.
(Translation by DM)