The federal forces proceed with caution. Independent military experts do not rule out the possibility of large-scale provocation and battlesGENERAL EVALUATION
Fighting in Chechnya began in all earnest a month ago. Since then the federal troops seized almost half of the territory previously controlled by guerrillas. Nevertheless, only about one-fourth of the Chechen population resides in the liberated districts. The federal troops mostly took over the northern districts with a relatively high number of Russian-speakers usually loyal to Moscow.
In the meantime, it should be noted that the slow advance into Chechnya is attributed to the new tactic of the federal forces. The troops use raids and blockades. Active fighting against commandos is accompanied with complex social and economic steps on the liberated territories (something that was never done, or done only sporadically in the last campaign of 1994 – 96).
Colonel General Nikolai Koshman, Deputy Premier and Plenipotentiary Representative of the Russian Government in Chechnya, appointed heads of administrations of the three liberated districts: Anatoly Storozhenko in the Shelkovsk district, Sergei Ponomarenko in Naur, and Saiduli Khabiyev in Nadterechny. Koshman emphasizes that “the will of the people was taken into account” when the appointments were made. It is clear, however, that there are two Russians among the three appointees, even though Russian-speakers in northern Chechnya have never amounted to one-third of the population even in the Soviet Union.
Koshman used the media to denounce the rumors on some discord he allegedly had with Malik Saidullayev, chairman of the Chechen State Council formed in Moscow.
Koshman: We met with the chairman of the State Council and I cannot say there was any discord…
The range of the tasks to be implemented in the liberated territories was defined at the meeting.
What kind of tasks are they? According to the government, gas deliveries resumed to the liberated districts on November 1, and electricity became available again on November 4. Trains run in the direction of the Mozdok-Chervlenaya and Chervlenaya-Kizlyar again. The Russian Agricultural Ministry will soon deliver 640 tons of flour, almost 1,000 tons of grain, 660 tons of fuel for the sowing campaign, 50 tractors, and 20 trucks to the territories liberated from the extremists. The Health Care Ministry has already sent 4.5 tons of medicines there. The Education Ministry has sent 120,000 books and stationery for schools.
Sponsors’ assistance is accepted. Schools of the Nadterechny district will be equipped with the help of Pavel Borodin, Director of the Presidential Affairs Directorate. The movement Our Home is Russia and Viktor Chernomyrdin offered assistance to schools of the Shelkovsk district.
THE FEDERAL TROOPS AND THEIR COMBAT CAPACITIES
In the meantime, military actions remain the federal troops’ main task. According to official information, The Russian group in Chechnya comprises almost 90,000 servicemen of the Defense Ministry (see interview with Anatoly Kvashnin, Chief of the General Staff, with the newspaper “Zavtra”, No 43) and almost 30,000 of servicemen of the Internal Troops (according to Internal Troops Commander-in-Chief Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov). Since the commandos have only about 20,000 men without heavy weaponry, aviation, and so on, the federal troops are at a clear advantage.
The federal troops advance from three directions and have already liberated the left-hand bank of the Terek river. They have even approached outskirts of Grozny from the direction of Ingushetia along the Sunzha and Terek ranges. From the eastern direction, they left the Dagestani villages of Pervomaiskoye and Sovetskoye, crossed the border river Aksai, and seized the steppes in the Gudermes district.
Vicious fighting is reported in the northern and southern directions. The advance is slowed by hilly terrain with heights and number of buildings that commandos presently cling to.
In the meantime, the federal forces’ successful movement from the west to the east across the Gudermes district is explained by the virtual absence of settlements and endless steppes which have prevented Chechens from establishing fortified areas.
Having crossed the Terek to the north-east of Chervlenaya (where settlements are rare again), the federal forces have established a bridgehead on the right hand bank of the river and approached Gudermes. Meanwhile, we should not trust the assumption frequently voiced in the media, that commandos will soon be surrounded in Gudermes and Grozny. The Terek range is very close to the north-eastern outskirts of Gudermes. In the south, there is the mountain Gairan-Kort with forests. It seems that commandos fortified the heights surrounding the Gudermes, and they in turn cover the approaches to Grozny from the east.
THE HOSTILITIES: PROS AND CONS
The advance is slow. In the meantime, independent sources say that their strikes are frequently not precise. This assumption is indirectly confirmed by reports on the air-raid of a convoy on October 29 in which two UN executives allegedly died.
Reports on the events that took place in Grozny on October 21 are even less comprehensible. According to Beslan Tashimirov, Senior Prosecutor of the Checheh General Prosecutor’s Office, five missiles landed in the central part of Grozny killing civilians. The same was announced by Chechen President Maskhadov who said that the missiles were aimed at his residence.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry says that explosions at the market-place in Grozny are attributed “to an operation organized in Grozny by a special detachment with the locals’ assistance.” According to Valery Manilov, Senior Deputy Chief of the General Staff, “this was a clash between two Chechen gangs…”
Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin says that the explosions are a part of the campaign aimed to “discredit Premier Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit in the eyes of the international community.” On the other hand, Ilyukhin does not rule out the possibility that the explosions might have been organized by Chechens themselves “promoting far-reaching political goals.”
Let us face it: we will get the true picture of what really happened in Chechnya only twenty or thirty years from now from somebody’s memoirs. We can only assume that it was a special operation of some Russian security structures. The number of civilian victims is bad of course…
In any case, it is after the events of October 21 that Stroub Talbott first, followed by Secretary of State Madeline Albright herself began actively advocating an end of the conflict and promoted its settlement by “political means”. Russian Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry comment that the words of American politicians on the allegedly inadequate use of force in Chechnya “have little to do with what is really happening in the Caucasus”. Moscow’s actions are its domestic affair. Nevertheless, we have to take into account the opinion of the international community.
CONCLUSIONS AND PROGNOSES
The advance of the federal troops does allow some insight into future plans. Most probably, the western group will ring Grozny from the north-west to the south in the direction of Oktyabrskoye – Goity – Chechen-Aul. The eastern group will block commandos in Gudermes and will advance to Argun from the north and east so as to approach the Chechen capital from the south. The eastern and western groups will probably meet in the vicinity of Chechen-Aul.