Russian authorities prepare for possible attack in North Ossetia

177.jpgOn the night of July 6, Caucasian rebels carried out a hit-and-run raid on the Russian military garrison in Ingushetia. First reports of the incident came from the Ingushetiya.ru website. The website reported that starting at 12:45 am, sounds of shooting and explosions could be heard in the Ingush village of Troitskaya. According to Ingushetiya.ru, the fighting in the village lasted until 1:15 am; approximately 30 minutes.

State-controlled Russian news agencies did not report the attack for another eight hours. At 9 am, RIA-Novosti and Interfax news agencies announced that militants had attacked the 503rd motor rifle regiment in the village of Troitskaya, using heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, and mortars. Both agencies reported casualties among the military troops. According to RIA-Novosti, ambulances could be seen entering the garrison premises, while Interfax quoted a source in the Ingush police who said that at least 10 soldiers had died and that many base facilities had been destroyed.

However, after an hour the Kremlin’s spin-doctors began to work on the story. The duration of the raid was shortened from 30 minutes to 10 minutes, and soon even to five minutes. Any information regarding casualties was denied. “No serviceman was wounded in the attack despite the fact that one of the grenades exploded by the gatehouse. The republic’s law-enforcement agencies and the Federal Security Service are now investigating,” said Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Ground Troops command. Information that the rebels had used mortars also disappeared, but Konashenkov had to admit that the rebels got off at least 15 shots of a RPG grenade launcher. The officials explained the lack of casualties by the fact that, as a source in the Ingushetia prosecutor’s office told a Kommersant correspondent, the militants had to shoot at a high angle since they were afraid to move closer to the well-fortified garrison and they could not see their targets since they were hiding behind trees in the village’s Muslim cemetery (Kommersant, July 7).

The official number of attackers is also unclear. Konashenkov counted about 10 to 15 militants, while the Ingush procurator about 20. The military’s reaction to the attack is unknown. Igor Tsypchenko, prosecutor for the 503rd regiment, told Kommersant that there was no return fire because the militants were firing from a residential area. At the same time, sources in the Ingush police department say that when the attack occurred none of the military dared to leave the safety of the base.

Unofficial sources give a quite different account. According to the rebel Kavkaz Center website, about 70 insurgents took part in the attack, which resulted in 13 dead and 25 wounded Russian soldiers. The website reported that rebel spotters said that at least 10 rocket-propelled grenades had reached the military barracks.

The attack on the military garrison in Troitskaya comes on the heels of a June 19 rebel attack on the police barracks in the town of Karabulak (see EDM, June 21).

Nevertheless, it seems that despite increasing guerilla attacks in Ingushetia, Russian security officials are focusing their attention on North Ossetia. Following the attack on the military base in Troitskaya a security sweep was conducted in the Ingush village of Sagopshi, near the border with North Ossetia. Sagopshi and another Ingush settlement, Psedyakh, are located near a large forest that divides Ossetia and Ingushetia. The terrorists who seized the school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan in 2004 prepared for their raid in this forest. Interestingly, Russian TV reports of the attack in Troitskaya were broadcast together with information about two arms caches that law-enforcement agencies had found in North Ossetia near the Ingush border. One day after the rebel raid on Troitskaya, large-scale anti-terrorist military drills started in North Ossetia as well as in Krasnodar and Stavropol krai, two ethnic-Russian dominated regions of the North Caucasus. More than 6,000 troops, including elite paratroop units, took part in the maneuvers.

According to Kavkazky Uzel news agency, following a rebel attack on a police base in Karabulak the North Ossetian Interior Ministry activated the “Fortress” plan and put all local police units on alert. On July 5, a meeting of the local Anti-Terrorist Commission, headed by Teimuraz Mamsurov, was held in Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital. “We should work out concrete proposals to strengthen the activity of the forces that should provide security for our population,” Mamsurov said at the meeting. According to Regnum news agency, the main subject of the discussion was how to better defend the military bases and barracks located in the republic.

The anti-terrorist drills and other steps that security officials have taken after the recent series of rebel attacks in Ingushetia clearly demonstrate that the Russian military command in the North Caucasus regards these raids as a prelude to more serious operations in other parts of the volatile region.

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