The Russian air force continued its bombing of targets in Chechnya yesterday. The military authorities, above all, want to weaken the Chechen guerrillas’ financial base, and therefore industrial installations belonging to them have been subject to bombardment. According to Russian intelligence, farms in the Vedeno region and a brick factory in the city of Gudermes, all belonging to rebel Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, have been destroyed, as have military training camps and industrial enterprises belonging to rebel field commander Khattab in Urus-Martan region. An oil refinery in the village of Kerla-Yurt and an oil storage facility in Meskher-Yurt were partially destroyed. The Chechen authorities claimed that as a result of the bombing in and around the capital Djohar, civilians were killed in the village of Staraya Sunzha–a claim the Russian military has denied (NTV, RTR, September 28).
The ceaseless air strikes in Chechnya have led to a mass exodus of the civilian population into neighboring Ingushetia and North Ossetia to the west and Dagestan to the east. The exact number of refugees is not clear: Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev estimated the number in his republic at 50,000, while other sources put the number at 10,000, with some 10,000 also in Dagestan. The situation is particularly difficult in Ingushetia, which normally has a population of around 200,000, including some 20,000 Ingush refugees from North Ossetia. (In 1992 there was an armed conflict between ethnic Ingush and Ossetians in the Prigorod region of North Ossetia.) The new influx of refugees into Ingushetia could have unpredictable consequences. The republic’s authorities are already talking about a “humanitarian catastrophe” and have appealed to the United Nations for help. This is probably why Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu flew to Ingushetia yesterday. Shoigu said that while he viewed the situation there as very complicated, he remains confident that a humanitarian catastrophe can be averted (NTV, ORT, Kommersant, September 28).
Overall, the situation in Ingushetia and Dagestan today is very nearly identical to the one immediately after the Russian air raids on Chechnya at the end of December 1994. The principle difference is that while during the Chechen military campaign of 1994-1996 refugees from Chechnya were free to enter both Ingushetia and Dagestan, today the authorities in those republics are screening the refugees, out of fear that Chechen fighters may be among them. Dagestan is taking a particularly hard line on this. The authorities in Makhachkala announced yesterday that they were ceasing to permit refugees from Chechnya to enter Dagestan. The decision was logical: According to intelligence information, Basaev and Khattab have trained several sabotage teams, which, disguised as Russian troops being deployed, will enter Makhachkala in trucks marked with the insignia of the Defense Ministry and Ministry of Interior internal troops, take as many hostages as possible and demand the withdrawal of federal troops. Two saboteurs who were trained in camps controlled by Khattab have already been captured in Ingushetia. Both of them–Nikolai Yepryntsev and Igor Miroshkin–are ethnic Russians (Kommersant, September 28).
CHECHNYA STRATEGY REMAINS UNSETTLED.