Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 195

That the Chechnya issue remains at the top of the Kremlin’s agenda was clear from the meeting President Boris Yeltsin held yesterday with heads of Russia’s power ministries–defense, interior, the Federal Security Service, among others–along with the foreign affairs minister and the head of the presidential administration. The meeting was devoted to the results of the first stage of creating a cordon sanitaire around Chechnya. The Kremlin recently announced the completion of the first stage after Russian forces took control of the northern part of Chechnya down to the Terek River. Yeltsin also inquired about the investigation into the terrorist bombings last month in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk (NTV, ORT, RTR, October 20).

It would appear that the completion of the first stage of the Chechen operation was the reason for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s unexpected visit yesterday to the North Caucasus. Putin visited both northern Chechnya and the headquarters for the military operations in Chechnya, located in Mozdok, in the neighboring republic of North Ossetia (NTV, ORT, RTR, September 20).

The Kremlin has thus far given no indication of what its tactics will be in the second stage of its operation in the region. There is, however, a rather high probability that Moscow has decided to storm Djohar, the Chechen capital. On October 19, Russian troops fortified positions in the outer suburbs of the city, in the village of Pervomaisk. Chechen officials have little doubt that federal troops will storm the capital, and say this is likely to take place at the end of October. According to Chechen commandant Isy Musaev, the Russian forces will not mount a frontal assault, as they did in 1994, but will use the tactic of first suppressing Chechen military positions with massive bombardment by aviation and artillery, and only afterward entering the city (NTV, October 19; Kommersant, October 20).

According to the Russian special services, Azam Khoboev, a special Chechen representative, and Mustafa, a personal emissary from the field commander Khattab, recently traveled to the Afghan city of Kandahar, controlled by the Taliban movement, to discuss the possibility of giving safe haven to certain Chechen field commanders. The Taliban officials reportedly agreed to do so (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 20). At the same time, such information–particularly that concerning the possible evacuation of the Chechen field commander–should be treated with caution, in that it cannot be ruled out that the Russian special services are disseminating disinformation.