Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 64

Heavy fighting broke out again in southern Chechnya yesterday (March 29), the same day that Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo traveled to the republic to familiarize himself with the situation. According to Russian military officials, a large force headed by field commander Ruslan Gelaev was responsible for the attacks. Russian troops had earlier spent three weeks fighting to take the southwestern town of Komsomolskoe, which was held by Gelaev’s forces. While the federal forces finally did take the town, Gelaev’s fighters somehow managed to escape the encirclement (Russian agencies, March 29).

The latest fighting again confirms that the Kremlin has failed in its stated aim to destroy the main Chechen rebel force by springtime. The federal forces will now have to fight under much more difficult conditions, given that the appearance of foliage in Chechnya is creating much greater prospects for effective guerrilla warfare. The Chechen rebel forces’ latest push began in fact at the beginning of March, right after the Russian military command claimed that the military phase of the operation in Chechnya had been completed. Immediately following that declaration, forces led by rebel field commander Khattab destroyed more than eighty members of the Pskov airborne division, and other rebel units attacked a column of OMON special police troops, killing some twenty of them. The rebel attacks appear to be happening across Chechnya, and the rebel fighters nearly always manage to break out of the federal encirclement (see the Monitor, March 16).

The Kremlin’s failure to defeat the Chechen rebel forces has apparently forced the leaders of the neighboring North Caucasian republics to enter into separate negotiations with the Chechens. On March 26, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev and North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov announced that they were conducting negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. The Kremlin has refused to entertain the possibility of talks with any of the Chechen rebel leaders, including Maskhadov (Russian agencies, March 26).

In Moscow, meanwhile, Gennady Kvashnin, head of the Russian armed forces’ General Staff, met with President-elect Vladimir Putin to brief the head of state on the investigation into the alleged rape and murder of a Chechen woman by a Russian colonel. Kvashnin said that such cases shamed the entire Russian army and that there would be no mercy for the perpetrators of such crimes. Putin reportedly initiated the meeting to familiarize himself with the investigation into the alleged crime.