Russia, said Chechnya’s President Aslan Maskhadov, has lost the war. “The army has stopped cold,” he said last month to a Russian reporter who interviewed him in central Chechnya, “it is demoralized. The army is degenerating.”

But it has not withdrawn or stopped fighting, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. He denied to reporters that the army has retreated to “fortresses.” “The troops are… switching over to night patrols,” he said. Russian forces in Chechnya number around 75,000–80,000.

The number of rebels under arms is unknown. Russian sources used to claim that only a few thousand remain, holed up in the mountains in the south. But rebel attacks, on Russian troops and federal officials and Chechen civilians who are believed to be cooperating with them, occur throughout the province with a rising level of violence. Russia’s appointed administrator in Chechnya, the former mufti Akhmad Kadyrov, told journalists: “The heads of population centers, police officials, religious officials are being murdered daily, and we have done nothing to protect them…. Everyone who decided to contribute to restoring peace and stability in Chechnya, including myself, has been sentenced to death.”

The commander of the North Caucasus Military District, General Gennady Troshev, is frustrated beyond reason. He called on June 4 for public executions: “I would do it this way: I would collect them all in a [public] square, string the bandits up and let them hang!”

Chechnya has seen this before from the other side. Shariat courts conducted public executions in 1997, including several televised firing squads and one notorious execution of a convicted murderer, also televised, carried out by the slitting of his throat.