Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 184

Russian forces continued to penetrate into Chechen territory yesterday, setting up perimeters in the villages of Kargalinskaya, Dubovskaya and Borozdinovskaya. Troops reached as far as the Terek River and took control of the bridge at the village of Chervlenaya, located thirty kilometers from the capital of Djohar. The Russian forces also opened a “second front,” with troops entering Chechnya from the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. Russian artillery in Ingushetia has been shelling Chechen fighters in the Chechen town of Bamut.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claims that Russian forces already control a third of the breakaway republic’s territory, and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has declared martial law in the republic. According to the Russian side, two Russian soldiers have been killed, twenty-four wounded and two planes have been shot down–an Su-24 and an Su-25 (NTV, RTR, ORT, Agence France Presse, October 5).

Meanwhile, despite the fact that full-scale military operations are being carried out, the Kremlin continues to say that war is simply an operation to create a security zone. According to the plan for that operation, the zone will consist of three sections: The first, directly bordering the area of Chechnya controlled by guerrillas, will be occupied by internal troops, consolidated police units and OMON special forces; the other two will be occupied by regular army forces, which will prevent the entry of Chechen fighters who managed to make it through the first section. The regular army forces will be backed up, if necessary, by Interior Ministry forces (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 5).

The Chechen military campaign apparently prompted Putin to meet with leaders of the State Duma’s factions and with a group of former Russian prime ministers, in what might be seen as an attempt to spread the responsibility for what happens in Chechnya. Otherwise, with the first missteps of the federal forces, various politicians will get an excellent stick with which to beat the executive branch in the upcoming parliamentary elections. A key phrase in Putin’s remarks was that “the Russian government does not plan and will not resolve political questions, including questions about the future status of the Chechen republic, with the aid of military force.” In general, Putin’s speech to his predecessors and the Duma leaders gave a clear idea of the Kremlin’s plan of action: It plans to cause a split in Chechnya by allocating all financial resources only into that part of the republic which it controls. In that sector, pensions and other benefits will be paid out, and various social infrastructure objects will be built. The goal appears to be to show the population of Chechnya the benefits of remaining a part of the Russian Federation. Putin put Valentina Matvienko, Russia’s social minister, in charge of this social program. It appears that the Kremlin plans to float the idea of negotiations with the separatists only after the contrast between living standards in “Russian” and “independent” Chechnya becomes clear.

However, Putin himself admitted that is not clear with whom to carry out negotiations with, and this question was one of the main themes of his meeting with the former prime ministers and the Duma leaders. Putin’s earlier comments concerning the illegitimacy of the current Chechen authorities, made at a meeting with deputies from the 1996 Chechen parliament (see the Monitor, October 5), were taken up yesterday by Justice Minister Yuri Chaika. Chaika said that the leaders and members of power organs set up on Chechen in violation of Russian law should be brought to justice, including criminal charges. It remains unclear whether Putin or Chaika was referring to Maskhadov, who has been previously recognized by the Russian authorities. Nevertheless, Chaika believes that practically all organs of state power in Djohar were created and have been functioning in direct violation of the Russian constitution. Apparently there is no consensus in the Kremlin yet on whether or not to write off Maskhadov (NTV, RTR, ORT, October 5; Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 6).