Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 23

On February 1, the Chechen armed formations defending Djohar, the breakaway republic’s capital, left the city and headed into the mountains. On the way out of the city, the rebels engaged Russian units, and two well-known rebel field commanders, Khunkarpasha Israpilov and Islambek Ismailov, were killed. In addition, a car ferrying Shamil Basaev–one of the most influential Chechen rebel field commanders–and Djohar Mayor Leche Dudaev–nephew of the late Djohar Dudaev, Chechnya’s first president–out of the city hit a mine. Dudaev was killed in the blast and Basaev was severely wounded. Doctors were forced to amputate one of Basaev’s legs (NTV,, Radio Liberty, February 1; see the Monitor, February 1).

This report should be considered nothing short of sensational. That the Chechen rebels left Djohar is in itself no surprise, given that the rebels themselves conceded that they would have to leave the capital sooner or later and carry on their fighting in the mountains. In February 1995, during the first military campaign in Chechnya, the rebels managed to leave the city with very nearly no losses. This time, however, a key rebel leader was put out of action.

Shamil Basaev was the commander of the June 1995 operation to seize the town of Budennovsk in Stavropol krai, and went on to become one of the most influential of the Chechen field commanders. His popularity was comparable to that of Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen army’s chief of staff who went on to become the republic’s president. Khunkarpasha Israpilov participated in both the Budennovsk raid and the January 1996 raid on the Dagestani town of Kizlyar, in which Chechen field commander Salman Raduev and his forces took several hundred hostages. Islambek Ismailov was in charge of the defense of the Chechen capital.

The death of these two field commanders, and the fact that many Chechen fighters did not manage to circumnavigate Russian checkpoints while leaving the city, indicates that the federal forces managed for the first time to effectively encircle the rebels. This achievement could change the entire course of the war in Moscow’s favor. If the federal forces manage to blockade the rebel forces in the mountainous regions, the rebels, robbed of food and ammunition, will eventually be forced to give up. On the other hand, it is still early to speak of an impending victory for Moscow, given that the Russian forces will be at a disadvantage in fighting the rebels in the mountains, where guerrilla tactics can be effectively employed (see the Monitor, February 1).