In what may yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory, on 6 February acting Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russian forces had taken complete control of what remains of Grozny. Russian military spokesmen subsequently described the "liberation" of the Chechen capital as ending the second phase of the "anti-terrorist" operation in Chechnya. The third and final phase of that operation, to neutralize those Chechen fighters who have withdrawn to bases in the mountains south of Grozny, got underway a few days ago. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev predicted that it will be successfully completed in less time than was needed to take the capital.
Other Russian officials, however, are
less sanguine. Lieutenant-General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, commander-in-chief
of the Russian Interior Ministry forces, was quoted by "Nezavisimaya
gazeta" on 15 February as predicting that a localized struggle with
individual bands of Chechen fighters could continue "for decades."
The Defense Ministry has already made clear that, even after it announces
a final victory over the Chechens, a detachment of some 25,000 Russian
troops will be permanently stationed in Chechnya. Chechen mufti Akhmed-hadji
Kadyrov argued in a recent interview that such a
permanent Russian military presence is essential in order to preclude fighting between rival Chechen factions, and to shore up the next Chechen leadership.
Meanwhile, the Russian government is faced with the task of restoring the damage the war has inflicted on Chechnya's infrastructure and determining how the region should be ruled in the short and medium term. Putin announced last week that the Russian government has already spent some 50 million rubles ($1.8 million) on restoration in Chechnya, and will earmark a total of 2 billion rubles for that purpose by the end of this year. But Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government representative in Chechnya, estimated that a minimum of 10 billion rubles will be needed for reconstruction this year alone. Those funds will not be adequate to allow for the rebuilding of Grozny, Koshman said. He added that reconstruction of the devastated capital should be financed by Chechnya itself, not from Moscow, above all by the proceeds from the republic's oil industry. But Interfax last week reported that the Russian government has decided to hand over all functioning oil-sector facilities in Chechnya to the state-owned oil company Rosneft, which will also "temporarily" acquire the right to exploit oil and gas fields in Chechnya.
Elsewhere in Chechnya, Russian media report on a daily basis alleged progress in reopening schools, medical facilities and even mosques, and providing gas and electricity supplies to Chechnya's civilian population.
Russian military and temporary police
units brought in from elsewhere in the Russian Federation are responsible
for maintaining order in the "liberated" raions. That task comprises
identity checks and the issuing of new identify papers, confiscating armaments,
and taking measures to prevent the theft of humanitarian aid and money
sent from Moscow to fund reconstruction. On the basis of those identity
checks, hundreds of Chechen men have been rounded up and sent to so-called
"filtration camps" where they are routinely submitted to torture
and rape. Younger Chechen men, meanwhile, will be recruited to serve in
special brigades of the Ministry for Emergency Situations and the railway
troops "in order to remove them from the war environment," Koshman
said. A Western journalist who recently visited Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest
city with an estimated population of 48,000, noted that most of the town's
male population is unemployed. Russian Deputy Labor and Social Development
Minister Konstantin Laikem said last week that a local office of the Federal
Employment Agency has been opened in the hope of recruiting 2,000 volunteers
to help in the
reconstruction process. But, Laikem added, many Chechens are reluctant to do so, fearing reprisals by the "militants."
At present, individual Chechen raions under Russian control are administered by a mayor and a military commandant, as is Grozny. Koshman told Interfax on 12 February that the Russian Security Council will decide on creating "a system of vertically structured administration" at the end of this month. That administration will be formed by merging the Russian government mission to Chechnya, which Koshman heads, and the Gudermes-based interim Chechen administration, which will control the new Interior Ministry and other unnamed departments.
Koshman predicted that the new combined administrative structure will be in place by late May, after which elections will be held in Chechnya to the Russian State Duma. By late 2000 or early in 2001, he continued, it will be possible to schedule elections for a new Chechen head of state and for local government bodies. Chechen mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov similarly suggested that a new Chechen leader should be elected "in a year or two," "after people calm down."
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