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 https://chechnya.jamestown.org) 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.