Circling the Lion's Den

War on Terror: North Caucasus Federal District

Ivan Sukhov, Vremia Novostei Correspondent, specially for Agentura.Ru

In the seven months of its existence, the North Caucasus Federal District (created by Dmitry Medvedev on January 19, 2010) the ďsilovikiĒ carried out a series of operations to take out the leaders of the Caucasus Emirate. Said Buriatsky, who had quite a youth following, was killed, as was Anzor Astemirov, who organized the 2005 Nalchik attack, and Magomedali Vagabov, the leader of the Daghestani militants. The Amir of Ingushetia, Magas, seen as the brain behind the 2004 Beslan school attack, was taken alive.

But this in no way impeded the militants, who carried out a series of terror attacks. In March suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Moscow metro, July saw a terror strike on the Baksanskaya Hydropower Station in Kabardino-Balkaria, and in August there was a bombing in Pyatigorsk. This last attack, which injured 20 people, can be taken as a warning to the new Presidential Envy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Alexander Khloponin. Whoever was behind the attacks, whether it was militants or Caucasus clans, it is directed mainly at Khloponin, as a direct rebuttal of any attempts to assure potential investors that this new District could be considered safe.

Furthermore, there has been no development of any special strategy to fight militants in the newly created region, since itís creation: special forcesí operations there are overseen and executed by the same structures responsible for this work as before. The changes that have taken place did, however, allow the conclusion to be drawn, that Alexander Khloponinís position in the law and order structures of the North Caucasus has not been consolidated. That means that the strengthening of Ramzan Kadyrovís position remains a possibility.

Siloviki in the civilian Presidential Envoyís staff

The war on terror in the North Caucasus is being waged by Federal authorities: the FSB, Military Intelligence, the Chief Directorate of Internal Affairs on the Southern Federal District and the North Caucasus Federal District, as well as regional teams of internal forces in the North Caucasus District, sub-divisions of various types of special forces under different agencies and, to a lesser extent, the regional police force.

The past 6 months has seen little information emerge about the serious military build-up across the North Caucasus. In fact, some sections situated in Krasnodar and Stavropol Territories, GRU Special Forces brigades have undergone cuts as part of the ongoing military reforms.

Nor were local law and order structures strengthened: take Ingushetia for example, where from the beginning of 2009 a new local battalion under Republicís Ministry of the Interior was created and achieved the sought after staffing but from the Ministry of Defense, which proves how difficult it is to realise this. While the reforms of the North Caucasus Military District primarily affected the civilian sector, the Alexander Khloponin arrived in the Caucasus with an expressly civilian mission: To attract investors and ensure the socio-economic recovery of the region.

Money received from now on will be controlled by the office of the Presidential Envoy to the North Caucasus Military District, and the Development Institute established under Vnesheconombank, is expressly for peacekeeping and anti-terror purposes. Success here means that life in the Caucasus would become so good that no one would have any reason to go off into the forest and become militants. But even if we put the fact that a lot of people do not head into the forests due to poverty, but because of ideas, the vicious circle remains. Alexander Khloponin was given the task of attracting investment to these thoroughly unattractive regions, to a territory which is home to an ongoing war. Investment is supposed to calm its flames, but for as long as the fire is blazing, there will be no investment. In 6 months of work from their new office, Medvedevís civilian Presidential Envoy was immediately confronted by the fact that his peace mission is impossible without a parallel military mission. From the very start many assumed that sooner or later Khloponin would be given military powers. Previous yearsí experience showed that military actions would lead to significant delays, and confusion in a system, comprising several different agencies all working together at different levels, that already needed streamlining.

The example of Ingushetia where in 2002-2008 Federal Forces practically had a carte blanche from their Federal commanders and Regional authorities, shows that apparently successful military operations can be followed by a sudden sharp increase in the number of militants. Testimony from local residents talks of a catastrophic lack of coordination between the different law enforcement structures. The frequent mistakes, errors of judgement and conflicts between these different structures are also testament to it. In addition the local population in the Caucasus are convinced that the leadership of the law enforcement structures (local, regional, but not on a Federal level) has an interest in preserving the instability in the region, as it ensures their revenue streams for work in what is essentially a conflict zone.

