Russian authorities have announced that federal troops have completed the creation of a cordon sanitaire in Chechnya along the Terek River. Meaning: The entire northern part of Chechnya is now under Moscow’s control. The situation in the republic, however, is quite far from resolved.
In the southern part of the republic, a fierce battle has been going on in the area around the village of Goragorsky. According to the Russian military, Russian forces have surrounded the Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev (see the Monitor, October 12). Chechen authorities have denied this.
Official Djohar has already admitted that federal forces already control part of Gorakorsky, and the seizure of that strategic town opens the way to the capital. Following the statement of Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev that if “the Chechen people request it, we will free Grozny [Djohar] from bandits,” there is little doubt that the Russian government has decided in principle to extend military operations across all of Chechnya. Indirect evidence that the Kremlin has made such a decision is the fact that the “government in exile” that Moscow recently created plans to move to Chechnya by the end of October.
The Chechens, meanwhile, are said to have a new tactic in their fight with federal forces–to use small, mobile units armed with the most up-to-date weapons. Indeed, official Djohar recently reported that it had received four Stinger shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. According to the Federal Security Services’ press center, emissaries of Basaev and Khattab held talks quite a long time ago with Afghanistan’s Taliban about purchasing such missiles. The Afghans reportedly asked US$800,000 to US$900,000 apiece, but gave the Chechens four as a goodwill gesture. The Kremlin is also seriously worried about Basaev’s threat to begin a massive sabotage campaign on Russian territory. In response, security has been tightened at all of Russia’s nuclear reactors (NTV, ORT, RTR, October 12).
Meanwhile, refugees continue to pour out of Chechnya. According to Russia’s Federal Migration Service, 160,000 people have already left the republic–about a quarter of its population. Ilyas Bogatyrev, a correspondent with the Vzglyad television company who returned from Chechnya yesterday, told the Monitor that the refugees are escaping from Russian shells and missiles. According to Bogatyrev, the Russian forces, as in the 1994-1996 military campaign in Chechnya, are destroying as many civilian neighborhoods as military targets and Chechen fighters. However, given that, as opposed to during the last war, there are practically no Russian journalists located on the territory controlled by the Chechen fighters, there are practically no media reports about the killing of civilians. Bogatyrev also reported that Chechnya has been divided between warring bands, each of which has had freedom of movement only in the zone it controls. The groups are now, he said, ready to unite against the Russian forces.
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