On March 1, the commander of Russian airborne troops, General Georgy Shpak, told RIA Novosti that, “The heads of the bandit formations, Aslan Maskhadov, Shamil Basaev and Khattab, are currently located in Chechnya; Ruslan Gelaev is in Georgia; Shirvani Basaev is receiving medical treatment in Turkey.” He noted that the leaders of the rebels constantly change their place of location and that each of them is being protected by 200-300 men. They seem to be well informed about the actions of the federal troops (Lenta.ru, March 2).
The Kremlin, the Russian government and the Russian military leadership issued conflicting statements on the same day concerning the withdrawal of federal troops from Chechnya. While on an official visit to Rome, Prime Minister Mikhail Kas’yanov affirmed: “Our military presence is being reduced, and to date the number of servicemen has been cut several fold” (Itar-Tass, February 27). On the same day, however, the AVN military news agency reported that the troop withdrawal from Chechnya had been “postponed,” due to heightened tension in the south of the republic. Queried about this statement, “the Kremlin denied the military news agency’s report” (Agence France Presse, February 27).