Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 196

Yesterday, prior to the first reports about the bombings in Djohar, the Russian government published its plan for resolving the Chechen crisis. It included three basic points. First, the Kremlin will end its operation in Chechnya only after the Chechen fighters are neutralized. Second, regular Chechen fighters will be guaranteed immunity if they immediately disarm. Third, Moscow is ready for dialogue with the current Chechen authorities only if they assist in handing over the field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab (NTV, RTR, ORT, October 21). It is clear that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov will view the third condition as unacceptable, given that if he agrees to it, he will be viewed by a majority of Chechens as a traitor. It follows, thus, that the armed units under his command will continue to fight the federal forces.

Meanwhile, the potential for an offensive operation by federal forces seems exhausted. They have already achieved the goal of occupying positions along the Tersk mountain range northwest of Djohar. Meanwhile, Chechen forces in the towns of Bamut and Urus-Martan blocked an armored column heading toward the capital. The federal forces have tried unsuccessfully for two weeks to take Bamut, a mountain town located on the border with Ingushetia. It should be noted that federal forces were unable to take control of Bamut during the 1994-1996 military campaign.

The Russian troops have pushed into Chechnya unevenly, so that there are 6-8 kilometer gaps between some units, through which Chechen fighters could easily pass. The units heading toward Djohar have no logistics and could be surrounded by Chechen forces at any moment. Thus Moscow is faced with the choice either of digging into the territory it has already occupied in the north or moving into Chechnya’s mountainous regions and taking the capital by force. Clearly, if the Kremlin decides to push deeper into Chechnya, Russian losses will rise significantly. During the previous campaign, the Russian forces sustained their greatest losses while moving into the mountains and storming Grozny [Djohar]. Today, however, Moscow has no clear plan on how to proceed militarily, and the Chechen side can use this lack of clarity to its advantage. It should also be noted that Djohar claims that the federal forces have already lost far more men than the Kremlin has reported: The Chechens claim that more than 200 Russian soldiers have been killed, and that ten Russian tanks and four warplanes have been destroyed (Izvestia, Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 21).

Meanwhile, according to the newspaper Kommersant, Chechnya’s population has dropped drastically over the last ten years, largely due to emigration. The paper reported that in 1989, the population of the Chechen-Ingush autonomous oblast was 1,270,0000 (with 200,000 living in what is now Ingushetia). By 1996, the population of Chechnya was around 600,000; by January of this year, it had dropped to 350,000; by August, it was 320,000; and by October, it was some 200,000. Given that the current war will probably be no less intense than the previous one, it is possible that Chechnya will be virtually depopulated (Kommersant, October 20).