Renewed fighting broke out January 7 in the Chechen city of Argun, the scene of an intense battle between federal and rebel forces last month (see the Monitor, December 13-14, 19, 2001). In the latest Argun battle, two Russian servicemen were reportedly killed and four wounded after a combined group of military and police came under rebel crossfire while crossing a bridge into the city. The rebels were firing from nearby buildings, and the besieged federal forces called in helicopter gunships for support. One building was reportedly destroyed in the ensuing battle, which lasted for more than four hours. The federal forces in Argun have been carrying out a so-called “zachistka” (antiguerrilla operation) since January 3, targeting small bands of rebel fighters who apparently managed to enter the city. How they were able to do so is not clear, given that the city remains under a blockade by Russian army units. Russian military sources were quoted as saying that some of the rebels had managed to break out of the federal encirclement and escape Argun (Lenta.ru, Moscow Times, January 9; Gazeta.ru, January 7).
Several hundred protesters gathered yesterday in front of the Argun’s administration building to demand that the federal forces lift their blockade of the city. Federal forces have also sealed off the villages of Geldagen and Tsotsin-Yurt, which are located not far from Argun and have also been the scene of heavy fighting between rebel and federal forces (Radio Liberty, January 8; see the Monitor, January 3).
The “zachistka” has become the main form of warfare in Chechnya. Local armed skirmishes periodically crop up in towns and villages throughout the republic. The Russian military claims that its operations are aimed at destroying or capturing rebel fighters. Many inhabitants of these towns and villages, however, complain that civilians are victimized during the operations. Whatever the case, the continuing need for special operations shows that rebel forces remain hidden in practically all of Chechnya’s population centers. This suggests that the military operation in Chechnya has failed, given that the Russian military, in two years of warfare that has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people, has not even been able to drive the rebels into Chechnya’s mountains and keep them there (Radio Liberty, January 7).
OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS DETAINED IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA.