Growing frequency of destruction of military helicopters in Chechnya shows that the war in Chechnya is entering a hotter stage more effective for the militants. It is already clear that the federal center controls the situation in the republic only nominally, and arming of the militants with portable surface-to air missiles (SAM) shows that they have stable channels for weapons and ammunition supply.
There are several versions explaining where from the militants receive weapons. For example, Colonel General Vladimir Moltenskoy, Commander of the United Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, says that the weapons could have remained since the “turbulent” period of 1991, when Chechnya “privatized” an entire mechanized infantry division deployed in the republic. At that time there were at least 150 portable SAMs in depots of the division. These SAMs were equipped with a friend-or-foe identification system and the militants could not hack into this system for a long time, launching the missiles at Russian aircraft in vain. Sources in Khankala state that this secret has been revealed, and new losses of helicopters and airplanes are possible.
Moltenskoy adds that, according to operational information, the militants have a few other portable SAMs of this class, although in winter federal forces confiscated and destroyed 18 such systems in various regions of the republic. The general emphasizes that statements saying that the SAMs could be stolen by the terrorists from the military ammunition depots are at odds with facts.
“We immediately sent all manufacturer’s numbers to the Defense Ministry and received an answer that these numbers were not registered with the Armed Forces,” explains Moltenskoy. Along with this, Moltenskoy says that it is too early to draw definite conclusions regarding delivery of these weapons from the Pankiss Gorge in Georgia. “These may be the old remnants,” emphasizes the general.
The Commander notes that in Chechnya the United Group of Forces in the North Caucasus is taking measures for destruction of bases and secret hideouts of the militants. He calls this task one of priorities at the current stage, bearing in mind the wish of the militants to accumulate reserves of weapons and food for the autumn-winter season.
There are also other versions explaining appearance of portable SAMs in Chechnya. For instance, journalist Alexander Grigoryev of Trud newspaper referred to an official spokesperson for the United Group of Forces in the North Caucasus in Chechnya who allegedly said that a relatively big batch of portable SAMs had been delivered by the gang of Hassan, which broke through from Georgia to the Itum-Kale District on July 27. The gang was dispersed, but the militants managed to get hold of six SAMs. Besides, since the first Chechen campaign there are heavy machine guns mounted on ordinary trucks in the arsenal of the militants.
Possible theft of the SAMs from ammunition depots of the North Caucasus Military District is also not ruled out. The version saying that the weapons were delivered from a CIS country (Izvestia) is also being checked. It is reported that the Russian military allegedly even knows the number of the military unit of the country from which the SAMs were supplied to Chechnya, but abstains from comment.
Meanwhile, the military officials take organizational measures aimed at improvement of effectiveness of the army aviation. For example, mass media reported that the Command decided to include army aviation of the Ground Forces into the Air Force as a separate formation. Colonel General Nikolai Kormiltsev, Commander of the Ground Forces, commented on this decision, “I support this decision, because I think that one branch of the Armed Forces should be responsible for airspace.” Meanwhile, a source in the Defense Ministry reports that it is planned to reduce the aviation department of the ground Forces by 65% and to include it into the headquarters of the Air Force.
The PR service of the Defense Ministry did not confirm this information, but only reported that this issue was being considered. Moreover, any reductions of the army aviation are not being discussed. Meanwhile, according to the statement of a representative of the army aviation who wished to remain anonymous, re-subordination of army aviation to the Air Force will not solve the problem related to improvement of survivability of combat helicopters. The troops need new helicopters. A danger that helicopters and airplanes may be downed remains.
Thus, people are getting killed in Chechnya, airplanes are shot down, and there is a real war going on in Chechnya still. This war will evidently drag on for a long time, because the federal center thinks that there is no other way out but for extermination of the militants to the end.