Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 201

The Russian air force said that it conducted a series of bombing raids on what it said were positions of Chechen rebel fighters trying to enter Ingushetia from Georgia. According Russia’s Border Guards Service, a unit of up to sixty rebels sustained heavy losses. A week ago, Georgian forces reportedly blocked the same rebel unit while it was attempting to enter Chechnya from Georgia’s Pankiisk Gorge. Russian officials claimed that they prevented a group of fifty to sixty Chechen fighters attempting to cross over into Russia on October 15, but the Georgian authorities denied that any Chechen rebels had tried to cross the border (Russian agencies, Reuters, October 26).

Some 8,000 Chechen-Kistins, a Chechen ethnic group, live in the Pankiisk Gorge along Georgia’s border with the breakaway republic. Since the beginning of the current Chechen conflict last year, Moscow has repeatedly charged that there are Chechen rebel bases in the Pankiisk Gorge–a charge which Tbilisi has consistently denied. In recent months, however, there has been evidence to support Moscow’s claim. The Monitor’s correspondent visited the Pankiisk Gorge in August of this year and saw armed checkpoints manned by local inhabitants and Chechen fighters near the village of Pankiisk. In off-the-record conversations, Chechen-Kistins confirmed that the Chechen rebels’ main bases in Georgia are located in the high mountainous regions along the border with Chechnya, where there are still bunkers and emplacements built by Chechens who managed to escape Stalin’s deportation in 1944.

In Chechnya, meanwhile, the so-called “mine war” continues. A 22-year-old inhabitant of the village of Kurchala was killed by an explosive booby-trap, while a mine blew up a tractor in the town of Argun. The tractor driver was seriously wounded. For his part, President Vladimir Putin claimed yesterday that “organized resistance” in Chechnya had been “crushed,” with only four or five rebel groups remaining and “no large-scale military actions” taking place in the breakaway republic (Russian agencies, October 26).