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Opening Remarks at a Combined Meeting on Law Enforcement and Political and Economic Settlement in the Chechen Republic

July 5, 2000, Mozdok, North Ossetia

Vladimir Putin: Good evening.

We have met here today to discuss the situation in the Chechen Republic, to analyse it carefully in a calm and balanced way, to assess top-priority objectives that have come to our notice, and to determine the human resources and finances required for meeting them. My suggestion is that we first discuss the law enforcement aspect, its power-related component. It would also be worthwhile if you touch on the economic side of the matter in your reports. Tomorrow we are going to have a detailed discussion on these matters in Moscow with some ministers and heads of the fuel and energy sector. So if you have any remarks to make, you are welcome to do so.

A few points at the beginning. Over the recent period, particularly in the past eleven months, the republic has undergone cardinal changes. I think few expected the federal authorities to act in such a resolute way and the results to be so sweeping following last August’s invasion of the Republic of Dagestan by militant groups. But this is a fact. Our earlier figures pointed to their total strength being around 25,000 well-armed and mobilised men. Now their underhand attacks are few and far between, and counter-terrorist operations are localised mainly in the republic’s mountains. But even this phase is to end soon. It is bound to. We have no other choice. This is our responsibility to Russia and to the Chechen people.

What would I especially like to say? What do recent events show? To begin with, I would like to express my gratitude and acknowledgement to all those who have taken part in this difficult campaign here over the past few months and to those who were in charge of this campaign. It will be no exaggeration to say that Russian servicemen, interior ministry personnel and local people have fought heroically. Not only have they taken direct part in freeing their land from militants, terrorists and radical elements, but they have also worked to restore the good name of the Chechen people. They have repeatedly participated in liberating hostages and establishing law and order in Chechen villages, towns and cities, often at the cost of their own lives. We know all this and have no right to forget it.

We need to look at the situation realistically. True, there are no active hostilities underway. True, only special operations are carried out in a restricted mountain area. But I would like to tell the defence minister this: Mr Sergeyev, no one has relieved you of your duties as head of the counter-terrorist operation. So please stay on until special notice. All the others here must, no matter what department they belong to, strictly and precisely follow the orders of the defence minister as head of the counter-terrorist operation. Strictly and precisely.

I also want to warn the interior minister: you must act more decisively, consistently and persistently, in keeping with the changing situation. You need to act more boldly in establishing local interior bodies, more boldly and forcefully.

The other day the republic’s new leader and I talked on this subject, and he told me three or so weeks ago: “We know better where the real terrorists are ensconced, where the real militants are and where the religious extremists are.” Recent experience has shown that wherever interior staff was recruited from among local population, there were no large-scale tragedies. The criminals were wiped out as they approached. Local leaders know the situation better. Local people should be trusted more boldly and decisively in such responsible areas as the direct combat against terrorism and extremism.

I understand, of course, that this cannot be done overnight, but we should gradually abandon the practice of sending in large contingents of paramilitary police (OMON) and special rapid reaction units (SOBR) from other territories. It is necessary to set up local interior bodies, to deploy a brigade of interior troops rapidly and effectively so that it could operate on a permanent basis, with greater understanding of the local conditions, and in a more professional way than is sometimes practised today.

To be blunt, many losses can be avoided. What would we need for that? Discipline, professionalism, and responsibility. That is all. And whenever you think that these losses could really have been avoided, a simple and bitter conclusion suggests itself: those were unwarranted losses. And that makes them more bitter still. I want to draw your attention to this.

Gathered here are people who, risking their own lives, are helping the Chechen people to return to a normal life, are helping Russia to regain its feet. We have not gathered here to hold a “debriefing session”, as is fashionable to say now. Not at all. Let us analyse in a clear and sober way the situation as it is emerging in the republic. Let us outline tasks and allocate human and financial resources with which to fulfil these tasks with an eye to economic problems.

Present here is not only the new leader of the Chechen administration, but also leaders of neighbouring republics: Kabardino-Balkaria, Dagestan, and North Ossetia. Let us get down to work.

July 5, 2000, Mozdok, North Ossetia