Federal forces in Chechnya are on the verge of completing a total blockade of the republic’s capital. The plan represents a significant tactical difference between this campaign and that of 1994-96, and Chechen civilians seem to be paying the price for it. As of now, only a two-kilometer gap remains in the ring of troops surrounding Djohar. The city came under its heaviest bombardment so far in this campaign yesterday. According to the Russian military, the home of field commander Shamil Basaev was destroyed in the shelling, and several of his bodyguards were killed (NTV, October 27).
The Russian forces have not, during this campaign, attempted to occupy Chechen population centers immediately, as they did in 1994-96. They have instead been blockading them, methodically targeting suspected concentrations of Chechen fighters for rocket and bomb attacks. The tactic has allowed the federal forces to keep their own losses to a minimum. It has, however, greatly increased losses among the civilians trapped in those population centers by the blockades.
This problem was discussed during a televised roundtable of journalists devoted to coverage of the current conflict hosted by NTV moderator Yevgeny Kiselev. Among those who participated in this discussion were foreign journalists accredited in Moscow, who argued that the Russian mass media have not been covering the current conflict objectively and have said practically nothing about the loss of civilian life (NTV, October 26).
Yesterday, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev visited the military headquarters for the operation in Chechnya, which is located in Mozdok, in the neighboring republic of North Ossetia–a visit possibly connected with Kremlin plans to complete this second stage of its military operation in Chechnya.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov–also yesterday, while on a visit to Paris–addressed the questions raised by the foreign journalists concerning coverage of the Chechen conflict. Ivanov said that an information war as well as a military one is going on in Chechnya. Western mass media, he said, is disseminating tendentious information concerning the destruction of homes and loss of life among civilians and that public opinion in the West is being formed on the basis of these reports, which in turn is exerting pressure on Western governments (NTV, October 26).
IVANOV WARNS OF MEDIA “DISINFORMATION” AS WORLD CRITICISM OF CHECHNYA BUILDS.