Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 177

The Russian Air Force continued over the weekend massive air raids on Chechnya, hitting oil facilities, a television tower and a cellular phone network. Thousands of inhabitants of the Chechen capital, Djohar, fled into neighboring Ingushetia. The head of Ingushetia’s migration service said yesterday that the number of refugees leaving Chechnya due to actions by both “Chechen armed gangs” and the federal forces could reach 60,000-70,000 by that evening. According to official estimates, up to 10,000 refugees have arrived in Ingushetia since the air strikes began on September 23. The authorities there say that they are unable to handle the inflow (Russian agencies, NTV, September 26-27).

The bombing campaign began when Russian jets hit the Sheikh Mansur airport in Djohar. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, those strikes were carried out with the goal of destroying only the sole Chechen armed forces airplane–an AN-2 biplane used, according to the Russian military, to ferry weapons in from abroad. This goal was achieved. Russia’s Interior Ministry later reported that Chechnya has another aircraft, and that it has been spotted more than once crossing the Azerbaijani-Chechen border. This plane is believed to be a light single-engine Cessna bought by Shamil Basaev in 1997 (Kommersant, September 24-25).

What is significant about the current air campaign is that it has targeted industrial installations–those connected to the oil industry in particular. It has been suggested that this move is connected to Moscow’s decision to circumvent Chechnya in pumping Azerbaijani oil across Russian territory. During a meeting in Baku on September 22, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kaluzhny promised leaders and representatives of the world’s major oil companies that, until a new oil pipeline is completed, all Azerbaijani oil earmarked for export–2 million tons–will be transferred across Dagestani territory using an existing rail-transport scheme (Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 24-25).

Russia’s new oil policy significantly changes the Kremlin’s military tactics. If, during the 1994-1996 war, federal troops did everything possible to avoid damaging oil installations, then today they are pursuing the opposite aim. As the newspaper Kommersant noted, the oil installations are one of the main sources of revenues for the Chechen fighters. Part of Chechnya’s oil industry has been long controlled by Shamil Basaev, who uses petro-dollars to maintain his fighters and buy weapons.

The Russian air force has also been hitting industrial targets not related to the oil industry. Two Su-25 fighter-bombers reportedly hit several factories in Djohar today as the air strikes intensified (Russian agencies, September 27). Among the targets of the air campaign have been food-industry factories. This means that that if Chechnya does not subordinate itself to the Kremlin’s will, its population will be consigned to death by cold and hunger (Kommersant, September 25).