NG: The Caucasus Front – New Tactics

The federal presence in Chechnya continues to decline

The federal special services and Chechen guerrillas are adopting some tactics from their counterparts in Northern Ireland. The results could be similar: almost 40 years of conflict.

Developments in the North Caucasus bear an increasing resemblance to the crisis in Northern Ireland in the 1970s – as indirectly confirmed by Russian special service commanders who visited Ulster in October 2005, “to exchange experience.”

It took the British government seven years to achieve a regime which has been reproduced in the North Caucasus twenty years later: troops locked up in their bases, guarding themselves; suspects detained without being charged; and using special assignment teams of uncertain origin to eliminate separatists.

North Caucasus: Moscow’s tactics

Reforms implemented after the Beslan school hostage siege and the guerrilla attack on Ingushetia were mostly aimed at preventing any repeat of such events – that is, attacks by large guerrilla forces capable of destabilizing the situation in a city or a whole region. The existing system was militarized even further. Operative Management Groups (GrOU) were established, commanded by Internal Troops colonels; these are supposed to direct operations in the event of a terrorist attack. Internal Troops personnel numbers in the North Caucasus were increased; they are the main attack force in suppressing revolts.

In October 2005, this system was tested in practice: when guerrillas attacked Nalchik, the operation was headed by GrOU commander – until the Internal Troops commander for the NorthCaucasus flew in to take over. The experience proved to be less than successful.

A new law on countering terrorism was passed in spring 2006, returning the leading role to the Federal Security Service (FSB).

However, just like MI5, the FSB didn’t want to take all responsibility for the crisis in a specific region. Despite the law on countering terrorism, an exception was made for Chechnya: a separate presidential decree ensured that the deputy minister for internal affirs remained as head of the operations staff in Chechnya, in contrast to all other regions.

Until recently, all federal security and law enforcement agencies had their own special assignment squads in Chechnya for the purpose of eliminating guerrillas. But this situation started to change as President Ramzan Kadyrov’s influence grew. Accordingto our sources, the Interior Ministry’s central staff had stoppedsending special assignment squads to Chechnya by 2006.

The new mountain brigades, now being established, will bebased outside Chechnya – in Dagestan and Karachaevo-Cherkessia.

Intelligence data exchange remains fragmented. Directsurveillance is only used in cities. Guerrillas in the highlandsare tracked only by reports from informers and radio intercepts.

Thus, all federal security agencies had reduced theiractivity in Chechnya by the end of 2006; not due to any wish toachieve reconciliation, but for tactical considerations – almostlike the situation in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s. The mosthighly-skilled units, comparable to British commandos – GRUspecial intelligence – are in crisis due to restructuring andcuts.

No one in Britain would have dreamed of using local personnelas extensively as this has been done in Chechnya. In 2007, Putincut the federal presence in Chechnya from 50,000 to 25,000 troops.In effect, federal forces now have the same number of personnel asKadyrov’s formations. In July 2007, Kadyrov managed to secure thedismissal of the very last federal investigation agency inChechnya: the ORB-2. Arkady Yedelev, head of the Operations Stafffor Chechnya, is rarely seen in Khankala or Grozny; he prefersRostov-on-Don or Yessentuki. The center of the battle againstterrorism has shifted outside the borders of Chechnya.

Novaya Gazeta

Author: Irina Bogoran, Andrei Soldatov 

August 9, 2007

Translated by Elena Leonova.

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