Dispelling these doubts, which are so damaging for the image of Russian authorities in the Caucasus, is possible, by placing every single law enforcement and security structure in the North Caucasus under the civilian control of the North Caucasus Federal District. Put simply, the ďcivilianĒ Presidential Envoy should be across all the information regarding which security structures are carrying out operations, what the aims are of every individual operation and what losses they incur. Ideally he should also receive the authority to sanction every operation. In time this would help the necessary conclusions on possible optimisation of the law enforcement and security structures of the North Caucasus Federal District and would facilitate their efficient work, especially if an interdepartmental database were to be created at District level.

However this was not done. The relevant law enforcement structures were not created with the North Caucasus Federal District. All that was established was main directorate of the Ministry of the Interior on the North Caucasus Federal District. There is as yet no information about the willingness of the FSB, the Ministry of Defense and the internal forces to coordinate their work in the region with the civilian leadership of the North Caucasus Federal District. The main directorate of the Interior Ministry on the North Caucasus Federal District was initially headed by General Evgeny Lazebin, who had a long history of work in the joint federal forces in Chechnya Ė a group which essentially ceased to exist after the winding up of the antiterror operation in Chechnya in April 2009. In May Lazebin was replaced by General Sergei Chenchik.

Unfortunately the way Alexander Khloponinís security entourage is staffed leaves little room for hope of any real reform in how the security structures are managed.

The fact is that from 2004 to 2009 the directors of the federal forces in Chechnya developed a troubling closeness of contact with Ramzan Kadyrov, and essentially handed over the lionís share of security work in Chechnya to local structures. These drew a significant proportion of their staff from amnestied militants. As a result part of the Khankalinsk command group became one of the strongest lobbyists for maximum autonomy in security matters in Chechnya, and later Ė one of the engines of the growth of Ramzan Kadyrovís political influence. Many observers view the Presidential Envoy on cross border cooperation, the former head of the regional staff (ROSh) in Chechnya, Arkady Edelev, as part of this influential group. Suffice it to recall that on February 18, 2010, Edelev was fired from his position as Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, and almost immediately he appeared in this function of Presidential Envoy to the Caucasus. Despite the formal delineation of ďissues of cross border cooperationĒ the unsinkable general remains highly influential and his close ties with Ramzan Kadyrov have by no means weakened.

Evgeny Lazebin, the first head of the Interior Ministryís directorate on the North Caucasus Federal District, is also seen as being part of that group. The head of the Ministry of Interiorís office for the NCFD, General Sergei Chenchik has experience of working in the field during localized conflict, in the 1990s he commanded a special purpose division that operated on Chechen territory, and was liked by those under him.

In recent years Chenchik has been working in the Ministry of Interiorís central apparatus as the deputy head of the department on fighting organised crime and terrorism. General Chenchikís reputation and experience in the field gives cause for optimism as we consider the future successes of the Ministry of the Interior in the North Caucasus Federal District. But for as long as it is seen as lightweight he will remain in the shadow of the tried and tested staff drawn from the Chechen groupings with particularly close ties to their current president.

Khloponinís deputy for security matters, Vladimir Shvetsov, found himself in a similar situation. Appointed by Khloponin in Spring to oversee the FSB in North Ossetia, the choice of Shvetsov was approved by many experts. For many years North Ossetia had been a key hub coordinating special operations across the North Caucasus, and the Vladikavkaz detention facility (at least, before the opening of a new such facility in Ingushetia) was the main prison where militants were held, and was the main focal point of Russian security activity in the North Caucasus.

Therefore Shevtsov was seen as a man, loyal to the Federal authorities, independent from clan interests, who would be able to play a positive role in reforming the security operations across the North Caucasus Federal District, were it not for his status within the apparatus as deputy Presidential Envoy.

No clear delineation of Alexander Khloponinís precise remit was ever made public, and the same is true of his deputy. In some cases it is clear that his key deputy on security concerns knows less than the deputy on cross border cooperation: Edelev.

So far it has seemed that the Kremlin has formulated itís own ďTandemĒ plan for governing the North Caucasus. Khloponin is instructed to control the finances and investment projects. At the same time his apparatus contains people responsible for security matters who answer directly to Kadyrov, or as is standard in the relations between the federal centre with the periphery, who are directly responsible to federal authorities under the Ministry of Interior section for the North Caucasus Federal District: to Moscow, rather than Pyatigorsk. The new Envoy therefore has the ability to distribute funds across the territory, but the situation on the ground is defined by security services not under his control.

