The village of Komsomolskoe in southern Chechnya, which is completely surrounded by the Russian military, continues to be the target of intense artillery and tank fire. Reports coming from the scene of the fighting are contradictory. According to the Russian military, the federal forces are engaged in heavy fighting with rebels under the command of Ruslan Gelaev. But according to one Chechen leader, Movladi Udugov, the Chechen forces in that region have already “fulfilled their mission” and are in the process of redeploying (NTV, Radio Liberty, Kavkaz.org, March 15). The battle for Komsomolskoe began on March 8. That same day, General Gennady Troshev, the acting commander of the federal forces in Chechnya, told the Monitor’s correspondent that Gelaev’s forces would be completely destroyed by the next day [March 9].
The current round of fighting in southern Chechnya began on March 2, immediately after Troshev claimed that the military phase of the Chechen operation had ended, that the main rebel force had been defeated and that only small rebel groups, each consisting of five to seven people, were left. A day after Troshev’s victory announcement, fighters led by the rebel field commander Khattab attacked a company from the Pskov airborne division, leaving only six of the eighty paratroopers alive. After that attack, Troshev said that the paratroopers fought off the rebel attack for the next three days, but that the federal forces were unable to send in reinforcements or otherwise assist the besieged airborne unit. There are only two possible explanations for this incident. Either the Russian generals are completely incompetent and were unable to carry out an elementary military operation, or the Chechen rebels are a well-trained, professional army.
Whatever the case, the current fighting in southern Chechnya is a sign that the military victory claimed by the Kremlin is a myth. Spring is approaching in the North Caucasus, and in several weeks foliage will start to appear, allowing the rebels to launch a powerful guerrilla movement. If the Kremlin has not destroyed the main Chechen fighting force by that time, it will be back to square one–to the situation which existed in Chechnya last year at the start of the military campaign.
The most recent military failures have apparently forced the Kremlin to change its tactics. An indication of this was the special operation carried out March 13, in which field commander Salman Raduev was arrested and taken to Moscow. Yesterday [March 15] Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the Russian armed forces’ general staff, announced that the Russian army group in Chechnya has moved into a new phase–one of special operations aimed at arresting or destroying the Chechen rebel leadership (Russian agencies, March 15).
KOCHARIAN RESHUFFLES THE MILITARY BRASS.