Russian federal forces have reduced the scope of the human rights problem in Chechnya by eliminating 7,000 humans. That is a recent Chechen estimate of deaths, nearly all civilians. Refugees in Ingushetia number 215,000; another 50,000-80,000 are in Dagestan. Though tactics differ, there is little to choose in scale between Russia’s devastation of Chechnya and Serbia’s of Kosovo.
Federal forces have virtually completed their encirclement of the capital. A corridor leading north out of the city has been kept open, and federal authorities have warned civilians to leave. Russian sources say 5,000-6,000 militants are still in the city, preparing a defense.
The strategy for the next phase of the war is not yet clear. Russian forces may follow the course taken by General Yermolov, who conquered the northern Caucasus for the Tsar 170 years ago: drive the enemy into the mountains, where he will starve through the winter and fall in the spring. Or the Russians may storm the city, hoping to trap and kill guerrilla forces weakened by bombardment and siege. The first course risks a prolonged war (General Yermolov was at it for a decade) with uncertain political impact in Russia. The second risks a rise in Russian losses, estimated now at 600-800 soldiers in two months of fighting, with no guarantee of victory.