On February 17, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced that the military phase of the third, final stage of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya would soon be over, due to the new tactics of combat operations used by Russian forces in the mountains. He stresses that Russian forces in Chechnya use the tactics of “remote war, beneficial for us and extremely unprofitable for the bandits.” Sergeev explained that bandits are killed remotely by artillery and aviation through attacks on previously located targets.

According to the military, the main combat operations are conducted in the Itum-Kale, Argun, and Vedeno Districts. These districts are separated by mountain ridges, and we can say that militants have organized a point defense in the mountains. On the one hand, this simplifies killing of bandits; on the other hand, it requires constant and intensive use of aviation, mainly helicopters, which are good targets. Obviously this explains the destruction of an Mi-8 helicopter with 15 troopers on board last Friday. Details of their deaths are not known yet, because, reports the Defense Ministry, battle has been raging there for days.

After the blocking of the main transport routes from the south delivery of ammunition and weapons to the militants is hindered. However it would be unjustified to say that militants will have fewer weapons and ammunition, and hence the casualties will be reduced, and the troops will be withdrawn from Chechnya soon.

On January 19, Colonel General Valery Manilov, the Senior Deputy Chairperson of the General Staff, announced that despite destruction of a large bandit detachment near Grozny the group of Russian forces was not reduced yet. The strength of the federal forces group which is conducting the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya currently totals about 93,000. “We are performing only the planned replacement of the personnel,” added Manilov.

According to Manilov, removal of troops from Chechnya will be started only after liquidation of a large group of militants in the Shatoi District and in the area of the Argun Gorge. According to Manilov, in this area up to 7,000 of extremists including many mercenaries oppose to federal forces.

According to operational information, the bandits prepare to break through the blockade of federal forces near Itum-Kale on the side of Georgia (up to 1,000 people). Separate groups of militants perform reconnaissance by attacking to find weak points in the defense of Russian forces.

Meanwhile, President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia considers the accusations against Georgia made by the Russian military (that there are currently 400 to 1,000 Chechen militants on Georgian territory) to be unjustified. In his interview with journalists on February 21, he said that such accusations were frequently voiced by the Russian military, but they were not confirmed. According to Shevardnadze, there are really up to 7,000 Chechen refugees in Georgia. “Among them were some wounded, but they have been treated,” added Shevardnadze.

Valery Chkheidze, the Georgian Border Guards Commander, also reported to journalists that the suspicions of his Russian counterpart that there are Chechen militants in Georgia “are incomprehensible.” Along with this, Russian special services frequently noted that the militants who retreat from Chechnya are gathering in Georgia.

Russian special services also have reports about intensification of the information and propaganda campaign of Chechen representatives abroad, in particular, in Georgia. As an example they mention the active work of the Chechen information center in Georgia headed by Surho Idiev. Sources in the special services report that the “Caucasus Accent,” “Chechen Truth,” and “Peaceful Caucasus” published by the center had “an evident anti-Russian attitude.” They note that “Chechen representatives have free access to Georgian radio.”

The Argun area is the main direction, because it is connected with Georgia, and there are secret paths here leading to Georgia. However there is also a difficult situation in the Vedeno District. There federal forces sealed off Hatuni, Kirov-Yurt, and Elistanzhi villages. These villages are located in the gorges through Bass and Elistanzhi rivers flow. Through mountain roads they are connected with the Vedeno Gorge, that is the militants could either break through or retreat to the east. To the west from these villages there are large mountains and forests. Meanwhile this terrain can serve as a good shelter, and enables the militants to break through to Duba-Yurt and Chishki, where active combat operations are currently conducted.

According to the Chechen staff, due to tactical reasons the separatists removed their forces from Duba-Yurt and Vashtar river. The Chechen staff notes that thus the defense zone is narrowed and moved inside of the Argun Gorge. According to the militants command, clashes continue in the mountainous zone in southern Chechnya. the main battles are going on six kilometers to the west of Horsenoi. Thus so far federal forces impose their initiative on the militants.

Meanwhile, there is still a danger of breaking of the militants through to the plains part of Chechnya. This is very dangerous for federal forces, because there are also disguised militants on the plains. On February 21, Interior Forces Commander Vyacheslav Tikhomirov announced that, according to estimates, the bandit detachments remaining in Chechnya are about 5,000 strong. According to Tikhomirov, two thirds of these militants hide in the mountains, and one third remains in populated spots. Due to this Tikhomirov pointed at the necessity of more active operational measures for disclosure of the militants hiding in the populated spots.

Sources in the Interior Ministry report that yesterday the operational situation in the liberated districts of Chechnya remained tense. Despite that in majority of districts combat operations were stopped, the militants hiding under disguise of civilians continue provocations against federal forces. For example, on Sunday two grenades were thrown into the yard of the Federal Security Service branch in Naurskaya settlement. Fortunately, there were no casualties.

According to the press center, on February 20 the Interior Ministry checked about 17,000 of residents of Chechnya, and arrested 72 people including five militants, and three criminals. Thus, according to operational information, in Avtury settlement two active participants of militant detachments were arrested. The propaganda work with the local population also brings its fruits, reported the press service. On February 20, local residents voluntarily gave up a grenade launcher, an automatic rifle, and five hunting rifles.

The situation in Grozny is stabilizing. Until March 1 entrance to the city and departure from it will be forbidden for civil population. During this time it is planned to totally liberate the city from the militants, and clear it city from mines. Interior Forces and OMON are patrolling the streets, and checking the passport regime. For the local population canteens are organized. The restored bakery started operating, but there is still a problem with water supply.

Along with the combat operations the federal authorities in Chechnya also prepare the military infrastructure. Colonel General Manilov reported that after accomplishment of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya a mechanized infantry division of the defense Ministry, a brigade of Interior Forces, a border guards detachment, and units of other security agencies would be permanently deployed in Chechnya.

On February 21, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev already visited one of the units which could be permanently stationed in Chechnya. this is the 205th mechanized infantry brigade of the Defense Ministry currently deployed in Budennovsk (Stavropol territory) which participated in combat operations in Chechnya in 1994-1996.

About 1.5 billion rubles is to be spent on arrangement of the military infrastructure. This is almost one third of the planned expenditures on the civil settlement of Chechnya.

According to Senior Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov, the major part of budget assignments of 1999 and 2000 is spent on the payment of wages to servicemen in the zone of combat operations. On account of additional budget revenue in 1999, 5 billion rubles was to be assigned on the combat operations in the North Caucasus. Kasianov reported that the budget for 2000 did not have a special item for expenditures on combat operations in Chechnya, but such assignments will be paid in full. “All financing of the combat operations in the North Caucasus is currently done within the framework of the budget for 2000,” concluded Kasianov.

Meanwhile, speaking on February 21 in Moscow to senior officers of security agencies Acting President Vladimir Putin announced that the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya “will be seen through to its logical conclusion,” to the complete liberation of the republic from terrorists, and to the complete restoration of the territorial integrity of Russia.