The Russian air force continued to hit targets in the southern Shatoi, Itum-Kalin and Vedeno districts of Chechnya over the weekend, and the Russian military’s press center in Chechnya reported today that federal forces had carried out another “cleaning” operation in the town of Vedeno. The Russian military reported that nine of its servicemen were killed and fourteen wounded in Chechnya over the last twenty-four hours, and that 120 rebels were killed (Radio Ekho Moskvy, Russian agencies, January 17). For its part, the Chechen rebels, via their web site, claimed that fierce battles took place over the last day near the Argun gorge and the village of Duba-Yurt, and that sixty Russian soldiers were killed and thirty taken prisoner (Kavkaz.org, January 17). Each side in the conflict is believed to exaggerate the other’s losses and minimize its own.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government’s representative in Chechnya, predicted yesterday that federal forces would seize the Chechen capital Djohar by early February (RTR, January 16). The Russian government originally hoped to have the capital under federal control by the start of the year, but the rebels have put up far fiercer resistance in the capital than the federal authorities anticipated, and last week launched attacks on three towns that had been seized earlier by federal forces. Gennady Troshev, deputy commander of the North Caucasus forces, said there would soon be “serious changes” in the operation to take the Chechen capital and that the Russian forces had begun the “decisive phase” to take Djohar (Russian agencies, January 16). Acting President Vladimir Putin said over the weekend that the offensive was going according to plan (ORT, January 15).
Recent reports from the region suggest that both the federal and rebel forces are guilty of serious human rights abuses. Chechens from various villages were quoted as accusing Russian forces of essentially running protection rackets by demanding bribes in return for sparing the villages from bombardment. In one instance, villagers reportedly paid “a top Russian military official” the equivalent of more than US$5,000 and a big-screen television to spare them from shelling and looting (Moscow Times, January 15). Meanwhile, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, which has been highly critical of the Russian military’s actions in Chechnya, accused Chechen rebels of executing prisoners of war and using civilians as “human shields” (Irish Times, January 17).
On January 15, a group called the Tatar Public Center held a demonstration in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, calling for an immediate end to the war in Chechnya. The group called on Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev to facilitate a quick solution to the problems in the Caucasus and on Tatarstan’s government to send humanitarian aid to Chechnya, and promised to disrupt the March 26 presidential vote (Russian agencies, January 17).
PUTIN’S ASCENT SPOILS LUKASHENKA’S CALCULATIONS.