The situation in Chechnya has considerably worsened following the passing of President Vladimir Putin’s seventy-two-hour deadline for rebels to lay down their arms. The rebel leadership, perhaps operating on the assumption that the federal forces are planning a massive attack on rebel positions in the mountainous regions of southern Chechnya, have apparently decided that the best defense is a good offense. Over the weekend, rebel fighters attacked checkpoints and the local offices of the Interior Ministry and military command in the towns of Shali and Kurchaloi. According to Colonel Aleksei Kuznetsov, deputy commander of the Combined Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, the attacks were carried out by groups of rebels each numbering up to ten men and armed with small arms and grenade launchers. Kuznetsov claimed, however, that Russian policemen and army troops were able to drive the attackers off. He did not indicate whether there were losses on the Russian side (Strana.ru, September 29). The administration in Avtury reported today that a group of rebels entered the village last night and killed six persons, including an undisclosed number of policemen. The attackers, reportedly numbering around twenty, went to specific addresses and, in one case, set a home on fire and kidnapped a resident (Interfax, October 1). Meanwhile, the Russian military command in Chechnya claimed today that Abu Yakub, intelligence chief of the rebel unit headed by rebel field commander Khattab, was killed during a battle with Russian forces in Starye Atagi (Lenta.ru, October 1). Federal forces claimed that, in all, they killed sixteen rebels yesterday (Itar-Tass, October 1).
The rebels, of course, presented a different version of the weekend’s events. The pro-rebel website Kavkaz.org reported that large rebel units moved on several fronts over the weekend, attacking the capital Djohar (Grozny), the towns of Argun, Shali, Kurchaloi and Vedeno, along with the villages and settlements of Serzhen-Yurt, Tsa-Vedeno, Avtury, Starye Atagi and Novye Atagi. There was also, it reported, heavy fighting in Shali (about 40 kilometers southwest of Djohar), where rebel fighters were using 120mm and 82mm cannon, along with grenade launchers, Strella rocket launchers and heavy machineguns. Most of Shali, it claims, is in rebel hands. It also reported that rebel forces took control of a number of roads in the Chechen lowlands and that dozens of federal troops were killed in the attacks, including officers (Kavkaz.org, October 1). The Chechenpress news agency, which is connected to rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, reported that federal forces sustained “significant losses” when a mobile unit of rebels attacked a checkpoint in the village of Pervomaisk (Chechenpress, October 1). Last month, the rebels attacked government buildings in Gudermes, Chechnya’s second largest city, and Argun (see the Monitor, September 17-18, 20).
TALKS BETWEEN KREMLIN AND CHECHEN REBELS MAY START NEXT MONTH.