Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 203

NTV television, which is becoming one of the few Russian media outlets critical of the Chechen campaign, has begun referring to the refugee situation on the border between Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia as a “humanitarian catastrophe”–the term used by aid agencies and governments to describe the wave of refugees from Kosovo earlier this year (NTV, October 31). Events along that border over the last few days would seem to bear that characterization out. While the Russian armed forces promised to reopen the border crossings between the two republics yesterday–which they had closed on October 23 without warning –Western news agencies reported that only several hundred of the Chechen refugees were allowed to cross out of the estimated thousands who have been waiting at the border for a week or more (Reuters, AP, November 2). Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev said today that the column of cars ferrying refugees arriving at the border was 15 kilometers long as of yesterday evening, and that 5,000-7,000 refugees were massed at the border. Aushev said that four refugees had died while waiting to enter Ingushetia (Russian agencies, November 2).

Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS) reported today that 566 refugees had left Chechnya in the previous twenty-four hours, bringing the total number of refugees from the rebel republic to more than 195,000 since September 5, when the Russian air force began hitting targets in Chechnya. According to the MChS, more than 2,000 Chechen refugees returned from the republic of North Ossetia to the northern section of Chechnya, which is controlled by federal troops (Russian agencies, November 2). A number of refugees now in Ingushetia reportedly want to return to Chechnya to pick up relatives who were unable to leave.

In a sign that the refugee crisis in Chechnya is increasingly becoming a public relations problem for Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told journalists in Oslo, Norway, that 500,000 people had left Chechnya over the past few years prior to the current conflict (Russian agencies, November 1). Putin is representing Russia at the Mideast summit in Oslo.

The Russian armed forces, meanwhile, continued today to attack what it said were Chechen guerrilla positions in and around Gudermes, Chechnya’s second largest city, Djohar, the capital, and the town of Bamut (Russian agencies, November 2). Russia’s defense ministry reported yesterday that air and artillery attacks were carried out against “bandit formations” near twenty Chechen villages (Russia agencies, November 1).