It remains to be seen whether or not the military conducts an operation on the whole territory of Chechnya
The federal center has been acting with ever increasing resolution in the Caucasus. On October 10, Premier Vladimir Putin announced that the security zone on the territory of Chechnya would be created not only where the troops are already stationed but “in other directions as well”. He says that the Russian authorities have made up their mind with regard to Chechnya. The objective is as follows: “extermination of gangs and absolute removal of the conditions in which they may reappear in Chechnya.”
“Our Armed Forces on the territory of our own country will move as they want and as ordered by the political leadership and government of the Russian Federation,” Putin said in the “Zerkalo” TV program (RTR or Russian Television) on Sunday. The premier stressed again that Chechnya was a territory of the Russian Federation. Putin said that hostilities in Chechnya would undoubtedly necessitate additional expenses, and these expenses would be covered by additional revenues involved, specifically, in the economic growth. According to Putin, additional expenses will in no way affect the development of the nuclear deterrent forces which remain a priority.
Talking about ways of putting Grozny under pressure, Putin emphasized that Moscow would use all means, “military and political”.
It is clear on the other hand that in the near future Moscow will mostly use force. In his Sunday interview with RTR, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev was quoted as saying that “If Chechens ask us to free Grozny of criminals, we will do so.”
Sergeev says that most losses, up to 40%, are attributed to “our own sloppiness and unskilled drivers” and not to combat as such.
Hence the question: will the federals be successful? The ground operation will be preceded by air-raids and artillery fire. Of course, this is what is carried out by officers who are better trained than soldiers, so the losses will be minimal and the success will be apparent. Unfortunately, losses in hostilities are inevitable, and they are being reported.
The federals are still looking for the pilots of the SU-25 ground-strafer and SU-24 frontal bomber which crashed in Chechnya on October 3 and 4. A source in the PR Department of the Russian group says that special ground teams were set up for the search. Reconnaissance craft are also on a lookout for the missing pilots, but their whereabouts are still unknown.
The Russian military says that on October 10 and 11 the aviation made seven air-raids. The SU-25 and SU-24 aircraft bombed commandos’ camps, roads, and bridges. Several trucks transporting commandos were destroyed. Three flights were made for reconnaissance purposes and for the purpose of looking for the missing pilots. Sources in the group headquarters say that over 2,000 flights were made against commandos since the beginning of the campaign.
Chechen sources say in the meantime that the federals are also trying a ground operation as well. On October 10 the feds tried to move deeper into Chechnya along the Goragorsky – Kalaus line (fifteen kilometers to he northeast of Grozny), according to Mumadi Saidayev, commander of the “operational directorate” of the Chechen armed forces.
Saidayev says that “the attack was broken in the battle that lasted almost four hours” and claims that both sides sustained losses. Sporadic hostilities have been taking place in the Shelkovsk district of Chechnya. Chief-of-staff of the Eastern Front Said Chupalayev appraises them as “contact battles.”
According to Chupalayev, “the most intensive clashes took place at the railroad station Chervlenaya-Uzlovaya and near the settlement of Chervlenaya itself.” Chupalayev says that Chechen “volunteers” burned a tank, a battle infantry vehicle, and two reconnaissance armored vehicles.
Chupalayev: Presently, the volunteers control access roads to the railroad station and outskirts of the Chervlenaya village.
He also says that the federal tanks and artillery quartered in the area are subjecting the right bank of the Terek to fire.
Vaja Ibragimov, director of the PR department of the so called operational directorate, says that over the last twenty-four hours the Russian aviation has been bombing Chechen territory particularly intensively. Most bombs are being dropped on the Grozny, Nadterechny, Urus-Martan, and Achkhoi-Martan districts. Long-range artillery is firing at the objects on the territories of the Nozhai-Yurt and Vedeno districts adjacent to Dagestan.
No independent sources confirm what Chechens are saying, so we cannot rule out the possibility that reports on the losses allegedly sustained by the federals are false. Still, defense minister’s recent statements concerning attack on Grozny may be viewed as indirect confirmation of preparations to a large-scale offensive.
Bad weather is possible and that means that the offensive may be postponed. If it does not begin one of these days, the federals may postpone it until spring so as to use the remaining time to exhaust the remaining commandos. Chechnya is already left without electricity. Sanitary cordons will prevent food transportation to the areas controlled by the commandos. In the meantime, isolation of Chechnya may result in new terrorist acts on the territory of Russia.
On October 10, President Aslan Maskhadov gave a press conference saying that he did not have plans of moving the war to Russia or any diversions there.
Maskhadov: We have never did it during the previous campaign when we were driven into the mountains. This time we do not plan to wage a war on noncombatants in Russia… But if the Chechen people is subjected to constant bombardments, situation may explode and become uncontrollable.
Maskhadov stressed that he did not “appoint Shamil Basayev or anybody else to high positions. Like all others, Basayev is fighting of his own volition.” The president added that “Khattab also participates in the battles against aggressors of his own volition entirely though he spends most of time with his relatives in Dagestan.”
Chechen leader believes that “this war will be different, because thousands and thousands of persons who lost their relatives are becoming volunteers.” He says that not a single terrorist was killed since the beginning of the hostilities “because there are none of them in Chechnya.”
Chechen authorities say that the number of “volunteers” reached 65,000. Deputy Premier Kazbek Makhashev was quoted as saying on October 10 that “nobody campaigns or brainwashes these persons. Now that we do not have electricity, virtually nobody can watch TV or listen to the radio.”
According to Makhashev, “most of the volunteers are those who lost their relatives and homes in the last war and in the air-raids now. Makhashev says that more than a thousand Chechens died since early September, and over 40 settlements were razed to the ground.
Despite it all, Maskhadov is prepared to negotiate because he is convinced that the problem can be resolved only by political means. Meanwhile, there are serious doubts that any federal structures will want to negotiate anything with Chechnya now.
Another war in Chechnya is a fact. Its duration will depend on resolution of the federal authorities. It is clear, however, that canons will never resolve the problem of separatism in the Caucasus. Only post-war restoration, economic aid, and a strong regime can root out terrorism and revive in Chechens the desire to remain in Russia.