The workings of the Caucasian mechanism

From   Nezavisimaya Gazeta
By Vladimir Torin
Russia Is Rapidly Losing Its Geopolitical Influence in the Region


A Provisional Operational Group of the Russian forces, which includes the interior troops, the militia, regular army units, frontier guards, and units of the Emergency Situations Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI), has been deployed in the North Caucasus. Yet the situation hasn't improved. Why? Maybe the group isn't doing anything?

No, in the past three months alone, the group has detained 54 criminals who are on the federal most wanted list, prevented three kidnapping attempts, detained seven trucks with smuggled goods, found 13 stolen cars, confiscated 49 guns, 144 grenades, over 4,000 bullets and eight kilogrammes of drugs.

But all this is a drop in the bucket. Checkpoints and roadblocks cannot effectively close all of the roads from Chechnya. And then, the militia are not the frontier guards, and Chechnya is not an independent state. How can the group work without clear- cut instructions from Moscow? A clever state policy in the North Caucasus could improve the situation dramatically.

Chechnya borders on North Ossetia-Alaniya, Ingushetia, Stavropol Territory, Daghestan, Georgia and Azerbaijan. It would be a major understatement to say that the administrative border with Chechnya is not tranquil. The border is on fire, with raids, kidnappings, terrorist acts, murders, thefts and robberies happening virtually every day. As with the Don region in the past, criminals from all over the Caucasus, Russia and other regional countries, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, seek refuge in Chechnya, because they are safe there.

At least the kidnappings of foreigners produce ripples. Thus the British Queen asked Maskhadov to help release her compatriots. But the kidnapping of "ordinary" people has become so habitual, if this word is suitable for describing the barbarous medieval method of earning money, that no one is surprised any more. The Brolin couple from Sweden was kidnapped in Makhachkala. Vincent Cochetel, the French, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees mission, was snatched in Vladikavkaz. ORT journalists Tibelius and Perevezentsev were taken outside Nazran. Shamarov, agricultural department head from the Nogai district, Daghestan, was kidnapped in Khasavyurt, and presidential representative Vlasov was snatched on the Chechen-Ingush border. But no matter where hostages are taken, they are all delivered to Chechnya.

On April 8, a reconnaissance group found an emaciated man in rags outside the village of Bratskoye. He had escaped from slavery. Genuine slavery. In 1995, he went to visit his sister, who lives in the Kurskaya District of Stavropol Territory, was kidnapped and for the subsequent three years worked for his Chechen master at an underground factory producing weapons. That man, 174cm tall, weighed only 35 kilos. He says that there are many Russian slaves there, including soldiers and civilians, like himself. It was a miracle that he escaped.

The militia cannot solve such crimes, as somebody has solicitously forbidden them to enter Chechnya. Meanwhile, the investigation of each kidnapping invariably leads to major bandit clans and entire arsenals of weapons.

But the criminal sway in the region is not limited to kidnapping and the use of unregistered weapons. Whole herds of cattle are regularly stolen from the Kurskaya District of Stavropol Territory and border regions of Daghestan. The tracks lead to Chechnya. Shepherd Sagynbek Saitov from the village of Novokrestyanovka in Daghestan's Kizlyar Region, helped the militia find a stolen herd of cattle half a mile away from the Chechen border. The cattle were returned, but several days later the bandits paid a "visit" to Sagynbek. They killed him in front of his wife and five children, thus depriving them of a means of subsistence.

Sensational murders are regularly committed in the North Caucasus. This is a result of the large illegal arsenals of unregistered weapons. Anyone who dares to resist the bandit sway, from shepherds to deputies, are mercilessly killed. The bandits attack militiamen, businessmen and investigators from the prosecutor's offices, blow up city prosecutor's offices and district council buildings, and launch grenades at republican FSB departments.

They damage oil pipelines, diverting the oil to Chechnya, where it is used to make low-quality gasoline at homemade refineries. That gasoline is exported to Russia and sold to naive drivers in Stavropol Territory. The attempts taken by the interior troops and the militia to thwart this "business" fail, as big money is at stake, and besides, the "traders" often use weapons against the law.

