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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Annals of "Pacified" Chechnya: War in the Streets of Stavropol Region

Stratfor reports:

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) forces reportedly launched an assault against armed militants barricaded in a five-story building in Russia's Stavropol region, Interfax news agency reported Oct. 1, citing police officials. The move, which appears to be an effort to shore up security ahead of 2008 Russian elections, will give Georgia cause for concern.

The raid began at approximately 5 p.m. local time and ended a short time later in the town of Neftekumskom east of Stavropol and close to the Chechen border. FSB forces captured or killed most of the suspected militants, including one who ran into the street with an assault rifle and three grenades while the others provided cover fire from the building's windows.

The group supposedly came from a small village near Neftekumskom called Kamysh, and called itself the Nagayskovo Battalion. The name's significance remains unclear.

Neftekumskom has a large Muslim population, offering potential havens for insurgents. This was the third raid in the village this year, though most have been low-profile and went off without a hitch. A raid in March in Neftekumskom that reportedly resulted in the arrest of many insurgents also went off smoothly.

The current operation in Neftekumskom appears to be one of the usual ongoing low-intensity mop-up operations that have become the rule with Russian forces in the Caucasus. In this case it looks like the insurgents had advance notice or were otherwise forewarned and were able to provide stiff resistance.

Although raids on suspected militant hideouts have been a recurrent feature in Russia's campaign against Caucasus militants, this was the first major assault since an operation in February 2006, when Russian security forces mounted a large operation against a group of Chechen militants, leading to 12 deaths. The government said the group was on the verge of executing a hostage-taking operation on the scale of the 2004 Beslan school attack.

Now, however, it seems Russia is moving more pre-emptively as the run-up to its 2008 elections nears. Russia typically has seen two to three militant attacks outside regions generally subject to militant attacks ahead of previous elections. This time, Russia is ramping up its internal security, and not just via small raids. Russia has been moving more troops into the Northern Caucasus, activating fresh counterterrorism programs in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

But internal security is not the only reason for Russia to move more troops to this region. Georgia also has taken note -- and is growing progressively more wary the larger the Russian force on its northern border grows.

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