Moscow’s guessing game over rebel strategy

176.jpgRussian Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Sydoruk has declared that “the operational situation in the North Caucasus will become increasingly hot.” According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, Sydoruk said on July 7 that an analysis of the recent explosions and attacks in the North Caucasus demonstrates that this is only the beginning. In other words, it looks like the militants are being prepared for something much more serious. “The law-enforcement authorities should be ready to deliver a rebuff,” Sydoruk added.

The question, however, is where and how the authorities should rebuff the rebels, and what plans the rebels have. What one can see in the North Caucasus is that there is a military, tactical, intelligence, and informational standoff between the Russian military command and the leaders of the insurgency. The significant increase in the number of rebel attacks in Chechnya and the two attacks on police and military bases in Ingushetia have caused Russian officials to make quite frank statements like the one Sydoruk made. According to news reports, the Kremlin has ordered security and military forces throughout the North Caucasus to be put on alert. On July 10, RIA Novosti reported that units of the Interior Ministry’s temporary operations group in Chechnya had been put on a heightened state of alert. Dmitriy Nikiforov, head of the group press center, told the news agency that this is connected with “the increasingly frequent clashes between representatives of law-enforcement agencies and members of illegal armed groups.”

There is no doubt that the Russian military forces in Chechnya are also on alert, although this has not yet been officially admitted.

Meanwhile, security officials in neighboring Dagestan have become more active. During a meeting broadcast by Dagestani TV on July 9, republican Interior Minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov said that “we have been entrusted with an area and we have to ensure order in Dagestan. We have to do this and we will accomplish it. Those who are incapable or unwilling or have other reasons, please report this to me – we will understand that; submit resignation letters and I will sign them.” Apparently, the minister was pressing his subordinates to work harder while searching for rebels.

Security measures have also been strengthened in North Ossetia. In early July, the Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Sydoruk visited Kabardino-Balkaria, where he strongly criticized the performance of the local authorities in the fight against the rebels. “Anti-terrorist commissions in some constituent parts of the Southern Federal District were created merely on paper,” he said. “Even those that operate do so formally, without pursuing the final result” (ITAR-Tass, July 10).

In addition, a large-scale anti-terrorist drill of Russian military and police forces was held in the Northwest part of the North Caucasus from July 7 to July 13. Maneuvers were held in such regions as North Ossetia, Krasnodar Krai and Stavropol Krai.

It looks as if Russia’s siloviki are studying the map of the North Caucasus and trying to guess where the rebels are preparing the most unpleasant surprises for them. This is not an easy task since the theater of war appears to be on the verge of becoming wider again. The Regions news agency reported on July 10 that Viktor Ilyukhin, deputy head of the State Duma’s Security Committee, told journalists that according to the information he had received from the Kremlin, “There is a regrouping of the separatists in the North Caucasus” and the rebels are going to transfer their main activity to such Caucasian regions as Dagestan, Adygeya and Krasnodar Krai (Regions.ru, July 10).

The rebels clearly understand that surprise can be their main advantage and are ready to play a “guess where” game with the Russian authorities. First, they increased their attacks in Chechnya and Ingushetia, but then they declared through their media sources – mainly the Kavkaz-Center website – that the militants have a network of mountain camps and guerilla bases in Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Moreover, the website claimed that rebel diversion squads are also operating in the Stavropol and Krasnodar regions (Kavkaz-Center, July 11). One can only guess where the insurgency is hiding his main forces and in what direction the North Caucasus insurgency may direct its next large-scale attack.

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