On May 17, Russian forces in Chechnya sustained what Izvestia characterized as their largest losses in a single day this year. The newspaper and other Russian media reported that three policemen and eight soldiers were killed when two military vehicles were blown up on the outskirts of the village of Alkhan-Yurt in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan district. Izvestia, quoting the press center of Interior Ministry’s North Caucasus headquarters, reported that a truck carrying three policemen who were patrolling the Rostov-Baku highway was hit by a radio-controlled mine. Blast survivors exchanged fire with ambushing rebels before being killed. A group of Interior Ministry internal troops carrying out reconnaissance in an armored personnel carrier heard the explosion and shoot-out and rushed to the scene, only to hit another mine, which killed eight soldiers and wounded five. One soldier from the APC was reported missing, and a rebel website claimed he was taken prisoner. Izvestia noted that during the 14 months since the invasion of Iraq, U.S. forces have only once lost more men than did the Russian contingent in Chechnya on May 17: on April 6 of this year, 12 U.S. Marines died in an ambush by insurgents in the Iraqi town of Ramadi (Izvestia, May 18).
The Associated Press reported an even higher Russian death toll from the two May 17 ambushes. Citing an unnamed official in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, the news agency reported that at least 12 servicemen were killed in the attacks. AP also reported that seven Russian servicemen were killed in other attacks around the republic, including an explosion that killed three soldiers in a vehicle outside of Prigorodnoye on the outskirts of Grozny, the Chechen capital, and a mine that hit a military truck inside Grozny, killing two soldiers and wounding six. That would bring the Russian military death toll in Chechnya during the period of May 17-18 to at least 19 (AP, May 18).
Meanwhile, the man many observers believe will end up holding real, if not formal power in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, said in an interview published in Argumenty i Fakty on May 19 that the situation in Chechnya is “complicated” but “stable enough.” Asked by the weekly whether separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov or rebel field commander Shamil Basayev were behind the May 9 murder of his father, pro-Moscow Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov, the younger Kadyrov answered: “Maskhadov doesn’t have the power or bravery to resort to that. Maskhadov was afraid of my father. There are other forces. We know who they are.” Ramzan Kadyrov did not give any hint as to the identities of these “other forces.” On May 17, the Kavkaz-Center website published what it said was a statement by Basayev claiming that his forces had assassinated the elder Kadyrov in order to carry out a death sentence handed down by a “Sharia court.”