Local Battalions

Khloponin was not the first to experience this problem of the security forcesí autonomy from the political authorities. And to date the only individual who is in a position to finally resolve this is the President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, with the help of those groups under him, theoretically part of the Ministry of the Interior but which are in fact under the powers that be in Chechnya. It is not surprising that he became an example: for colleagues in neighboring republics and, however paradoxical it might seem, for the NCFD leadership itself.

After Dmitry Medvedevís meeting of August 11 this year with the President of Dagestan Magomedsalam Magomedov and Alexander Khloponin, it became clear that the Chechen experience in terms of the organisation of independent security structures could take hold in the neighboring territories.

There is the plan to create national, or locally recruited, battalions in Dagestan, which will nominally be under the Ministry of the Interior of Dagestan, but which will be in reality tied to the authorities in the republic: exactly along the lines of the Chechen example. It is thought that these locally recruited battalions will be part of the 102nd special purpose brigade under the North Caucasus regional commander of the Ministry of the Interior, based in Makhachkala, and that it will commanded by the head of Dagestanís Ministry of the Interior.

On the one hand, Dagestan has the ideological and personnel basis for the formation of this group. There is a significant tranche of the population which can be described as traditional sufis, opposed to the salafis. There is the skeleton force and command that mobilised in August ĖSeptember 1999 against Shamil Basaevís men.

On the other hand, in deciding to form these new locally recruited units, Moscow is essentially admitting that the security forces at its disposal in Dagestan are not sufficient or totally unsuited for the task at hand: dealing with the militants. Those forces include the Daghestan police force, which today is taking the lead against the militants, several subdivisions of the ministry of defense, including a special mountain brigade in Botlikh, and the FSB border troops and the Interior Ministry's antiterror centre T in Mahachkala. Although Dagestan has those forces, and experience from 1999, it does not have the former militant-separatists there, who in Chechnya agreed to submit to Kadyrov, seeing in him a new ethnic banner. The President of Dagestan, unlike Kadyrov, only represents a small sector of those influential groups which exist there. That is why the very process of forming new units comprising the different peoples of Dagestan could massively increase the level of conflict in the Republic.

In addition, the Chechen security structures have clear outlays. It is well known that the Chechen police are only formally under the vertical power structures of he Ministry of the Interior, and conflicts arise between those forces in Chechnya commanded by the Federal and by Kadyrovís forces.

This last was something vividly depicted in the Moscow press: A conflict between the internal troops and the Chechen North Battalion, which saw the internal troops accused the Chechens of releasing information regarding the special forcesí positions during a mountain raid in February 2010, as a result killing 4 Russian soldiers. Even if this information remains unconfirmed, other facts are known regarding these national units.

For example, in Chechnya in Spring 2008, a conflict took place between two of these local units: one under the Ministry of Defense (Special Battalion Vostok or East) and the other under the Russian Federation Ministry of the Interior (Chechen Police). Russian police clashed with Russian soldiers, although in reality this was a conflict between two influential local families: Kadyrovs and Yamadaevs. In late August this conflict suddenly resolved itself: the surviving members of the Yamadaevs family publicaly made their peace with the Kadyrovs, who gained another boost on their path to politcal and security authority.

But for as long as Kadyrov remains the only one of his kind, other leaders of North Caucasus republics will have to keep on looking for possible formats of political symbiosis with him and with Khloponin, since he is now chiefly responsible for disbursing funds in the Caucasus.

Not everyone in the North Caucasus likes this: the Republicís leadership would like to do as much as they can to mimic Kadyrovís success, to receive both their own state security structures and federal funds. One theory goes that the terror attack in Pyatigorsk, where the new Envoyís residence is due to be located, is a warning to Khloponin.

However, it should not be forgotten that Chechnya built its current security and law enforcement systems autonomously in the most financially beneficial conditions, conditions that it would be difficult to repeat given the economic crisis. Then the Kremlin had money enough for everything that was needed in the Caucasus: bureaucrats, residents, even for the militants who the bureaucrats paid for security. Sadly, given recent developments in the Caucasus it is quite possible that the dwindling resources could result in as many fatalities as the jihad.

Agentura.Ru 3.09.2010