Russia’s leadership periodically declares victory in Chechnya: in 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001 and most recently last December, when presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky declared that this winter would be the rebels’ last.

Cold-eyed observers, even those who long to see the Chechens crushed, know better. The key to a military victory, says military journalist Mikhail Khodarenok, is construction of a civil society that offers Chechens an alternative to war.

Khodarenok is a hawk who sees progress. His commentary in Novoe Voennoe Obozrenie (New Military Review, described in John Dunlop’s Chechnya Weekly at says Chechnya is close to stabilization. He cites the creation of “90,000 jobs,” the opening of “400 schools,” the establishment of an ethnic Chechen, pro-Moscow police force and the rising stature of Akhmad Kadyrov, the ex-mufti who heads the pro-Moscow administration to back up his argument. The rebel campaign of assassination of Chechen civilians working for Kadyrov or for local Moscow-backed authorities is a great threat, he writes, but he says it is still unusual for one Chechen to kill another.

Khodarenok’s account implies no short-term easing of the military conflict, which continues at a high level. Last week, rebel attacks and mines destroyed two Russian armored personnel carriers, a military truck and a car carrying Kadyrov’s deputy through the capital. Rebels also claim credit for Russian helicopter crashes, of which there were four in the past two weeks. Rebel sources say a missile caused the most spectacular crash, in which two generals and three colonels were among the fourteen killed, but Russian sources blame the accidental detonation of a grenade on board the aircraft. A correspondent for the Jamestown Monitor who has often flown on Russian helicopters in Chechnya says the aircraft are often in poor repair, and many of the pilots are drunk.