Counter-Terrorism: Too Much Of A Bad Thing


June 18,2008: Russia pacified Chechnya over the last seven years by using an old technique. They played "divide and conquer." After using massive force on the rebellious Chechens for three years, and demonstrating that they could keep killing indefinitely, they offered some of the clans a chance to switch sides. Several clans were interested, but only one would get the top job of running the province (technically a republic within the Russian confederation). Akhmad Kadyrov, a religious, as well as a clan, leader was selected, and he was elected president of the Republic in 2003. Kadyrov promptly favored kin, and family friends, with top government jobs. But while Kadyrov was able to shut down most of the separatist and religious violence, he was not able to pacify all the clans and rebellious individuals. The Russians anticipated that, and the army recruited "contract soldiers" from the other pro-Russian clans (that felt screwed by the Kadyrov monopoly on government goodies). The army took these men, who were paid about three times what a policeman got, plus bonuses for special jobs (including some tasks that could be called war crimes), and formed them into the Zapad (West) and Vostok (East) battalions. These units were part of the Russian 42nd Motorized Rifle Division, which comprised the bulk of Russian military force in the north Caucasus. Both battalions actually reported to the local GRU (Russian military intelligence) commander. When these two battalions were not chasing down bad guys in the Caucasus, they were assigned to peacekeeping duties (in Lebanon and Georgia). For centuries, Chechens have served as mercenaries, often as part of the bodyguard for Middle Eastern aristocrats. They are still highly as soldiers, and when you pay them enough, they will remain loyal.

There was one problem with these two battalions. When they were in Chechnya, they often got into fights (using everything from fists to machine-guns) with members of the Kadyrov clan (and clans allied with the Kadyrovs). The Vostok battalion was a particular problem because that outfit was run by the Yamadaev brothers, and the Yamadaevs were bitter enemies of the Kadyrovs. This has presented the Russians with a problem, because over the last few months the violence between the Yamadaevs and Kadyrovs has been escalating. The Russians don't want to lose the services of either clan, but they don't want to continue subsidizing another civil war in Chechnya. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the local army commanders back the Yamadaevs, while government officials back in Moscow back the Kadyrovs. For the moment, the Russians are trying to keep gunmen from both clans away from each other. Thus the peacekeeping assignments for some of the Yamadaevs of the Vostok battalion, and more counter-terror operations for the local security forces controlled by the Kadyrovs.

As a practical matter, all the pro-Russian clans are guilty of criminal, and often quite brutal, behavior. This is a rough neighborhood, has been for thousands of years, and the Russians don't make it any less so by going native.




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