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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Gets OK to Strike Abroad

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who last week was charged with reshaping the armed forces to better combat terrorism, said the military will be given the power to carry out strikes abroad, including on terrorist bases and other locations where individuals suspected of sponsoring terrorism could be hiding.

The armed forces will commission the development of high-precision weaponry capable of "extensive destruction," he said in an interview published Tuesday in Izvestia.

"All this may be stunning," Ivanov said. "But a war has been virtually declared on us. It has neither fronts nor borders nor a visible enemy. But this is a war."

Ivanov said the development of this new weaponry comes as part of the changes in the operational plans of the armed forces that he intends to introduce in response to President Vladimir Putin's directive of Oct. 28.

Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the independent, Washington-based Center for Defense Information, said Russia is not breaking new ground.

"Russia is not discovering America," he said, but rather is following the U.S. lead by planning to "legitimize" strikes against terrorists abroad. Safranchuk referred to the case when a missile fired by an unmanned CIA drone aircraft hit a car believed to be carrying suspected al-Qaida members in Yemen on Sunday and killed several occupants.

Georgia is the most obvious target of Russia's new strategic direction, he said.

Ivanov said the planned use of the armed forces abroad would "depend on the level of involvement of foreign states" in terrorist acts against Russia.

As for the use of military force within Russia, the planned changes provide for army units and airborne troops to assist units of the Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry in interdicting terrorist groups, the defense minister said. Despite the army's involvement, the FSB will continue to bear the prime responsibility for battling terrorism, he said.

The Defense Ministry will also boost security at military facilities, reinforcing rapid reaction units set up to defend these facilities from terrorist attack, Ivanov said. Also, combat training will be modified to reflect the lessons learned from the recent terrorist acts and the guerrilla war waged by Chechen rebels.

Speaking on Oct. 28 in the wake of the hostage-taking crisis, Putin also ordered Ivanov to draft amendments to the national security concept approved in January 2000 so as to adapt the armed forces for anti-terrorist missions. The president implied that Russia will use weapons of mass destruction in response to acts of catastrophic terrorism even if the terrorists and their sponsors are located outside Russia.

Putin's directive came after Chechen separatist representative Akhmed Zakayev had warned that some independently operating groups of the Chechen rebels could storm a nuclear facility after having seen the hostage-taking raid fail to compel the Kremlin to withdraw its forces from Chechnya.

Ivanov said his agency was working with the Foreign Ministry and other agencies to draft amendments to the national security concept. Other agencies also will be brought into the process, he said, and the first draft will be ready within a month.

Safranchuk said he was puzzled that the president's Security Council and the FSB are not leading the effort to amend the security doctrine. The FSB remains the lead counter-terrorism agency, while it was the Security Council, under Ivanov, which drafted the existing security concept shortly after Putin took over from Boris Yeltsin.

Safranchuk said he doubted that the armed forces would actually resort to "public use" of what Ivanov has defined as "weapons of extensive damage" across Russia's borders, even if there is firm evidence of terrorist infrastructure abroad. He predicted, however, that the air force might continue to occasionally bomb suspected bases of Chechen rebels in Georgia without acknowledging these strikes. In addition to Georgia, Russian planes also bombed Islamic militants during their incursions into Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000.

Safranchuk noted that the armed forces lack long-range high-precision systems to deliver surgical strikes against terrorist infrastructure located thousands of kilometers away. However, the Kremlin will still use the planned changes to put pressure on those countries that it accuses of harboring Chechen separatists, such as Georgia.

Ivanov's interview hit the newsstands hours before the federal command announced it had blown up three apartment buildings near the Khankala airbase in Chechnya, saying that Chechen rebels had fired air-to-surface missiles at helicopters from there. The residents of these buildings failed to inform the military about the pending launches of the missiles, including one that downed a helicopter on Sunday, and the buildings had to be destroyed to prevent their future use by rebels, a federal command spokesman told Interfax.

No one was reported hurt. The head of Chechnya's pro-Moscow government, Stanislav Ilyasov, told Interfax that only one of the three building had people living in it and that they would be given new apartments.

Putin, who was in the southern city of Maikop on Tuesday, told the head of Chechnya's pro-Moscow administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, that "anti-terrorist operations" in Chechnya will be surgical, Interfax reported.