On October 1, Russian troops crossed the administrative border with Chechnya and penetrated ten kilometers into the republic’s territory. The same day, a battle broke out between Russian and Chechen units near the village of Rubezhnoe, located ten kilometers from the border. The battle, which lasted thirty minutes, began when Chechen fighters opened fire on some 100 Russian soldiers, who had entered the village backed up by helicopter gunships. According to Taush Buguraev, head of Chechnya’s Naursky region, ten Russian soldiers were killed in the battle. The following day, Russian troops pushed three kilometers into Chechnya from the Dagestan side and occupied the village of Baradzinskoe without encountering resistance (NTV, RTR, ORT, October 1-2).
As these events show, the Kremlin has in earnest undertaken its plan to create a security buffer zone around Chechnya. Some details of the plan were revealed by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev during a meeting with veterans of the Soviet armed forces. Sergeev said that Moscow was in no hurry to occupy all of Chechnya, and will gradually widen the security zone. He also noted that the question of whether the Chechen capital of Djohar will be included in the security zone will depend on how “events will develop” (NTV, October 2).
According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, the Kremlin’s ultimate goal is to take control of all of Chechnya’s lowlands, without delving into the mountainous regions. The Chechen capital will most likely not be stormed, but will simply be blockaded by Russian forces (Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 29). This tactic could turn out to be rather effective. During the 1994-1996 military campaign in Chechnya, federal forces occupied the lowlands of the republic without a fight, taking major casualties only during the storming of Grozny (as the Chechen capital was then called) and during operations in the highlands. If the Chechen fighters are forced into the mountains, Moscow will be able to cut them off from food supplies and essentially starve them into submission. This is precisely the tactic which General Yermolov used during the Caucasus war in the 19th century. Indeed, by the summer of 1995, the Russian army had successfully isolated the Chechen fighters in the mountains and were close to victory, but Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev managed to turn the situation around by raiding the city Budennovsk in neighboring Stavropol krai. The ensuing Russian-Chechen negotiations allowed the Chechen fighters to regroup and come out of the mountains. There is little doubt that this time the Kremlin is ready for possible Chechen diversionary operations. It is also likely that, even if Moscow fails to prevent another Chechen diversionary raid, this time it will not give in to the demands of the terrorists.
It is also likely, however, that the Russian forces will have to engage in bloody battles in the Chechen lowlands. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who was the resistance forces’ chief of staff in the last war, has indicated that the Chechen army today, unlike in 1995, is well prepared for war and will not yield the lowlands without a fight (NTV, September 28). The Russian forces now face some 1,500 Chechen army soldiers under the command of Maskhadov, some 800 fighters under field commanders Basaev and Khattab, and another 500 under a third well-known field commander, Salman Raduev. In reality, however, the Russian forces will be facing a much larger number of people. Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev noted that the entry of Russian troops into Chechnya will be opposed by all Chechens and significantly raise the popular standing of radicals like Basaev and Raduev (NTV, October 2).
On October 1, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with members of the Chechen parliament elected in June 1996–that is, prior to the signing of the Khasavyurt agreements ending the war. Following the withdrawal of federal forces from Chechnya, practically all the parliamentarians elected in this vote were forced to leave the republic. Four of them were shot by Chechen fighters. Now the deputies have announced that they are resuming their work. Putin called the 1996 parliament the only legal authority in the republic, and the deputies will form the skeleton of a new government (NTV, October 1).
While Putin said that he met with the 1996 Chechen parliamentarians at their request, it is obvious that the initiative to revive the old parliament came from the Kremlin. Indeed, Putin already stated a while ago that it was necessary to form a Chechen “government in exile.” Thus the Kremlin is acting the same way it did in 1994, when a pro-Moscow “government of national rebirth” was formed. This puppet government was brought into Djohar (then Grozny) in January 1995, literally aboard Russian tanks (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 2).
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