Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo firmly asserted last week that federal law enforcement agencies will take tough measures against alleged Chechen terrorists. The Federation Council upper chamber of parliament approved the minister's statements, but reactions have varied elsewhere.
The Interior Ministry's press service said that its checkpoints on the border between Chechnya and the rest of Russia have been attacked more than 20 times since May. Six interior troops officers were killed, as were 10 local police. Hardly a day goes by in districts bordering Chechnya without clashes, cattle theft or abductions.
Russians were shocked when a 4-year-old girl held hostage by Chechen kidnappers was freed three weeks ago. The girl, kept captive for several months, weighed just 10 kilograms when released from captivity. Abductions for ransom have become a common form of business in Chechnya.
The breakaway region has been rife with lawlessness and infighting between political forces since Russia pulled its troops out of the region in 1996, after a humiliating and unsuccessful two-year war meant to end seccession.
Various Caucasus organizations - such as the Congress of the Peoples of Dagestan and Ichkeria, which includes rebel Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev as one of its leaders - are now stepping up ideological campaigns against Russia. The Russia Journal's sources in the Russian intelligence services describe a flow of anti-Russian literature coming out of Chechnya. Much of it promotes the idea of a "Vainakh" [what Chechens call themselves and related Caucasian peoples] state uniting Chechnya with the Russian regions of Dagestan and Ingushetiya.
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov - who holds moderate views toward Moscow - does not have sufficient power within his state to control the situation. "Chechen society is based on a highly developed clan system," Interior Ministry press service director Vasily Pechnikov says. "Maskhadov's clan turned out to be weak. There are strong clans that he can't even hope to approach."
But Chechnya is not the only problem facing Russia in its attempt to calm the volatile caucasus region, which is set against a background of serious economic, social and political difficulties. The Russian media has dubbed the entire region a giant powder keg.
Pechnikov says force is not enough to bring some kind of rule-of-law to the region. "The priority is to bring Chechnya into the sphere of economic relations," he says.