Russian troops have blockaded several villages in the Argun Gorge of Chechnya’s southern Shatoi region, where some 3,000 Chechen rebels are concentrated. Intense fighting was reported in the mountains around Shatoi village, and Russian forces have been carrying out heavy air and artillery bombardments on Chechen positions. According to the federal command, both the command points of Chechen rebel groups and the headquarters of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov are now in Shatoi. According to General Gennady Troshev, deputy commander of the Russian forces in the North Caucasus, the fall of the Shatoi region will essentially mean the end of the military operation in Chechnya. Troshev confirmed that a military helicopter was shot down over the Argun Gorge, but said that the crew survived. Meanwhile, some 100 Chechen rebel fighters tried to cross over into Georgia, but were stopped by Russian border guards, during which confrontation–according to Troshev–one guard was killed and two wounded (Radio Liberty, NTV, February 23).
February 23 marked the 56th anniversary of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s deportation of various ethnic groups in the North Caucasus, including the Chechens and the Ingushi, to Central Asia. Acting President Vladimir Putin released a statement in which he extended his condolences to the people of Chechnya and Ingushetia for the events of fifty-six years ago.
On that date in 1944, the indigenous population of Chechnya and Ingushetia was deported by train to Kazakhstan and other parts of Central Asia under allegations of having collaborated with German occupation forces–despite the fact that German troops never occupied the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In reality, Stalin wanted to crush these peoples, who had been trying to break away from the Soviet Union. The Chechens had offered the strongest resistance to incorporation, and began fighting against it actively in the 1930s. By 1940, Chechen resistance had gained control of a number of mountainous areas in the republic. Those who were able to avoid the 1944 deportation by escaping there continued their armed guerilla resistance, remaining active through the return of the Chechen population from Central Asia in 1956.
Yesterday, the Russian military command in Chechnya–fearing terrorist attacks to mark the anniversary–announced that all crossing points on the republic’s perimeter would be closed until today. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov, however, speaking on underground Chechen television, announced that the rebel forces had no such plans (Radio Liberty, February 23). While security was heightened in Moscow and other major Russian cities, the day passed without incident.
REFUGEES SAY RUSSIAN TROOPS MURDERED CIVILIANS NEAR DJOHAR.