Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 25

Writing in the September 5 issue of the Moscow Times, the well-known Russian military correspondent Pavel Felgenhauer drew attention to a key recent development: “The pattern of the war in Chechnya,” he observed, “seems to be changing. On August 19, rebels shot down an Mi-26 transport helicopter, killing 119 as of [September 3]. This was a tactical coup for the Chechen resistance…. Another chopper, an Mi-24 armored gun-ship, was downed near the village of Meskhety…. Military officials announced that the helicopters were hit by Russian-made, shoulder-launched, surface-to-air, heat-seeking missiles, reportedly of the Igla class. In each incident the pilots were apparently ambushed in a zone considered under firm federal control.” Felgenhauer then proceeded to note: “Fireball decoys can deflect the Igla-1 missile. But it is possible that the rebels have obtained more advanced Igla missiles equipped with an optical image recognizer and not deflected by decoys.” And he concluded: “If the rebels manage to continue shooting down planes using Iglas, the capability of the federal command to supply and move troops, as well as provide close air support, will be seriously undermined…. There seems to be no military way out of this stalemate, but the Kremlin is still opposed to opening negotiations. If there is no change, the carnage will continue.”

In an article appearing in an official Russian government newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, on September 2, correspondent Andrei Sharov commented acidly on the subject of the recent downing of Russian military helicopters: “This war is being conducted on [Russia’s] territory but against her own weapons. With rare exceptions, the rebels make use of the achievements of the Russian military-industrial complex. The Igla that killed the largest helicopter in the world was not made in Pakistan or in Saudi Arabia. How such a complex weapon ended up in the hands of terrorists is no idle question. It is no secret for anyone that the most reliable source for building up the arsenal of the rebels is that very [Russian] army which is fighting against them. According to one version… those same Iglas were stolen (read: sold for cash by [Russian] soldiers) from a military unit in the North Caucasus.”