Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 145

The situation in Chechnya remains extremely tense, with the rebels continuing bombings and hit-and-run attacks on federal checkpoints, positions, automobile and armored columns, and small groups of servicemen and Interior Ministry personnel. Agence France Presse (AFP) quoting Movladi Udugov, the rebels’ main ideologist, reported that several hundred rebel fighters attacked a column of federal forces near Serzhen-Yurt in southeastern Chechnya yesterday. Udugov claimed that the attackers killed several dozen Russian officers and enlisted men and destroyed Russian armor. Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Chechnya, denied that the attack took place and accused AFP of serving the rebels’ interests. Yastrzhembsky, who has criticized AFP in the past on the same grounds, said that the agency should change its name to “Udug-France-Presse.” The agency reported that a similar attack took place the previous day in the Chechen capital Djohar [Grozny], killing three special Interior Ministry troops and wounding seventeen (AFP, Russian agencies, July 24-25). Meanwhile, a Russian television channel yesterday reported that rebels had detonated a bomb near a column of OMON special police troops located near the village of Novye Atagi, killing four Russian servicemen and wounding three (NTV, July 25).

These latest attacks were by no means isolated incidents. On July 21, an automobile carrying Russian troops was attacked in the Chechen capital. Three servicemen were killed and three wounded. A pick-up truck was blown up in the Shali region of Chechnya, killing four policemen. Rebel forces continued to concentrate in the Chechen lowlands amidst persistent reports that they plan to mount attacks on major Chechen cities and towns, including Djohar, Gudermes and Argun. The situation along Chechnya’s border with Dagestan also remains tense. Armed separatists were reported to be on the move in the mountains on the Chechen side of the border, and seemed poised to carry out guerrilla-terrorist attacks inside Dagestan. Federal aviation bombed rebel positions along the border with Dagestan and in the Argun Gorge (Nezavisimaya gazeta, Radio Liberty, July 22).

The Chechen rebels also appear to be trying to extend their military operations beyond the North Caucasus. On July 18, officers of the Volgograd branch of the Federal Security Service and anti-organized crime unit detained members of criminal group who were planning to bomb the railway station in Volgograd, among other targets. The suspects–including both ethnic Russians and Caucasians, aged 25 to 45–and were discovered to have false passports, more than three kilograms of explosives, four electronic detonators and one device for triggering them from afar. Investigators said that the suspects, several of whom were Volgograd Oblast residents, may have been involved in the May 31 bombing near the barracks of the 255th motorized regiment in Volgograd, in which two solders from a military-construction unit were killed and ten wounded. The perpetrators of the attack escaped immediately afterward, but the law enforcement authorities reported that Chechen fighters were involved. Yet among those captured over the weekend there were neither professional sappers nor explosives specialists, nor persons driven ideologically by the goal of Chechen independence. Indeed, according to one law enforcement source, all those arrested are ordinary bandits who make a living carrying out contract killings. It is interesting to note that their contract this time appears to have been taken out by Chechen separatists (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 22).