It seems that it is still a long way to go before victory reports in Chechnya. When the federal center established control over majority of populated spots of the republic, and dispersed the militants, the war acquired a slowly dragging character. The federal losses are gradually losing the initiative. At present the main form of combat operations is reconnaissance, search, and destruction of isolated groups of militants. According to the headquarters of the united group of federal forces in Chechnya, 10 to 50 militants are daily killed in various districts of Chechnya on the average.
Russian military note that the main forces of militants are still concentrated in the Nozhai-Yurt and Vedeno districts of the republic. Here over 1,000 extremists are concentrated, including numerous mercenaries, who are commanded by Shamil Basaev and Khattab. Two groups of extremists commanded by Ruslan Gelaev operate in the Achkhoi-Martan and Urus-Martan districts of the republic.
Speaking about the militants’ operations Russian military note that field commanders coordinate their operations, and are trying to restore control over their dispersed forces. The federal headquarters says that “situation near the Chechen-Dagestani border remains difficult, and concentration of militants for preparation of a breakthrough into Dagestan is continued.” According to the military, up to 1,000 extremists are concentrated near the administrative border.
A part of militants, who operate in high mountains, is trying to establish control over the dominating heights in the Argun Ravine. The military say that “fearing location of their radio communication channels, extremists are operating mainly through couriers.” The military add that bandits are permanently moving in the mountainous districts of Chechnya to escape aviation and artillery, penetrate in small groups into populated spots to have a rest, and refill their reserves.
On April 15, former Georgian Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani announced that Chechen militants kept penetrating into Georgia via Dagestan, using bypass paths. Kitovani says that he has reliable information about a few attempts of militants hiding in the Pankiyskoe Ravine of Georgia into Chechnya. However, according to Kitovani, all these attempts were stopped by Russian armed forces. Kitovani adds that Georgian authorities are trying to hush these facts, and the extremely explosive situation in the Pankiyskoe Ravine, where about 10,000 Chechen refugees live on a compact territory, not to confront Russia or Chechen militants.
According to Kitovani, within two or three weeks the situation on the Chechen part of the Georgian-Russian border can get extremely aggravated, because the militants, who are sealed off in mountains, will try to break through into Georgia. Meanwhile, General Valery Chkheidze, the Chairperson of the Georgian State Border Guards Department, told journalists that by late May his department would arrange 12 additional border outposts on the Chechen part of the border with Russia.
Provocations have been happening on the border for a long time. On April 14, Colonel General Konstantin Totsky, the Director of the Russian Federal Border Guards Service, said that outposts and pickets of the border guards are attacked and fired at by Chechen militants almost daily. He added that “bandits are persistently searching for exit from the Argun Ravine to the Russian-Georgian border.” According to Totsky, since December 20, Russian border guards arranged “enough outposts and pickets, performed lots of operations for location of militants’ bases. They arrested five militants, and released seven people from captivity.”
However the situation is difficult not only in mountains. The headquarters of federal forces in Chechnya reported that the situation in Grozny also remains difficult. According to available information, there are still about 400 militants in the city. The extremists operate in groups of three to ten people, using underground communications for movement and subversions.
When spring started, and leaves appeared on trees the militants plan to unleash an active guerilla warfare against federal forces. A part of militants will obviously try to fled from Russia to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Already now all efforts of the militants result in losses of the troops and militia, which can be compared to the losses of the active phase of combat operations. This will go on for a long time, say not only Russian analysts, but also Western special services.
According to BND (German intelligence), the situation in Chechnya and in the whole Caucasus region “has got dangerously aggravated,” reports Welt am Zonntag with reference to top ranking officials of BND. According to the newspaper, last week, President of BND August Hanning spoke to the parliamentary control commission of Bundestag and outlined “the unvarnished state of affairs.” According to the newspaper, “Russians still do not control the situation in the crisis region.” In spring the war can expand over the neighboring regions of Russia and Georgia, say the authors of the report.
Chechen militants, who fight on the side of federal forces, also express very unpleasant opinions about the combat operations progress in Chechnya. Beslan Gantamirov, the senior deputy plenipotentiary of the federal government in Chechnya, says that, despite the statements made two months ago about accomplishment of the first stage of the anti-terrorist operation, the troops operation is not over yet, and combat operations in the villages located near the mountains, and in the mountains continue.
“I think that our expectations did not come true, and we lag three or four months behind the plan,” told Gantamirov to journalists at Khankala base of federal forces on Sunday. He added that within the next two or three weeks the Chechen militia would be activated, and after accomplishment of formation of its main units would enter the villages located near the mountains, and will take part in special operations. The plan is, says Gantamirov, that the Chechen militia will replace federal forces in Chechen villages. There is no doubt that the federal center will be able to arm the Chechen militia, but will this militia be able to control the situation?
According to Gantamirov, only approximately 650-700 of 2,500 people, who took part in combat operations under his command, were checked and enlisted with militia. The rest remain off the staff yet, and their fate will be defined within the next two or three weeks. Twenty five hundred of militia men is too little for 800 populated spots of Chechnya. the forces will be scattered, and there will be no effect. Of course, federal forces commanders understand this, and the Chechen militia will evidently be used in combination with federal troops, and commandant’s companies will be formed from them.
This way or the other, there is still a long way to go to complete defeating of militants and establishment of peaceful life in Chechnya. President-elect Vladimir Putin frequently said that Moscow would not negotiate with the militants. On April 14, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the assistant to the President, and the official spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, confirmed this stance. The statement of the Foreign Ministry, which was released because of the recent public statements of an official spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar about the Chechen problem, emphasizes, “We will not negotiate with terrorists.” The spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry stresses that “we cannot help being surprised by the call to suspend combat operations in Chechnya under the defeating of militants has entered the final phase.” The statement says that fulfillment of such demand “would play up to international terrorists, and prevent their final liquidation.”
Thus, Russia is demonstrating its will to finish off terrorism in the North Caucasus once and for all. It has to do this under conditions of severe international criticism, and in difficult economic circumstances. However, the new leadership of the country obviously sees no other way out.