Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 222

Russian forces have been carrying out a massive bombardment on Djohar, the Chechen capital, using ground-launched rockets and aviation. According to eyewitnesses, the current attack is the most massive to date, even when compared with those carried out during the 1994-1996 military campaign. The city is in essence being destroyed completely: Not one building remains undamaged. Meanwhile, some 50,000 civilians remain in Djohar, the majority of whom are unable to leave the city due to the fighting and have been forced to take shelter in the basements of destroyed apartment buildings (BBC, November 30).

The intensity of the current offensive is explained by the fact that the Russian authorities would like to take control over the entire Chechen lowlands before December 20. Having factored in the tragic results of the January 1995 attempt by federal forces to storm the Chechen capital, then called Grozny, the Kremlin has changed its strategy: Federal forces are avoiding direct confrontations with the Chechen insurgents, preferring to launch artillery barrages from a distance, which inevitably increases the number of victims among the civilians. The Kremlin had initially hoped that massive shelling and aerial bombardment of the capital would force the civilian population to leave Djohar, which would clear the way for the federal forces to destroy the city completely. It is now clear that a majority of civilians in the capital are not in any condition to leave, yet the Kremlin has decided to continue its massive bombardment regardless (BBC,, November 30).

The large number of civilian casualties is arousing sharp criticism from the international community, including the recent comment from International Monetary Fund Director Michel Camdessus that the fund might withhold credits to Russia because of the military campaign in Chechnya. Official Moscow reacted negatively to Camdessus’ comments, calling them interference in Russia’s internal affairs (Russian agencies, November 27, 30; see the Monitor, November 29).

Meanwhile, the Chechen rebels are trying to force the Russian military to change its tactics. Chechen fighters have been stepping up their resistance to the Russian forces’ advances, using guerrilla tactics to do so–setting up points of ambush along the routes the federal forces will likely use and mining the roads. They have been using all types of weaponry to fire on federal jet aircraft and helicopters, including high-caliber anti-aircraft machine guns. Their most intense resistance is centered in the region of Urus-Martan, southwest of Djohar. Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev recently declared that the Russian forces will not be able to avoid a direct confrontation with Chechen guerrillas, and that all Russian volunteers (as opposed to draftees) who are captured by the Chechens will be summarily executed (Russian agencies, November 30).