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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bloody Internecine Conflict

As the war in Iraq was developing, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's chief spokesman on Chechnya, told journalists that Moscow's staunch support of the Iraqi regime could help solve the Chechen problem by "consolidating the people" of the rebellious republic. Yastrzhembsky, it seems, was implying that if Osama bin Laden and other Muslim extremists were supporting Saddam Hussein in his fight with the United States, Chechen rebels (who are known to have connections with al-Qaida) would appreciate Russia's pro-Hussein stand, cease resistance and join the pro-Moscow forces.

Of course, this was just daydreaming. Some factions in the Chechen resistance may accept aid and use volunteer Muslim extremist fighters from abroad, but the main source of Chechen resistance is internal. And primarily it is a product of the constant (and unpunished) attacks by death squads run by Russian intelligence services, which allegedly kidnap and kill Chechens who are suspected of helping the resistance. It is exacerbated by the marauding of undisciplined federal soldiers.

The Chechen resistance is not and never was an al-Qaida import -- a fact the Kremlin has failed to acknowledge. Actually, the official Chechen rebel leader, President Aslan Maskhadov, announced last March that he fully supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The official propaganda machine, steered by Yastrzhembsky, has year after year been pushing the idea that the Chechen people love Russia and that foreign mercenaries are running the insurgency. As is often the case, the creators of this propaganda narrative have started to believe their own hyperbole.

Last March, Moscow organized a referendum in Chechnya to approve a new constitution for the republic within the framework of the Russian Federation. It produced a staggering Soviet-style result: 96 percent in favor. If the plebiscite's results in any way reflected reality, there would be no support base for serious, organized resistance in Chechnya. But the vote has not stopped rebel attacks.

This week, in a suicide attack in Znamenskoye, northern Chechnya, a truck laden with explosives blew up outside a government compound. At least 55 people were killed, including six children under the age of 12, by a blast that had the force of at least 1.3 tons of TNT. The attack destroyed a regional pro-Moscow administration building in Znamenskoye and severely damaged the local office of the FSB, which is in overall charge of the campaign in Chechnya. Several private houses nearby were also ruined by the blast. The victims were pro-Moscow government employees, Russian FSB operatives and local residents.

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Znamenskoye is the center of Chechnya's Nadterechny region. Since 1991, this region has opposed the separatist leaders in Grozny and openly stated its allegiance to Moscow. OSCE representatives and human rights organizations allowed into Chechnya by the federal authorities were in recent years based in Znamenskoye as it was considered the safest place in the wartorn republic.

It would seem from the brutality of the rebel truck-bombing in Znamenskoye, which was performed with very little concern for innocent, civilian Chechen lives, that it was planned not only as an attack on the FSB, but also as collective punishment for the pro-Moscow Chechens. As the conflict continues, the bitter divisions within Chechnya grow (as Wednesday's suicide bombing in Ilaskhan-Yurt further demonstrates). The rebels target pro-Moscow Chechens with the same ferocity as Russian soldiers, increasingly using such indiscriminate weapons as truck-bombs.

But still a sizable share of the Chechen population continues to support the rebels. A Russian occupying force of more than 80,000, backed by more than 10,000 pro-Moscow Chechen militia men, is unable to break the rebel organization. The rebels still manage to perform well-rehearsed attacks, like the one in Znamenskoye. It would seem that Russian informers have not managed to penetrate deep into their ranks.

The rebel organization has an efficient staff that plans attacks and gathers intelligence information. And they have devoted hit squads to perform attacks, including suicide assaults.

The organization also seems to be increasingly militant, and Russian support for Hussein did not amuse the rebels at all. If the rebels do not care much about killing Chechens en masse, including innocent civilians, what in the future will prevent similar devastating truck-bomb attacks inside Russia -- even inside Moscow?

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.