Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 231

A Russian Su-25 jet crashed over southern Chechnya yesterday due, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, to technical failure. The pilot ejected, and Russian forces have mounted a search and rescue operation for him. Chechen sources report that the pilot was found by Chechen forces and taken prisoner, but Russian military officials have denied that claim (Russian agencies,, December 13-14). Meanwhile, the Interfax news agency, citing anonymous sources in the Russian military’s North Caucasus headquarters, reported today that two helicopters were shot down while searching for the pilot of the Su-25 (Russian agencies, December 14).

The Su-25 was the fourth Russian warplane to be lost since the start of the current Chechen campaign, and the incident suggests that the Kremlin’s frequently repeated claim that the Chechen forces are incapable of mounting resistance is not completely true. Nonetheless, Kremlin representatives continue to say that the military campaign is proceeding practically without problems. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev claimed that all of the Chechen lowlands, with the exception of the capital Djohar and the town of Shali, are completely under the federal forces’ control and that those forces will soon begin the fourth phase of the operation–destroying the rebels in the mountains of Chechnya and subordinating the republic’s mountainous regions to the Russian Federation. Sergeev also said that there will be no storming of Djohar along the lines of the one carried out in 1994, which claimed the lives of hundreds of Russian soldiers, and predicted that Chechen fighters would be forced out of the city by Chechen civilians–as it happened, according to Sergeev, in the towns of Gudermes and Argun.

What appears to have actually occurred is that Moscow, having found itself under strong international criticism for its “leave or die” ultimatum to Djohar’s inhabitants, decided to change its tactic and starve the Chechen fighters in the capital into submission. On December 10, General-Colonel Vechaslav Ovchinikov, commander of the Russian Interior Ministry forces in Chechnya, called for blockading Djohar for the winter, saying that the Chechen fighters would not be able to hold out there without gas, heat and electricity (ORT, December 13; Russian agencies, December 10).

While maintaining its intensive attack on the Chechen rebels, Moscow is also trying to create splits within those ranks. On December 13, the State Duma voted in favor of a government decree amnestying those who carried out “illegal actions during the period of the military operation on the territory of Chechnya.” The decree states that criminal charges will not be brought against those who cease their armed resistance and give up their weapons. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has claimed that the prospect of such an amnesty has already led a large number of Chechen fighters to surrender (ORT, December 13). Putin’s claim concerning large-scale Chechen defections, however, is questionable. During the 1994-1996 military campaign, there were no such defections.

It cannot be ruled out the Russian forces in Chechnya are about to experience a difficult period. As the previous military operation showed, Russian forces easily took control of the Chechen lowlands–as they have more or less done this time. But in taking control of the republic’s large cities and towns, the Russian forces were virtually powerless in the face of the Chechen fighters’ guerrilla tactics. The Kremlin’s decision to once again chase the fighters into the mountains could prove fatal to Moscow.