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Komsomolskaya Pravda, November 9, 2002

Alexei Arbatov: What Should We Do About Chechnya?

Interview with Alexei Arbatov by Mikhail Falaleev

Interview with Alexei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the Duma defense committee.

Question: Following the tragic outcome of the hostage-taking, everyone has started discussing the future of Chechnya again. So, what should we do about it?

Alexei Arbatov: We need to review the course of action we have pursued in Chechnya over the past three years - the military, economic, and political aspects. Look, even the Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov recently referred to events in Chechnya as "a war" - previously, the official term was "counter-terrorist operation". This indicates that events are getting out of control.

Question: How, exactly?

Arbatov: We need to substantially reorganize the law enforcement agencies and secret services, to make them capable of preventing terrorist attacks; but that is a separate issue. Regarding Chechnya itself... Clearly, no amount of clean-up operations will yield results as long as Chechnya remains a drive-through zone. It's like bailing with a leaky spoon. Firstly, the holes have to be patched.

Question: Should we seal the borders of Chechnya completely?

Arbatov: We need to establish a strong, tight cordon there. Not a Berlin Wall, but a cordon. Civilians, humanitarian aid and business would be welcome to cross it; but guerrillas and weapons - all that passes into Chechnya freely now - must not cross the border. Doing this would require money, of course - tens of billions of roubles; but it would cost much more to continue the war.

Question: What about the Interior Troops?

Arbatov: If our Federal Border Guard Service can seal all the administrative borders of Chechnya - not only the 80 kilometres of the external border, as at present - then far fewer troops would be required within Chechnya. There would need to be a good brigade of Interior Troops and special services. Of the regular army, it would be enough to have a few divisions of Ground Troops in Chechnya, with heavy weapons, plus aviation - they would be capable of supporting the Interior Troops in any major confrontations.

Question: What about using local personnel? Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov recently let slip that Russian police troops would shortly be replaced by thousands of Chechens.

Arbatov: In my view, that is a premature move, aimed at creating the impression that the residents of Chechnya support the federal forces. But they don't! Thus, we couldn't rely on such police troops - they often collaborate with the guerrillas.

Question: But how should Chechnya be governed? If we don't develop local government...

Arbatov: Direct presidential rule should be introduced in Chechnya. We should send a presidential envoy there, holding a rank no lower than that of deputy prime minister. All military and civilian functions would be concentrated in this person's hands, and he would have direct access to the president. What Chechnya has now is an administrative mess - too many office-holders - and that's a perfect environment for terrorists.

Question: What would you say to Grigory Yavlinsky as a candidate for this post? There have been recent rumours to that effect.

Arbatov: I wouldn't advise him to take the job; it involves commanding military forces. It would be more logical to appoint some reasonable person with a military background. Troshev, for example: temporarily, foas long as military action continues, he could be transferred from his post as military district commander to the post of presidential envoy in Chechnya. Troshev was born and raised in Chechnya; he is also trusted by the military forces. So there's the plan for further action: close the borders, have one person in charge of Chechnya, and no conscripts - only professionals, contract personnel, should serve in Chechnya.

Question: But what should we do about the guerrillas?

Arbatov: There will be fewer once the borders are sealed. Of course, we'll have to fight them - but selectively. We shouldn't be shelling villages or carrying out clean-up operations. Guerrillas would be killed as they cross the borders, or at their locations in Chechnya. Then we would be able to achieve the second major objective: to stop most of the population of Chechnya supporting the guerrillas.

Question: How long would this phase last?

Arbatov: All these measures are only prerequisites for solving the problem. The war can only be ended by negotiations. But for that to happen, we first need to change the situation in Chechnya in the federal government's favour. This would require a year, maybe less. After that, everything would depend on the politicians. At this point,the president's representative could be a civilian.

Question: But which of the Chechens should we negotiate with?

Arbatov: That would depend on two criteria: firstly, they should be people who control a major part of the guerrilla forces. Secondly, they should be untainted by involvement in any form of terrorism. There have been many statements made about Chechnya in recent days - from people whose words carry weight: the defense minister, the FSB director, the president himself. The overall message is clear: a new special operation lies in store for Chechnya. A very substantial one this time. Perhaps a decisive one. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has called a halt to the withdrawal of excess troops from Chechnya, and ordered preparations for large-scale precision strikes at the guerrillas. Now the paratroopers and commandos will have the limelight: apparently, this time there will be no great use of tanks, no shelling of towns and villages by aviation and artillery. But the clean-up operations in those towns where guerrillas are found are likely to be harsher.

President Putin has clearly implied that terrorists will be destroyed wherever they may be found. He has even proposed that the security structures should develop new parameters for using the Russian Armed Forces. Thus, FSB director Nikolai Patrushev ought to spell out where those terrorists may be found and destroyed. Patrushev has promised to do so. Actually, the FSB itself is frequently capable of dispatching bandits: the Alpha anti-terrorist squad is in fine form.

To all intents and appearances, there will now be a different kind of war in Chechnya: uncompromising towards the enemy, and more responsible towards our own troops. There are proposals for tough counter-intelligence measures within the federal forces and the governing bodies of Chechnya. In general, the federal government's desire to see an end to this war is evident.

See also:
War in Chechnya
Act of Terror in Moscow

Komsomolskaya Pravda, November 9, 2002

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