Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced yesterday that Moscow is considering a ground operation in Chechnya. “There are several variants for a land operation, which will be carried out depending on the developing situation,” he said, while visiting soldiers wounded during fighting in Dagestan and now in a Moscow hospital. “The main aims are to destroy the criminals and to create a sufficiently broad zone of safety around Chechnya.” Sergeev’s comments would seem to mark an escalation of the North Caucasus conflict, given that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last week that commando raids were only a possibility, and in an interview published today that “we will not thoughtlessly put our boys under fire,” as in the 1994-1996 Chechen conflict (Vremya-MN, September 27). Sergeev said, however, that no ground operation would be launched before the Russian Air Force finished its campaign against alleged terrorist targets in the breakaway republic (Russian agencies, September 26). Air Force Chief of Staff Anatoly Kornukov said yesterday that the air raids would probably continue for a month (RTR, September 26).
According to one publication, 30 percent of the Russian army forces and two-thirds of the Interior Ministry forces located in the European part of Russia have been dispatched to the North Caucasus (Profil, September 27).
MOSCOW’S AIR CAMPAIGN AGAINST CHECHNYA INTENSIFIES.