Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 180

There are reports that Russian troops have entered Chechnya on the ground in pursuit of Islamic guerrillas. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying today (September 30) that “combat operations in Chechnya are already underway,” with troops taking control of hills and mountains just inside the border. Putin said that troops had already moved in and out of Chechnya on several occasions–including two weeks ago, when, he said, they seized “strategic heights” and then “freed” them. Speaking to reporters in St. Petersburg, the premier noted that Russian forces required no special parliamentary permission to enter the breakaway republic: “Chechnya is Russian territory and the movement of [Russian] troops [in Russian territory] can take place wherever needed.” Putin’s comments were echoed by Roman Popkovich, head of the State Duma’s defense committee, who said that “strategic heights” and communities “are being seized.” Popkovich called for control to be established over “certain operational space to rule out militant counterattacks,” and possibly “ousting the militants to the mountains and localizing them there” (Russian agencies, September 30).

Chechen Defense Minister Magomed Khambiev was quoted today as saying that the republic would mount a military defense against Russian invaders, which would include special units to operate behind Russian lines. Chechen sources were quoted as saying that one group of defenders would be led by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who was chief of staff of the Chechen army during the 1994-1996 war, while another would be led by Shamil Basaev, the field commander and former prime minister who subsequently went into opposition against Maskhadov (Russian agencies, September 30).

The Russian air force, meanwhile, continued yesterday to hit targets in Chechnya. Chechen government sources reported that a dam on the Argun River near the town of Stary Atagi was destroyed, along with a bridge connected to it. Four cars were reportedly on the bridge at the time the planes struck. At least three people died in the raid, according to Chechen reports. Nine bridges have reportedly been destroyed in the last twenty-four hours. Officials in neighboring Ingushetia were quoted today as saying that more than 60,000 refugees had crossed over into the republic from Chechnya, and were continuing to cross at a rate of 5,000 to 6,000 a day. Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev put the refugee figure higher–at around 78,000 (Russian agencies, September 30; see also the Monitor, September 28).