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Perspective
Volume XII, Number 1 (September - October 2001)

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CHECHEN REALITY: GRU VS. FSB

By ROUSTAM KALIYEV (CHIHARRO)(1)

Chechnya has entered a new phase of confrontation. Even official Russian spokesmen have acknowledged that, since August, there has been an intensification of fighting in the republic. According to some accounts, every day five Russian soldiers are killed and an equal number wounded as a result of the various attacks carried out by Chechens. The office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the president's spokesman, and representatives of the General Staff who are charged officially with informing the public about the progress of the war, prefer not to comment on Russian losses, and in fact have not done so since last year.

 

THE 'COUNTER-TERRORISM' OPERATION

Punitive operations against the civilian population, which were used during the last war as a "preventative" measure against the possibility of attack, have turned out to be ineffective in the present campaign. This works poorly because, unlike the methods of the first war, the present practice employs "preventative" measures -- such as "cleansings" -- in an indiscriminate manner, regardless of whether or not there is a threat from the Chechen combatants.

 

"It makes no difference if there are Chechen fighters in a village. The armed forces organize provocations to carry out 'cleansings,'" say many Chechens. (2)

 

Residents of the village Alkhan-Kala, the home of the infamous hostage taker and slavetrader Arbi Baraev, say that cleansings were limited to those parts of the village which did not house Baraev or his men. Even after Baraev was killed last June, his associates continued to live openly in the village. Alkhan-Kala counted 86 "cleansings" in their village during the year 2000, an average of 1.5 times a week. (3)

 

Chechens insist that those areas which are most supportive of Russian authorities are subjected to the most looting and other abuses by the armed forces. "They stimulate opposition from the young people. The village of Gekhi must be the place in Chechnya most loyal to Russia," says a resident of that village, "but even here the armed forces find excuses to arrest all the young people. They even take away MVD cadres!" In fact one Gekhi native, Beslan Gantemirov, has been appointed federal inspector subordinate to General Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential representative to the southern district.

 

WHO IS FIGHTING WHOM IN CHECHNYA?

This war is witnessing the unfolding of a new reality, in which the lines are not drawn simply between Russians and Chechens but among competing Russian security services. This does not constitute competition among Russian power structures: It is better described as a war the objectives of which include political influence and control over the funds allocated to rebuild the looted republic.

 

In 1999, Boris Yel'tsin found a way out of the Chechen crisis (or perhaps was nudged in that direction by his "power ministers") by assigning responsibility for that problem to an FSB officer, Vladimir Putin. This decision brought the confrontation of two sworn enemies, the FSB and military intelligence (GRU), to a qualitatively new level.

 

Historically, little is known about the competition between Russian security services, especially between FSB and GRU.(4) Chechnya, which exists completely outside the legal sphere and is rarely observed by outsiders, including the president, constitutes the arena in which these giants wrestle. At the same time their goals and interests are far from Chechnya and have little do with resolving the Chechen crisis. The FSB and GRU represent two influential parties with different corporate interests vis-a-vis military, political and geopolitical concerns.

 

During Soviet times, military intelligence remained under the General Staff and was independent of the KGB. Its strategists were concerned with global affairs. GRU is one of the few Russian agencies that was almost unaffected by Gorbachev's and Yel'tsin's reform periods. Yel'tsin excelled at counterbalancing different interests within his administration and shuffled cadres among the FSB and GRU on a few occasions. Nevertheless, GRU survived as a militarized, secretive agency with political ambitions and an ideology of Soviet-style derzhavnost.

 

The FSB is seen as representing the KGB, including the interests of the other successor agencies which emerged from the KGB: The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), FAPSI, and the Federal Guards Service being chief among them. The FSB, as the heir of the KGB, also inherited the old rivalry with the Main Investigative Directorate (GRU) of the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense. Crafting a peace between these two agencies hardly is a realistic option. From Putin's perspective it may not even be desirable; he can stand back and let the generals compete for his favor.

