Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 58

Acting President Vladimir Putin declared on March 19 that the large-scale military operation in Chechnya is reaching its logical finish. The main force of the Chechen extremists had been defeated, he said, while adding that “the animals under the name Raduev” can still come together in a “herd” and carry out raids. Putin was referring to the recently captured Chechen rebel field commander Salman Raduev, whom he also referred to as an “animal.” Putin shared with the public his plans for fighting against these “herds,” saying that the federal forces are now “cutting off” the mountainous areas of Chechnya “where the fighters feel comfortable” and will continue to carry out conventional and special operations. Putin again stated categorically that the federal authorities would be in Chechnya indefinitely, adding that there will not be any withdrawals of federal forces from the republic. Calling the federal forces’ abandonment of positions during the 1994-1996 war a “large-scale mistake,” he said that only as many troops as necessary would be left in Chechnya (Mayak radio, March 19).

The following day, March 20, Putin himself appeared in Chechnya, flying to the capital of the breakaway republic in a Su-27 fighter as the co-pilot. The flight was clearly a campaign stunt: After arriving, he simply met with the commanders of the federal forces in Chechnya, handed out some medals to soldiers who had fought with distinction and left the republic for Moscow the same day, stopping along the way in Krasnodar and Sochi (Russian agencies, March 20).

Putin’s optimistic declarations concerning the defeat of the Chechen rebels’ main force must again be taken with a strong dose of skepticism. His statements, like his “piloting” the fighter to Chechnya, were probably no more than electioneering. It has only been two weeks since the fighting ended in the Chechen village of Komsomolskoe. It is noteworthy that the day the battle there started, General Gennady Troshev, acting commander of the federal forces in Chechnya, told the Monitor’s correspondent that his forces would win in just one day. In fact, it took the Russian forces two weeks to take the village, and some fifty Russian troops were killed and 300 wounded in the fighting. What is more, half of the rebel fighters managed to escape Komsomolskoe and are now concentrated in the neighboring town of Alkhazurovo. Meanwhile, civilians have been fleeing Alkhazurovo, fearing that after the federal forces seize it, they will end up in “filtration camps” or simply be killed.