Servicemen find deadly homemade bombs in Daghestan, which they know from the war in Chechnya. One need not be especially clever to guess that these bombs are placed by the "specialists" who learned how to use them during the Chechen war and are now "unemployed." It so happens that there is not always time to disarm these bombs, and in this case people die, as it happened on February 27, when a truck with interior troops was blown up by a guided bomb 200m away from the Chechen "customs" office, killing Colonel Savelyev. In the course of a single week, Sergeant Andreichenko, a sapper in the interior troops, disposed of three such bombs outside Khasavyurt, Daghestan, placed in virtually the same spot with enviable stubbornness there every other day.

A few words of warning about the "customs" for those who still think that Chechnya is a member of the Federation. In January this year, a customs post of Chechnya was established on the Baku-Astrakhan road close to Kizlyar. A short stretch of the road, around 800 meters, passes through Chechnya, but such actions can only destabilize the situation in the region. The Chechen "customs" men toting submachine guns explained to passing cars that their owners should pay a customs duty and allow them to search the car. What if the driver has weapons or drugs? No one says a word, because access to this 800m of road is blocked with cement slabs. A bypass has been built and the drivers are only too happy to drive the additional kilometer if it saves them from the costly meeting with the Chechen customs officers.

Now about drugs. Within Russia there is a republic from whence opium, marijuana and hashish are spread throughout the Federation. The situation is really serious. Drugs are delivered from Chechnya by cars and rail. The geography of their circulation is impressive, and we can only guess how much of these deadly drugs are smuggled into adjacent regions and republics without detection by the interior troops. The Russian Interior Ministry is trying to erect a barrier in the way of the newly-baked drug magnates, but the militia and interior troops serving on the border with Chechnya are met with all kinds of difficulties. The greatest are the loopholes in the definition of Chechnya's legal status.

The residents of villages bordering on Chechnya are frightened and don't believe anyone. Local militiamen keep guns under their pillows and expect an attempt on their life and the lives of their relatives every day. A shepherd I met in a border region in northern Daghestan, a grey-haired Nogai with a wrinkle-lined face, has grown so accustomed to the daily risks of his exceptionally peaceful profession that he thinks about death as liberation from the life enforced on him by our politicians, a difficult, penniless, frontline and absolutely unsafe life. Such apathy has poisoned not only the residents of Daghestan, but also the Russians who live in the border regions of Stavropol Territory. I offer this information to those who think that all this is happening far away from their homes.

It's not that nobody cares about the situation in the North Caucasus. On January 29 President Boris Yeltsin singed a decree on the establishment of a Security Council commission which was to find a way to normalize the situation in the North Caucasus. The commission is still thinking, while various other Moscow departments have dispatched their own commissions to the region. A representative group went to the headquarters of the Provisional Operational Group in Mozdok to hold a conference of the Interior Ministry's operational staff.

It was attended by Deputy Interior Minister Colonel-General Latyshev, Deputy Prosecutor General Ustinov, Lieutenant-General Golubev (Militia), head of the Main Department to Maintain Public Order, Lieutenant-General Khrapov (Militia), head of the Main Criminal Investigations Department, Lieutenant-General Gafarov, first deputy commander of the Interior Troops, Colonel-General Labunets, Commander of the North Caucasian Military District, Major-General Fomenko, commander of the Provisional Operational Group in the North Caucasus, interior ministers of North Ossetia-Alaniya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardin-Balkaria, head of the Interior Ministry department for Stavropol Territory, FSB department heads in Federation members bordering Chechnya, delegates from the Defence Ministry, the Federal Border Guards Service, customs and FAPSI.

They discussed the situation in Chechnya and on its administrative borders with other members of the Federation.

It is clear that Russia can get a second Chechnya soon, unless emergency measures are taken in Daghestan. But the territory of that republic is considerably larger than Chechnya, and its population and the number of ethnic groups living there are larger, too.

