INFORMATION WARFARE ON BOTH SIDES OF CHECHEN CONFLICT.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 208

The Russian air force has carried out over eighty bombing missions in Chechnya over the last twenty-four hours, during which, according to official reports, four bridges were hit and eight bases for Chechen fighters destroyed. Russian forces took control of the Gudermes region, though not the city center. According to Chechen sources, the capital city of Djohar was also bombed. Meanwhile, RTR television alleged that Chechen fighters had kidnapped the family of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, making him totally dependent on his field commanders. Maskhadov is reportedly located now in a bunker in Djohar, working under the field commanders’ diktat. According to psychologists and other specialists working for Russia’s security services, statements issued by field commander Shamil Basaev and those being disseminated in Maskhadov’s name bear a remarkable similarity (RTR, November 8). It is necessary, however, to treat RTR reports with caution: Its report concerning Maskhadov is quite possibly disinformation from Russia’s special services designed to help convince the Russian public that the military option is the only viable solution to the problems in Chechnya.

In general, it appears that information warfare is the name of the game on both sides. Russian military spokesmen, for example, have warned that Chechen fighters have been spotted on the outskirts of Djohar wearing the special white uniforms used for work with chemical weapons. Russia’s power ministries fear that if the federal forces launch a frontal assault on the Chechen capital, the Chechen fighters plan to employ chemical weapons, which could lead to an ecological catastrophe throughout the North Caucasus region (NTV, November 8). The Chechen side, however, believe that these statements are disinformation. The “Kavkaz” Internet site, a propaganda mouthpiece for Djohar, has periodically stated that reports in the Russian press that the Chechens are ready to employ chemical weapons are an alarming symptom. Such reports are said to be evidence that the Russian forces themselves are preparing to use chemical weapons. It is suggested that disinformation in the press is deliberate, a ploy to enable Russia to afterwards pin the blame for using such weapons on the Chechens (http://www.kavkaz.org, November 6).

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has decided to resettle those Chechens who fled to Ingushetia in the section of Chechnya controlled by federal forces. To achieve this, the Russian authorities plan to open a number of border crossing points by which the refugees can reenter Chechnya. Yesterday the first group of such returnees headed into Chechnya in a column of busses. Thus the Kremlin is continuing to carry out its goal of dividing Chechnya into two parts–a “Russian” one, which will receive the lion’s share of investment, and an “independent” one, which will be targeted by artillery strikes and subject to a blockade. The refugees, however, are unlikely to be satisfied with the conditions in the Russian-controlled sector as long as they are only given tents to live in. In addition, one has the impression that the federal authorities are trying to turn Chechnya into a kind of reservation with several “circles of hell.” Indeed, while the Kremlin subjects the section of Chechnya controlled by the rebels to merciless destruction, the “Russian” section is turning into a kind of ghetto, isolated from Russia and in which people are provided with only the most primitive conditions.

At the same time, the Kremlin is trying to justify its actions in Chechnya to the international community. The situation in the North Caucasus was the main topic yesterday in the meeting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu had with a group of foreign diplomats, including ambassadors from the G-7 group, along with Finland and Norway, which currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Council of Europe. The Russian ministers told their Western counterparts that there is no “humanitarian catastrophe” in the North Caucasus and that Russia can deal with the problems there on its own. “It appears that someone has plans… to create the impression of a humanitarian catastrophe, and then exert this or that pressure on Russia” (NTV, RTR, ORT, November 8).

Meanwhile, in a sign that the broad political support for the Chechen campaign inside Russia is starting to break, Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko movement today called both for a halt in the bombing of Chechnya and large-scale ground operations there, and for talks with Maskhadov (Russian agencies, November 9).

MEDIA INSINUATIONS ABOUT PUTIN’S LONGEVITY CONTINUE.