On September 18-19 the Russian air force carried out more than 100 bombing raids on guerrilla bases and concentrations of fighters on the territory of Chechnya. In addition, at the beginning of next week two battalions–which boast tanks equipped with flame-throwers–will be sent into Dagestan. More than 200 snipers, who received special training at one of the Moscow region’s military bases, have already arrived in the republic. The Kremlin is hoping to prevent possible breakthroughs by guerrillas toward Kizlyar in Dagestan.
Military officials, meanwhile, reported that Russian army troops moved to the Ingushetian-Chechen border on September 18. Marines from all of Russia’s naval fleets–as well as units from the Moscow and Leningrad military districts–were also sent to the North Caucasus (NTV, RTR, ORT, September 18-19).
The current concentration of the Russian military along the perimeter of the Chechen border can be interpreted as the start of the creation of a quarantine zone around the mutinous republic (see the Monitor, September 16). It is possible, however, that the Kremlin will not limit itself to this. The Defense Ministry is developing a plan for a massive operation to destroy armed formations and their bases on Chechen territory (RTR, September 18).
Indirect evidence that the Kremlin might opt for an all-out military operation was a television interview last night by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Putin said it was a mistake that, prior to the current battle in Dagestan, Russian forces did not pursue onto Chechen territory those Chechen guerrillas who had penetrated the regions surrounding their breakaway republic. He claimed that a plan is being developed in Chechnya, with the help of Middle Eastern Islamic radicals, to create an Islamic state encompassing Russia’s North Caucasus, including the territory from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. Putin said that the recent terrorist bombings in Russia were “an attempt by those same international terrorist circles to scare the people, create panic…[and] paralyze the political leadership of the country” (RTR, September 19). It should also be noted that the Arab-born radical Chechen field commander Khattab reportedly appealed to Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden for financial and military assistance (Izvestia, September 18).
In Putin’s opinion, even if Moscow were to agree to give up the North Caucasus, the war there would not stop. Aggression against Russia would continue. The prime minister said that Moscow now has no choice but to carry out an extremely harsh policy against the radical Chechen commanders (RTR, September 19).
BEREZOVSKY CLAIMS INNOCENCE.