A series of truck bombings, apparently the work of Chechen rebels, have killed at least twenty-five Russian servicemen and wounded eighty-one in the town of Argun late Sunday evening. According to eyewitness reports, the truck, a Russian-made KamAZ, blew up near a dormitory housing Interior Ministry troops from the city of Chelyabinsk. The death toll from the blast is likely to go much higher as emergency workers continue to search the rubble. A source in the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office in the town of Gudermes told the Itar-Tass news agency that at least fifty people died in the Argun blast. A similar bombing took place in Gudermes, reportedly killing eleven people. A third, also reportedly involving a KamAZ truck, occurred at a Russian military checkpoint near the entrance of the village of Novogroznensk. That vehicle was apparently driven by a suicide bomber, who tried to drive around the troops guarding the checkpoint. The truck, however, was immobilized by the troops and blew up directly adjacent to the checkpoint, killing three soldiers. Yet another bombing took place in Urus Martan, when a truck carrying explosives disguised as sacks of sugar reportedly blew up near the Russian military command headquarters in the town (Russian agencies, July 3).
The attacks came on the heels of heavy fighting between federal forces and rebels in Chechnya. On June 30, the Russian military claimed that a group of rebels who had been surrounded in the village of Serzhen-Yurt had finally been destroyed. According to the military, the federal forces lost thirteen men in the battle, and the rebels lost ten times that (Russian agencies, June 30; see also the Monitor, June 30). Claims of victory in Serzhen-Yurt should be viewed with some skepticism, however. Military officials claimed that the rebels there numbered around 200, yet journalists on the scene were unable to find a single body. Each retreating rebel would have had to carry the body of one of his fallen comrades with him. According to former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, who is viewed as the main ideologist of the Chechen rebel forces, there was no battle at Serzhen-Yurt. Udugov claimed in an interview with a German radio station that the Russian army has already lost the war in Chechnya and is trying to hide this fact by deliberately misinforming the public, and that there was in fact a battle at the village of Avtura, where the rebels destroyed a Russian special forces unit, killing seventy-three (Russian agencies, July 1-2; kavkaz.org, July 2).
Even if the claims from the Chechen side are somewhat exaggerated–it is difficult to hide the deaths of seventy-three soldiers–it is nonetheless obvious that the Russian military is unable to control the situation in the republic. Besides yesterday’s truck bombing in Argun, nine Russian soldiers were killed on July 1 in an explosion near the village of Avtura. According to Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s point man on Chechnya, the troops were killed when their armored personnel carrier hit a mine on the way back from the battle at Serzhen-Yurt. Meanwhile, rebel units continue to fire on Russian checkpoints, troops and civilian installations. Over the weekend, rebels fired on the Interior Ministry building in the Achkoi-Martan region and on local police personnel in the Gumbetosk region, which borders Dagestan. The fact that the number of refugees from Chechnya has increased recently is also evidence that the war is by no means winding down. According to the migration service in neighboring Ingushetia, 215,000 Chechen refugees are now located in Ingushetia (Radio Liberty, July 2).
MOSCOW OFFICIALLY PROTESTS ALLEGED SAUDI INTERFERENCE IN CHECHNYA.