Russia: December 19, 2002


  President Putin dismissed the general in charge of Chechen military operations. The dismissed officer, General Gennady Troshev, has been working at various jobs in the Caucasus for three years. The dismissal brings to the surface a long time feud between politicians and generals over how to deal with the Chechen situation. And that situation is basically one of how to deal with the banditry and Islamic militants that operate there, engaging in smuggling, kidnapping, drug dealing and anything else that will make money. When the Chechen gangs operate too enthusiastically in southern Russia, the local Russians get very upset. But when armed Islamic radicals began moving into Chechens neighbors to preach the formation of an Islamic republic in southern Russia, the government felt forced to respond militarily. That was three years ago, and several thousand Chechens continue to fight in southern Chechnya. Russian generals insist they can crush the Chechen rebels. But nearly 5,000 Russian troops have been killed in three years of fighting, and billions of dollars in additional military costs incurred. There are also tens of thousands of dead Chechens, hundreds of thousands of Chechen refugees and lots of bad press overseas. Some politicians suggest concentrating on the northern two-thirds of Chechnya, where more Russians live, along with Chechens who don't mind a little law and order, and Russian controlled government. The lower third of Chechnya, which is mainly mountains, would be abandoned and turned into a free fire zone if the bandits and Islamic warriors continued to operate there. The current Russian plan calls for a vote in Chechnya next year to approve, or not, a new Chechen constitution that would hand more power over to local Chechens, if they can control the gangsters and Islamic radicals. That is iffy, as the criminal gangs tend to be family and clan based and have been around for generations. 


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