The Kremlin has announced, more than once, that the war is essentially over. Troop levels are coming down, a civilian government has been installed, and refugees are said to be returning to their homes. In an odd twist on that bit of spin, the man who calls himself foreign minister of the Chechen Republic told German radio that the war is essentially over, and Russia has lost.
In fact the Chechen war continues, with Russian federal forces generally in control in the north but facing a murderous guerrilla struggle in the south. In the past week, a truck bomb destroyed a barracks in Argun, killing at least thirty-three troops from the Interior Ministry. Eleven other servicemen were killed in a similar attack in Gudermes, three more in Novogroznensk, another in Urus-Martan. Nine federal soldiers died near Avtura in an explosion, probably from a land mine.
Russian forces say they have killed 20,000 rebels since the latest campaign began last August, and there is no doubt the Chechen forces are much depleted. Nearly all recent Chechen attacks avoid any risk of engagement–they are remote-control bombs, suicide truck bombs, sniper fire and the like. But the killing of Russian troops goes on, perhaps in the hope of eventually swinging Russian public opinion against the war.
In that effort the Chechens have no help from the West. At the beginning of the conflict the United States and Western Europe declared Chechnya an integral part of Russia. No Western leader has suggested that the Chechens are a people with a right to self-determination. And no Western nation has proposed to sanction Russia for its suppression of the rebellion, no matter how brutal or barbaric.
As Chechen officials admit, without foreign support their cause is lost. Even if–as in 1996–Chechen attacks rise to a level that forces a negotiated settlement, that settlement will be unenforceable without third-party involvement. Unless Chechnya is treated like Kosovo, it will be treated like Chechnya.