- Chechen separatist gets political asylum in UK: Several media outlets comment on the decision of the British authorities to grant political asylum to Chechen emissary Akhmed Zakayev. Interfax reports that Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov has accused the British government of “double standards in its policy on terrorism”. Nezavisimaya gazeta notes that the Russian criticism was not particularly strong and comments that it will hardly result in any real deterioration of relations between the two countries. Gazeta publishes a front-page interview with Zakayev entitled “Insult of numerous victims”. The daily comments that Zakayev has confirmed his ongoing contacts with Aslan Maskhadov (Interfax, Gazeta, Nezavisimaya gazeta).
2 december 2003
- Chechen rebels to plan new acts of terrorism on eve of election?: Vremya novostei has published a front-page article entitled “Return of ‘black widows” reporting that according to information which leaked from Chechen special services, Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev sent several groups of female suicide bombers to Russian cities to hold terrorist attacks on the eve of Duma elections and New Year holidays (Vremya novostei).
3 december 2003
- Acting Chechen Prime Minister appointed: Yesterday Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov signed a decree authorising First Deputy Prime Minister Eli Isayev to perform the duties of the Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister Anatoly Popov is said to be ill and in need of medical treatment. Izvestia interprets the news as a sign of imminent resignation of Popov (Izvestia, Interfax, Vremya novostei).
4 december 2003
- Russia leads in number of citizens seeking asylum abroad: Kommersant writes that according to a recent UNHCR report, Russia is the world leader in terms of the number of its citizens seeking political asylum abroad. Most of Russian asylum seekers are residents of Chechnya (Kommersant).
- Large group of Chechen rebels surrenders: Forty-four Chechen rebels voluntarily surrendered yesterday saying they were willing to return to their families and jobs. RIAN quotes chief of the federal forces in the North Caucasus Ilya Shabalkin as saying that “their decision to surrender came in light of positive changes in the Republic that became even more dynamic after the adoption of the new Constitution and presidential election” (RIAN).
8 december 2003
- Death toll in suburban train explosion reaches 44: The death toll in Friday’s suburban train bombing in Yessentuki (Stavropol territory) has reached 44 people, 160 people have been injured, 8 of them are in a critical condition. The media quote President Putin as saying that the explosion “is undoubtedly an attempt to destabilise the situation shortly before the parliamentary election”. Justice Minister Yuri Chaika has said that Chechen terrorists were behind the bombing. The media note that as in the September train bombing in the Stavropol territory, terrorists once again targeted the so-called “students’ train”, over-crowded with students in the morning hours. Novye izvestia notes in a front-page article entitled “Untimely tragedy” that the authorities were incapable of counteracting terrorism, and tried to forget the tragedy as soon as possible (All media).
17 december 2003
- Ongoing anti-rebel operation in Dagestan: The media comment that Russian officials have made contradictory statements with regards to the rebel group that infiltrated Dagestan on Monday. Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that all hostages were released and six rebels near the village of Shaury were killed. According to the Dagestani Interior Ministry, the rebel group that invaded the Tsuntin region has been surrounded. However, information regarding the hostages has not been confirmed. A Dagestani Security Council official stressed that it might take a few more days to finish the anti-rebel operation in Dagestan, adding that the rebels, among which there may be foreign mercenaries, have split into several groups and are currently moving towards the administrative border with Chechnya. The media also report that a federal helicopter spotted part of the group near the village of Mokok yesterday, carrying out the killing of 8 rebels. (All media)
- Chechen refugees to return from Ingushetia camps next year, federal minister for Chechnya: Yesterday in Grozny, the Russian federal minister in charge of Chechnya Stanislav Ilyasov stated that the problem of returning refugees to Chechnya from tent camps in Ingushetia will be settled in the 1st quarter of 2004. According to Ilyasov, currently some 5,500 people live in tent camps and other 50,000 in private homes in Ingushetia, while some 200,000 displaced persons remain in Chechnya. (Interfax)
18 december 2003
- Rebels blocked in Dagestan: The chief of the North Caucasus military district’s staff Alexei Maslov stated yesterday that the rebels, who infiltrated Dagestan, have been blocked, and a total of 12 rebels were killed during the search operation which involves major army, police, border guard and Federal Security Service forces. The Dagestani Interior Ministry, however, said that police had not found a single rebel body in the mountains. According to a Tsunti district administration official, a group of the rebels is trying to escape to Azerbaijan, while the rest of the rebels are attempting to cross into Georgia or Chechnya. (All media)
- EU to provide further humanitarian aid to Chechnya: News agencies report that at a briefing yesterday, the EC Delegation has announced the allocation by the EU of 9.5 m euros in human aid for victims of the conflict in Chechnya. (Interfax, RIAN, Rosbalt)
- Kadyrov appoints new mayor of Grozny: (i) Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov signed a decree yesterday appointing Movsar Timerbayev as the new Mayor of Grozny. (ii) Also yesterday, Kadyrov underlined that a treaty between Chechnya and the federal centre would be signed by April 2004. (Interfax, Kommersant)
19 december 2003
- President Putin appears in call-in session, gets 1.5 million calls: Over 1.5 million calls were registered during a call-in session yesterday, in which President Putin answered citizens’ questions. Putin fielded some 70 questions, from welfare issues to military reform and taxation on the oil sector. (...)