I don't know what documents the conference drafted and which of them were forwarded to Ramazan Abdulatipov, the chairman of the Provisional Inter-Departmental Commission of the Security Council on development issues of Chechnya and the normalization of the situation in the North Caucasus, but high-ranking delegates from the power departments have been conducting inspections of the region. The Defence Minister visited the region twice this year, and the Interior Minister (who has since retired) made three trips. The list of top-ranking visitors includes Colonel-General Leontii Shevtsov, then commander of the Interior Troops, and Army General Anatoly Kvashnin, Chief of the General Staff.

The latter lined the servicemen up and told them they must remember about Russia's greatness, its integrity and indivisibility. He also addressed the militiamen of the operational group. The militiamen could not understand what Kvashnin meant by integrity and indivisibility since they had been prohibited to enter Chechnya, let alone pursue the bandits there. Who can tell me what Chechnya is? An independent state? A republic that is a member of the Federation? Or an anarchic structure where no laws are in effect? We must at long last determine the status of Chechnya, because the first ones to suffer are those peaceful civilians living on God knows what border, and the soldiers who serve there. Kvashnin's last trip to the region ended dramatically. Major-General Prokopenko, who accompanied him, was killed, and the Major-General Mukhin was wounded, while the bandits who committed this crime fled to Chechnya.

What can happen to Russia in this situation if we continue to sit on our hands? Very simple. We will have another Caucasian war, with the subsequent secession of Daghestan. Virtually everyone sees the dangers of the current developments in the region. The Chechen war was not waged in vain, and the militants--who are frequently nothing more than bandits--have come to believe in their impunity. Daghestan is next on the list.

The task is to turn this republic on, frighten the people with the criminal sway, place their own men in virtually all of the more or less important posts in administrations, the Interior Ministry and the financial structures of the republic, and they are already doing this. They are using all means available to fan tensions. They are mobilizing experienced terrorists, making money transfusions and turning on the tested mechanism of Islamic fundamentalism.

Daghestan has access to the Caspian Sea; it is a large republic (much larger than Chechnya), and has many more ethnic groups. If they activate the spring of war in Daghestan, Russia will actually lose control over the North Caucasus. North Ossetia-Alaniya, the only republic in the region whose population is mostly Christian and whose leaders profess traditionally pro- federation views, will not be able to influence the situation because it will be cut off from Russia and hence greatly weakened.

It would be naive to believe everything said in the leaflets circulated in Daghestan today. They explain everything by the fact that a group of truly patriotic Moslems are working for the independence of their homeland and its liberation from the Russian kaffirs (non-Moslems). We have heard this before, but none of the republics which seized independence can boast of any special prosperity. The thing is that the former union republics of the Caucasus are a juicy piece for the Moslem countries that are sending assistance to the current "patriots." I put the word patriots in quotations because this patriotism is engendered by religious fanaticism at best, or simply a fat wad of dollars at worst.

But maybe my forecasts are excessively gloomy? Here is what Major-General Fomenko, commander of the Provisional Operational Group in the North Caucasus, told me: "An analysis of the situation in the North Caucasus following the hostilities in Chechnya shows that it does not favour Russia. Betrayed by some officials, our troops have left Chechnya, which has virtually become an independent state. Its example will be copied by Daghestan, Ingushetia and Kabardin-Balkaria. Ossetia will be surrounded by Moslem states, as has happened with Armenia in the Transcaucasus."

The same forecast was made in the report to the State Duma which was drafted by a group of specialists led by Academician Kurginyan. That report quotes even more common elements characteristic of the pre-war situation in the former union and autonomous republics. Its authors discuss the situation based on the example of not only Chechnya, but also Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Uzbekistan.

There are forces which cannot live without trying to snip more and more territories from the once powerful state, the Soviet Union. All deliberations about access to the sea, transport routes, money and even oil only camouflage the essence of the problem, although they are major components, too. And the essence of the problem is the geopolitical influence in the Caucasus, the influence which Russia is losing with catastrophic speed.

Unless we pay close attention to the region and elaborate a smart concept of our policy there, our ill-wishers, to put it mildly, will win. After that the public will learn everything about oil and pipelines, behind-the-scenes negotiations with Third World countries, and laundering money for the international drug and weapons cartels. But then it will be too late.


© 2007 Chechen Republic Online