The hopes of Mikhail Khodarenok’s Defense Ministry sources to rely more and more on small, highly mobile units of spetsnaz commandos seemed, by the end of June, to be increasingly misdirected. In direct contradiction to the analysis of these military experts, the rebels are now showing themselves capable of mounting prolonged combat operations involving scores or even hundreds of men. Tellingly, in late June the Russian army was forced to send back to Chechnya a heavy artillery unit that it had withdrawn from the republic only a few weeks earlier. According to an article by Andrei Riskin in the June 27 issue of Nezavisimaya gazeta, this embarrassing change of plans was forced by the “worsening situation in the southern part of the republic, where it seems that the ‘pinpoint’ operations of the GRU’s spetsnaz and of the Chechen units of the Yamadaev brothers [see Chechnya Weekly, June 12] have not brought any noticeable success.”
Riskin suggested that Russia’s military leaders had been counting on greater results from the amnesty announced early last month. They had thus put considerable effort into showering Chechnya’s forests and mountains with brochures encouraging the guerrillas to surrender. (The implication, though not directly stated by Riskin, is that Russia’s generals actually believed their own and their government’s propaganda; of course they are far from the first leaders in history, military or civilian, to make that mistake.) As it turns out, not only are the rebels refusing to surrender but they are now more and more often operating with combat units that are simply too large for Russia’s small commando detachments to handle. Thus, “in essence the [Russian] army is returning to conventional military operations.”
Riskin noted that on June 25 the upper house of the federal parliament passed a law providing supplementary funds of 3 billion rubles (about US$100 million) for the so-called “anti-terrorist operation.” He suggested that this was no accident.