 

In January 2001 Putin transferred all official authority for maintaining order and overseeing the military operation in Chechnya from the Ministry of Defense to the FSB. Yet, he left the military operations themselves and the special operations under the control of the defense ministry. The administration of Chechnya is managed by a former associate of Maskhadov, the runaway mufti Akhmad Kadyrov, who, due to his purely nominal significance, doesn't annoy anyone in the presidential administration. Kadyrov is often said to be close to the "party of war" (within the defense ministry, particularly the head of the General Staff General Anatoly Kvashnin) which competes with the FSB in Chechnya. But it would be wrong to see Kadyrov as belonging exclusively to any one power ministry: There must be half a dozen cooks in his kitchen.

 

 

 

PUTIN'S QUANDARY

GRU and the General Staff became particularly active with the start of the war. The General Staff was the tail trying to wag the dog -- the defense ministry, the Defense Council, and the Security Council. While some elements in the military, including Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, were reluctant to launch an all-out war in Chechnya, Chief of General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, his deputy Valery Manilov, and the commanding officers in the North Caucasus were pushing vigorously for a ground offensive. In November 1999, Kvashnin threatened to resign and Major General Valery Shamanov, commander of the Western Group of Forces in Chechnya, threatened a mutiny if they did not get a free hand in Chechnya. (5)

 

In 1999, using the crisis and then the war in Chechnya, the security services accomplished a velvet revolution. At that stage, while they were strengthening their positions in President Yel'tsin's administration, the interests of the various security services coincided. This view accords with the theory, which has been put forward repeatedly in many Novaya gazeta articles and was most extensively documented in the recent special issue "FSB Blows Up Russia," that the explosions in Moscow and other Russian cities which triggered the war were the joint work of the KGB and GRU.(6)

 

After achieving the common goal of securing the top government position for one of their own, old rivalries and corporate interests again came to the forefront. Following the March 2000 presidential elections, the various agencies reverted to the old pattern of trying to prove themselves indispensable to the newly minted president. It is an old routine that the main vehicle for doing so is by hatching provocations against others; fighting corruption or banditism is a rather secondary way of showing off an agency's mettle.

 

Putin, of course, is no amateur at this game and understands its dynamics perfectly. Having made his choice, he delivered his first blow against GRU by making Sergei Ivanov defense minister. Placing a career SVR man at the helm of the defense ministry put the brakes on the General Staff and its subordinate structures, including GRU.

 

The next step in Putin's "reform" of the security structures most likely will be a long-awaited merger of several large power ministries. The structures that would lose their independent standing would be GRU, the Federal Guards Service, the Federal Courier Service and FAPSI, which would be submerged under an expanded SVR. Some steps in this direction already have been taken. For instance out of the 12 deputy directors of GRU, 6 have been replaced by generals from the SVR. (7) The other agencies mentioned above have experienced similar cadre changes. It would seem, however, that Putin does not wish to rely exclusively on the FSB, and is preparing for it a "worthy" competitor.

 

It is difficult to predict how such changes would affect Chechnya or the North Caucasus as a whole. The war they stoked in Chechnya served the FSB and GRU well; it gave them ample opportunity to prove themselves and to try to undermine each other. Extremist factions and the Chechen partisans, despite all their seeming uncontrollability, play only supporting roles in what is a titanic struggle. Absorbed with their intrigues, the security services did not notice that the monster they created, which gives a specific shape to vague fears of international extremism, was slipping beyond their control.

 

While it is not reasonable to assert, as some have, that the terrorist acts in the US activated extremist circles in hot spots worldwide, including Chechnya, a more modest assessment can be made. The terrorists have set a new precedent, and in so doing expanded the limits of terror's possibilities.

