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Moscow, Chechnya See Next Stage Of War Against Terrorism Differently

Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Ramzan Kadyrov -- not quite seeing eye to eye?
Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Ramzan Kadyrov -- not quite seeing eye to eye?
Meeting with North Caucasus republic heads in Makhachkala on April 1, just days after the suicide bomb attacks in the Moscow subway, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev outlined his five-point vision of how terrorism can and should be eradicated.

That vision comprises beefing up the work of the police and security forces; hunting down and killing Islamic militants; offering material help to militants who want to lay down their arms; addressing the social and economic shortcomings in the North Caucasus that impel disaffected and alienated young men and women to join the jihad; and enhancing the role of the Muslim clergy.

As a first step toward implementing that program, a new interagency group tasked with fighting terrorism in the North Caucasus Federal District has been established. The group comprises representatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Interior Ministry, and the Investigative Committee of the federal Prosecutor-General's Office. It will be headed by an as-yet-unnamed senior Investigative Committee official, and will focus on investigating acts of terrorism and attacks on law enforcement and government officials.

By contrast, having celebrated last week on a lavish scale the first anniversary of the official announcement that the 10-year counterterror operation in Chechnya had been brought to a successful conclusion, the Chechen leadership has adopted a different tack.

They now affirm that armed resistance to the pro-Moscow authorities has been definitively wiped out; it remains solely to hunt down "Internet terrorists," by which they clearly mean anyone who posts to any Internet site in Russia or abroad any materials deemed to insult the honor and dignity of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov.

That, at least, is the message conveyed in video footage posted on the official Chechen website showing Albert Saayev, a native of Daghestan, who was arrested in Moscow last year and sentenced last week by a Moscow court to two years in prison for hacking the website and posting statements insulting Kadyrov.

Although he has already been sentenced by a Moscow court, Saayev was handed over to the Chechen authorities and transported to Grozny for a further investigation. He has been shown on Chechen television abjectly begging Kadyrov's forgiveness, and has since disappeared.

One further development over the past week suggests that the "force" component of Medvedev's five-point program will nonetheless take priority over the socioeconomic one. Former Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady Yedelev, who has played a commanding role in the fight against terrorism in the North Caucasus since 2001, has been named deputy to Aleksandr Khloponin, selected by Medvedev in January to head the newly created North Caucasus Federal District.

Khloponin's appointment was greeted with optimism by local human rights activists who wanted desperately to believe that Moscow had finally realized that brute force is not the solution to any of the region's problems.

Kadyrov by contrast greeted Khloponin's appointment coolly; the Chechen parliament has since harshly criticized Khloponin. Yedelev, a close associate of Kadyrov, is now ideally placed to thwart any of Khloponin's initiatives that Kadyrov deems a threat to his authority.

As a result, Khloponin may be constrained to focus exclusively on economic issues -- which Kadyrov in January claimed constitute his top (if not his sole) priority -- leaving Yedelev to deflect any criticism of Kadyrov's administration.

Moreover, Chechen officials' claims that the armed resistance has been dealt "a crushing blow" are open to question. The website has calculated that over the past year, 97 Russian servicemen, 189 persons identified as militants, and at least 20 civilians have been killed in Chechnya; 133 exchanges of fire have been reported and 63 terrorist acts, nine which were committed by suicide bombers.

Despite their claims to have wiped out the insurgency, the Chechen authorities continue to threaten with arrest and even execution, and torch the homes of, relatives of young men believed to have joined its ranks. In a television program screened on April 7, Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiyev publicly warned a group of parents that henceforth "all doors are closed to you," and that "we shall treat you the same way your children treat peaceful civilians."

It is partly as a result of such systematic reprisals that Chechnya was ranked as among the world's most repressive states/territories in Freedom House's annual survey for 2009.

Meanwhile, two of the territorially-based insurgent groups have posted statements to their respective websites warning of more bloodshed to come. On April 16, the Ingushetian jamaat posted a warning to the population of the Russian Federation that "we shall not consider you the peaceful population of Russia until you demand that your government stop the genocide and annihilation of our peoples and withdraw its forces from the territory of the Caucasus emirate."

Two days later, Daghestan's Shariat jamaat posted a statement titled "Things Will Only Get Worse," warning the republic's police that they risk sharing the fate of former Interior Minister Lieutenant General Adilgirey Magomedtagirov unless they quit colluding with the "occupying Russian forces." Magomedtagirov was shot dead by a sniper in June 2009.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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