The no. 13 (March 27-April 2) issue of the weekly Moskovskie Novosti carried a piece in which two of its journalists, Sanobar Shermatova and Rustam Khadikov, reported that, at the end of February, all of the leading field commanders of the Chechen separatists had gathered in a private house in the town of Argun, located east of Djohar (Grozny). Attending the meeting were the following field commanders “Shamil’ Basaev, Khattab, Arbi Baraev and the two Akhmadov brothers. Aslan Maskhadov was represented by his deputy, Vakha Arsanov. Ruslan Gelaev did not come [but] … was represented by a certain Shamukaev.” No one disrupted this important two-day-long meeting at which future military actions were discussed.
The no. 10 (March 23-29) issue of Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie contains a scathing article–“Victory Is, As before, ‘Beyond the Mountains'”–by military journalist Mikhail Khodarenok. The author, a perceptive Russian “hawk,” sharply criticizes the way the war has been conducted to date. “On the whole,” he concludes his analysis, “the initiative is now with the bandit formations.” Many rank-and-file rebels, he notes, live “daytime” and “nighttime” lives. During the day, they conduct “a lawful form of life” in Chechen settlements; they have even been given Russian internal passports. But, “the separatists are always ready at the command of their leadership immediately to gather at a previously designated spot.” Their weapons are concealed in hiding places located near their homes.
The “backbone” of the rebels, Khodarenok insisted, has most definitely not been broken. They continue to maintain heavily fortified bases in the mountains. “Their system of administration and communications have not been destroyed; their ideologists do not for a second cease their undermining activity; their system of receiving weapons, ammunition and medicine, plus the financial support of the bandit formations, remain inviolable. In terms of a conclusion, one can state only one thing: such a war will last for many more years.”