MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yuri Filippov.) - Federal and Chechen authorities have apparently managed to defuse a potentially explosive situation on the Chechnya-Dagestan border that deteriorated badly after hundreds of the residents of Borozdinovskaya fled their homes for Dagestan.
On June 4, the village was subjected to what is euphemistically known as "cleansing" - a joint military and police operation to check the IDs of those present. The cleansing left one man dead, 11 missing, and four houses destroyed. When villagers pressed the local authorities to investigate, it turned out that personnel of the Chechen-manned Vostok battalion were involved. The battalion is part of the 42nd Russian Army and is responsible for security and counterterrorist operations in the eastern part of Chechnya, which borders on Dagestan. According to the victims, who are ethnic Avars - the dominant group in multi-ethnic Dagestan - the Chechen unit swept the village after the father of one of the soldiers was killed. However, other versions have also been put forward.
If the villagers return home, the region will probably avoid a flare-up of large-scale violence, the threat of which has loomed large in this area of the North Caucasus for several weeks.
However, this does not mean that all the problems would disappear. Although the probe into the Borozdinovskaya incident is far from finished, it is obvious that the cleansing operation fits a long trend that the authorities have officially banned but that they know full well is widespread. Dmitry Kozak, the presidential representative in the North Caucasus, admitted that "it is unknown who conducted the punitive operation." On the one hand, it was clearly not Chechen militants, while on the other hand, they were not quite federal forces, although federal forces failed to prevent the cleansing and have yet to arrest the perpetrators.
Kozak promised that lessons would be learnt from the incident, primarily lessons of what he called "law-enforcement management" both in Chechnya and in Russia as a whole. Earlier, Chechen President Alu Alkhanov and Vice Premier Ramzan Kadyrov, also head of law enforcement in Chechnya, called for stringent command unity in conducting operations involving police and the military. It remains to be seen whether future actions will live up to these undoubtedly correct words.
"The fight against terrorism including the use of illegal practices," which Kozak opposes in earnest, has been underway in Chechnya for many years. According to presidential advisor Aslambek Aslkhanov, "armed formations operating under the protection of certain federal officials are involved in numerous killings and abductions that take place during illegal mop-ups."
The Memorial Foundation has information on a thousand people who have gone missing during such "special operations", and now it seems that the authorities have begun to tackle the problem. Assessing the Borozdinovskaya incident, Kozak pointed to a need for measures to make a repeat impossible. The Russia authorities are very keen that the Borozdinovskaya mop-up operation should be the last one in Chechnya. However, achieving this will be even more difficult than persuading the villagers to return home.