 

Russian authorities are trying to extract maximum political advantage from the hideous blow that the US has suffered. Although Russian officials like to portray the war in Chechnya as a counter-terrorist operation that targets ringleaders of rebel groups, this image is far from reality. Rather than combat predatory Chechen militias, such as Baraev's, Russian forces terrorize the population. (Similarly, Russian official spokesmen are hinting that the Chechens, whom they brand terrorists, share the responsibility for the attack on US cities.)

 

The terrorist attack on US cities and the effort to launch an operation against terrorism will continue to draw the attention (not only of the international community and the press but also of the Chechens themselves) away from the human rights abuses proliferating in Chechnya. In light of this tendency and of the continued chaos in Chechnya, a substantial further deterioration in the conditions of the Chechen civilian population should be expected.

 

 

 

Notes:

 

1 Roustam Kaliyev, who sometimes publishes under the name Chiharro, has contributed articles about Chechnya to Moskovskiye novosti and Obshchaya gazeta. The most recent of his many trips to Chechnya was in October 2001.

 

2 A specific instance where a Russian soldier was ordered to shoot at his own checkpoint to justify a cleansing was described in Vyacheslav Izmailov, "The latest weaponry in Chechnya: Naked Soldiers," Novaya gazeta, 9 August 2001. Also see Anne Nivat's, Chienne De Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya (New York: Public Affairs, 2001), which describes many instances where Russian forces avoid engaging the Chechen resistance. See, for example, Nivat's eyewitness account of the arrival of Chechen fighters from the fallen Grozny into the village Alkhan-Kala and the subsequent cleansing of the village, which began only after the fighters had gone. (pp. 193-215)

 

3 Arbi Baraev, a notorious hostage taker responsible for the beheadings of British and New Zealander telecommunications workers in 1998 (among many other high-profile kidnappings and killings), was not on the FSB's wanted list in the summer of 2000. Baraev and other hostage takers, such as the brothers Akhmadov, were living at home and using FSB identification to cross Russian roadblocks. The story of FSB protection for Baraev came to light when agents of GRU (the military intelligence service) leaked it to Moscow newspapers. GRU obtained the removal of Unus Magomadov, who had been the FSB chief for the Urus Martan region. Among other unsavory activities, Magomadov facilitated Baraev's trip to Moscow on the eve of the second Chechen war. Unus' brother, Adlan, is still Akhmad Kadyrov's representative to the Russian president. See Sanobar Shermatova, "Front page: Secret war of the Security Services," Moskovskiye novosti, 8 August 2000; Sanobar Shermatova and Leonid Nikitsky, "Generals of slave-trade," Moskovskiye novosti, 28 March 2000; and Vyacheslav Izmailov, "SpetzProtection for the Terrorists" Novaya gazeta, 17 September 2001.

 

4 Some of the clearest indications of ongoing competition among FSB, MVD, and GRU are readily seen in Aleksandr Litvinenko and Yuri Fel'shtinsky, "FSB Blows Up Russia," Novaya gazeta, 27 August 2001, which describes those agencies' patronage of criminal structures. These activities amount to an undeclared war among the security services utilizing the criminal elements in their employ.

 

5 Alexander Khinstein, "A Riot in the General Staff," Moskovsky komsomolets, 5 November 1999, and Yevgeny Krutikov, "War in the Corridors of Power, Izvestia, 6 November 1999.

 

6 Litvinenko and Fel'shtinsky, op. cit. See also The Independent, 6 January 2000, which quoted GRU officer Alexei Galtin as saying: "It is the FSB (Russian Security Service), in cooperation with the GRU, that is responsible for the explosions in Volgodonsk and Moscow." In addition, Shamil Basaev, who spearheaded the August 1999 incursions into Dagestan, the other trigger of the war, is widely rumored to have been a GRU officer in the early 1990s. Basaev never has denied those rumors.

 

7 Stanislav Lekatev, "SVR swallows up GRU," Nezavisimaya gazeta, 29 August 2001.


Copyright ISCIP 2001
Unless otherwise indicated, all articles appearing in this journal have been commissioned especially
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