Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 220

On November 25, several Russian servicemen in the Ingushetian village of Septsovsk were involved in a shooting incident which took the life of a 22-year-old woman and wounded two other civilians. The soldiers apparently opened fire after the employees of a commercial kiosk refused to sell them vodka. A group of Russian servicemen were arrested the following day. The Kremlin, not without reason, is worried that a murder carried out by Russian servicemen can be used by opponents of Russia’s military campaign both at home and abroad. In quickly arresting the suspected perpetrators, the Kremlin was trying to reduce as much as possible the negative effect of the incident. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Vladimir Shamanov, the commander of Russian forces in western Chechnya, sent their condolences to the relatives of the slain woman and to Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev. ORT television featured a segment in which Russian soldiers fighting in Chechnya strongly condemned their fellow servicemen accused of having carried out the shooting (ORT, NTV, November 26-27).

It appears, however, that Moscow’s apologies over the incident were simply a propaganda exercise. Federal forces are continuing their massive bombardment of the capital, Djohar, and the town of Urus-Martan, in western Chechnya, apparently with little concern for the many victims among the civilian population. According to eyewitness accounts, both population centers are literally being blown off the face of the earth. As a result, crowds of refugees from both towns are fleeing into Ingushetia. Bislan Gantiemoirov, the former mayor of Grozny [Djohar] who was recently released from prison in Moscow, stated during a meeting over the weekend with General Shamanov that around 80,000 people in the region of Urus-Martan have been displaced. Gantemirov asked Shamanov to create a cordon sanitaire which these people could use to leave the region, and Shamanov agreed.

It would appear that the Kremlin has begun the decisive stage of its attempt to take Djohar and Urus-Martan. According to the Russian agencies news agency, Russian intelligence units entered Djohar overnight between November 25 and 26. Valery Manilov, deputy armed forces chief of staff, declared that the second phase of the operation in Chechnya was almost finished, and that the Kremlin plans to have completed the third and final phase–“to destroy the terrorists in the foothills and the mountainous regions” of Chechnya–before the start of the new year (Russian agencies, ORT, November 26).

Thus it is clear that the Kremlin plans in the near future to take control of Djohar and Urus-Martan. It is also apparent, however, that Moscow, remembering the fiasco resulting from its head-on storming of Grozny in January 1995, will try to avoid a direct confrontation with Chechen forces. Most likely, both towns will be destroyed from a distance, by aviation and artillery, which will inevitably increase the number of causalities among the civilian population. In this regard, it is interesting to note that according to a newspaper today, President Boris Yeltsin’s “illness” can in fact be explained by his desire to avoid responsibility for the many civilian deaths which will inevitably result from the campaign to take the Chechen capital (Moskovsky komsomolets, November 29).

Meanwhile, the world community has been expressing its growing concern over the situation in and around Chechnya. On November 28, Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, arrived in Moscow to discuss the situation in Chechnya with Russian officials. Gil-Robles plans to visit Ingushetia and, possibly, the region of Chechnya controlled by federal forces (Russian agencies, November 28).