Eurasian Politician
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The Eurasian Politician - Issue 2 (October 2000)

"Russian anti-terrorist operation"

By Sanobar Shermatova

Source: Moskovskie Novosti 8th August. (In English: Johnsonís Russia List.)

Among Chechens, there is a popular joke: For every square meter in Chechnya, there are 3.5 tanks, ten intelligence operatives and one Chechen. In spare time, everybody in Chechnya is fond of pontificating about who is employed by which intelligence service. Recently, these conversations have been focused on widely known Chechens, such as brothers Akhmadov from Urus-Martan and Arbi Barayev from Alkhan-Kala. There is a long trail of allegations behind these people who are suspect of being involved in high-profile kidnappings of Russian and foreign journalists and in the brutal murder of four engineers from Britain and New Zealand. In our investigation published in No. 12-13 of this year, these Chechens were named godfathers of the slave market. According to locals, until recently both Akhmadov brothers and Barayev were living in their own houses and traveled without problems across the republic in their personal vehicles. Nor have they been included in the lists of people wanted by the authorities "for participation in illegal armed groups" (lists which include, among others, Aslan Maskhadov and Movladi Udugov).

The explanation is simple: the slave traders have procured themselves with documents identifying them as Russian intelligence operatives, which is tantamount to immunity. This fact may have remained secret, were it not for the scandal that flared up two months ago. Then, some officers of the General Staff of the Russian Army exposed the FSB by supplying Moscow with evidence of the Akhmadov brothersí possession of IDs issued to FSB associates. But even after this, the Akhmadovs were left intact, and the blame was laid upon local FSB employees: the only result of the scandal was the firing of Yunus Magomedov, the FSB Directorate commissioner in charge of the Urus-Martan district.

It appears that the military intelligence was not satisfied. A few days ago, a Moscow newspaper ran an article revealing some curious details from the life of Akhmadovs as well as Arbi Barayev. This information taken together leads the reader to the conclusion that the patrons of the Chechen slave traders occupy powerful offices in Moscow.

The article containing this information referred to the military intelligence of the General Staff as a source, which by itself is highly unusual. The Chief Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, is a reclusive agency which is not prone to issuing comments or leaking information. Therefore, revelations by the military intelligence about slave traders protected by high-powered networks may be seen as an extreme manifestation of an outburst of an inter-agency conflict.

In this specific case, the causes of their rivalry are seemingly on the surface. The special assignment units of GRU (spetsnaz) are busy chasing most prominent guerrilla warlords. In the process of planning their operations, the GRU people find themselves confronted with certain "taboos". As explained by knowledgeable people, military intelligence runs into trouble every time it tries to capture a Chechen who happens to be in the service of another Russian agency.

Meanwhile, some recent mysterious developments involving Arbi Barayev can be explained only by his cooperation with federal authorities. Thus, in Chechnya many people know the background of hostilities between Barayev and Hamzat Gelayev, a guerrilla captain. In late January, Gelayevís detachments were withdrawing with grave losses to the forests in southern Chechnya. The guerrillas were dying from wounds and hunger. At that moment, Barayev contacted Gelayev telling him that he had sent buses to evacuate the wounded to the villages where they would be provided with aid. Gelayev believed this to be true; he led his regiment out of the woods and was caught in a trap. Instead of Barayevís buses, he found federal forces who immediately opened fire. Nevertheless, Gelayevís troops eventually managed to retreat to the woods, via his native village of Komsomolskoye (the village defense from the federals by Gelayevís troops continued until the end of March).

In the wake of these events, Gelayev launched his own chase of Arbi Barayev. Two months ago, a real estate in Alkhan-Kala owned by Barayev was blown up. In June, there have been skirmishes between Gelayev and Barayev troops in a Grozny suburb, and in late July, they clashed yet again, near Shalazhi village. As a result, according to federal authorities, 44 guerrillas were slain.

It is hard to predict how the GRU-FSB rivalry over the godfather of the slave market will play out. In some of the similar occurrences, the object of rivalry ended up being eliminated. Thus, the mysterious murder of Abu Musayev, one of the most prominent Chechen field commanders, has often been explained by the GRU-FSB conflict. This warlord, aged 38, had been at the helm of the Chechen intelligence agencies and had a grim reputation. The following details have been collected in conversations with locals. This May, Musayev secretly came and stayed overnight several times with his relatives in Shali. One of the local officials informed the local FSB commissioner of these visits. The latter made no moves, but later, when the GRU spetsnaz tried to capture Musayev, FSB came out against it. The scandal reverberated in Moscow, where the decision was eventually taken to proceed with the capturing of Musayev. Yet on the eve of the operation, Musayev was killed. As some of the Chechens suspect, he was eliminated so as not to become prey to a rival agency.

Incidentally, Musayev could have been of interest to each of the agencies not for the sake of his standing among Chechen guerrillas. He also was involved in a convoluted incident which occurred in Grozny in December last year. Then, a Turkish journalist named Sedat Aral videotaped an interrogation of Sr. Lieut. Aleksey Galkin (or Galtin) who had been captured by Chechens. Galkin stated that he was a GRU associate and, according to his information, the Moscow and Volgodonsk explosions were carried out by FSB and GRU. The article about this was published on January 6 by The Independent. The newspaper also provided a comment by a Defense Ministry official saying that the captured officer may have been under influence of very special interrogation procedures. One of the participants of this interrogation was Abu Musayev. It is clear that both FSB and GRU had an interest in getting him under control.

All these intricacies of intelligence ventures in Chechnya increasingly overshadow the goal of the year-old "counter-terrorist operation", which was supposedly to eliminate banditry. Whatever the motivations of intelligence services might be, the individuals who are the living symbols of most horrendous crimes are out in the streets.

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