Putin on fight against terrorism: Stating that international terrorism, which is supposedly active in Chechnya, intends to separate Muslim areas from Russia, Putin emphasized that Russia “must resist this if it does not want the country to disintegrate” (Channel One, all media)
22 december 2003
- Anti-rebel operation in Dagestan: According to the North Caucasus District Commander Vladimir Boldyrev, a contingent of 2,000 servicemen, including special forces, border guards and the Dagestani Interior Ministry personnel, was set up to eliminate Chechen rebels who infiltrated Dagestan last week. Aircraft and artillery units are also involved in the operation. Military officials said that up to 20 of the dozens of the rebels had been killed. (All media)
24 december 2003
- Russia to have almost 150,000 contract servicemen by 2007, Defence Minister: Inspecting the 76th airborne division’s base in Pskov yesterday, Defence Minister Sergei Iavnov stated that estimated 147,000 contract servicemen would serve in the Russian army over the next 4 years. He noted that the 42d motorized infantry division and the 46th internal troops brigade deployed in Chechnya will consist of only contract servicemen starting next year. (Interfax, Kommersant, Vremya novostei)
- Kadyrov calls for reinforcing Chechen borders: Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov underscored the need to reinforce Chechen borders in order “to prevent the possibility of guerrillas entering it, for example, from Georgia”. He also criticized the lack of coordination between special services operating in Chechnya and suggested that they should be put under the Chechen Interior Ministry’s control. (Interfax)
26 december 2003
- Acting Georgian President in Moscow: The media broadly report on a visit by Acting President Burjanadze of Georgia to Moscow on 24-25 December and her meeting with President Putin, pointing out that the visit was aimed at ending the deadlock in bilateral relations. Meeting Burjanadze, Defence Minister S. Ivanov reaffirmed that it would take at least 11 years to withdraw Russian military bases from Georgia and added that the situation in Georgia “affects Russia’s security”. Following a meeting with Burjanadze, Foreign Minister I. Ivanov called the current visa regime between Russia and Georgia “a temporary measure”. The media comment that Burjanadze has admitted that the passports found on some of the rebels killed in Chechnya had authentic Georgian visas. (All media)
- Presidential aide on Chechen separatists: At a press conference on 24 December in Moscow, Presidential Aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky stated that special intelligence forces eliminated 17 rebels in an operation near the Chechen town of Serzhen-Yurt in November, adding that it is impossible to establish the total number of rebels in Chechnya. He noted that Georgia is “a passageway for terrorists acting in Chechnya” and that there remains “a favourable atmosphere for forces supporting separatists and terrorists acting on the Russian territory” in Turkey. He also noted that Chechen rebel leader Basayev’s possible involvement in the recent bombings of a commuter train in Southern Russia and outside the National Hotel in Moscow is one of the main theories of the investigation. (All media)
29 december 2003
- Suspect in organising train bombings arrested: On Tuesday, while trying to organise a terrorist attack, the Chechen rebel Igragim Israpilov was arrested near the resort town of Yessentuki. Israpilov is suspected of organising the bombings of two suburban trains running between Kislovodsk and Yessentuki, and is also believed to be behind the bombing of the regional FSB headquarters in Ingushetia. Israpilov is quoted as saying that Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev has given orders “to conduct terrorist acts outside Chechnya” (Vremya novostei, Interfax).