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Chechnya: Does Outrage Over Borozdinovskaya Sweep Presage Change Of Russian Tactics?

Similar raids in Chechnya have never raised much protest from Moscow On one level, the Russian authorities' outraged response to the sweep operation in the village of Borozdinovskaya in northeastern Chechnya on 4 June that triggered the exodus to neighboring Daghestan of several hundred local families appears to be a laudable, if exceptional and somewhat belated, acknowledgement of the arbitrary suffering inflicted on local noncombatants during the past six years of fighting.

Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, who met in Grozny on 22 June with a delegation from Borozdinovskaya, termed the sweep operation, in which one villager was killed and 11 abducted, "an act of sabotage directed against Chechnya, Daghestan, and Russia," and he vowed that those responsible will be apprehended and punished.

But there are grounds for suspecting that Moscow cares no more for the victims of the Borozdinovskaya sweep than for those targeted in hundreds of similar punitive actions and, in fact, plans to use the opportunity to neutralize a Chechen fighting force that in the past has crossed swords with Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Why else should Moscow decry the Borozdinovskaya sweep when it has rationalized hundreds of previous such raids on the grounds that they are a necessary component of the "war on terrorism"?

The population of the village of Borozdinovskaya are mostly Avars who resettled there from Daghestan in the 1950s. According to "The Moscow Times" on 23 June, local Avar strongman Sharap Mikatov created his own informal militia to protect the village from Chechen gangs, including one headed by Sulim Yamadaev, a Chechen field commander based in Gudermes who fought from 1994-96 on the side of the Chechen resistance but switched to the Russian side at the start of the second war in 1999.

Mikatov's death in a shootout in 1998 left the village vulnerable to attack by pro-Moscow Chechens, and some Borozdinovskaya residents have told Russian journalists that they believe the Chechen-speaking perpetrators of the 4 June sweep were members of the Eastern Battalion of the 42nd Division of the Russian Army, which is commanded by Yamadaev and is reportedly directly subordinate to Russian military intelligence (GRU). Others even claim to have identified Yamadaev's head of intelligence, Khamzat Gairbekov, among the attackers, "The Moscow Times" reported.

Speaking at a press conference in Makhachkala on 21 June, Daghestan Security Council Secretary Akhmednabi Magdigadjiev identified the attackers as "a Defense Ministry special unit...consisting mainly of residents of Chechnya," Interfax reported. "These are people with authority, wearing uniforms and with weapons, fulfilling a mission to discover and destroy militant formations and terrorists," Magdigadjiev added.

That description could, however, equally apply to members of the presidential security force that is loyal to Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Kadyrov, "Vremya novostei" noted on 20 June. Kadyrov's men have reportedly clashed on at least one previous occasion with Yamadaev's, and earlier this year Kadyrov dismissed all police officials Yamadaev appointed in Chechnya's southern Vedeno Raion, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya pointed out in "Novaya gazeta" on 24 February. Politkovskaya also notes that the Yamadaev-Kadyrov standoff by extension pits Russian military intelligence against the Federal Security Service, in which Russian President Vladimir Putin made his early career.

Kozak's 22 June pledge to crack down on abuses committed against civilians in Chechnya may prove to be nothing more than a pretext to get rid of a Kadyrov foe in the run-up to the Chechen parliamentary elections tentatively scheduled for late November. Some Russian observers have already predicted that the new legislature will consist exclusively of deputies selected for their loyalty to Kadyrov.