Contrary to the reassuring news that most Russians are receiving via the state television networks–now tightly controlled by the Putin administration–the arrival of spring has brought a sharp increase in the activity of Chechnya’s separatist guerrillas. A March 30 article by Ivan Smirnov on the Grani.ru website noted that Aslan Maskhadov, the underground separatist president, held a war council of his field commanders in the Shatoi district on March 17. According to Smirnov, “Maskhadov promised the [federal] troops and Kadyrov that some ‘unpleasant surprises’ would come during the spring and summer campaign season.” That promise soon began to be fulfilled, with an attack on a federal column in the Shali district and a gunfight between guerrillas and interior ministry troops near Samashki. Soon thereafter a train was blown up in the Naursky district, and an OMON unit came under attack in Grozny itself.
“The response of the federal command was the standard one: Raids on the areas controlled by the guerrillas,” wrote Smirnov. “That means above all the highland regions of the Vedeno and Nozhai-Yurt districts. The guerrillas most likely were expecting such a response, for the federal troops and police met heavy resistance everywhere. Over the last several days, according to various sources, battles have taken place in the highlands near the villages of Gilyany, Gansolchu, Tazen-Kala and others.” The guerrillas have also mounted attacks in neighboring Ingushetia, with battles erupting near Altievo, Nasyr-Kort, and Kantyshovo.
Looking into the future, Andrei Riskin of Nezavisimaya gazeta noted on April 5 that “an absolutely new form of armed conflict between the separatists and the federal forces is now emerging in Chechnya. In place of the field commanders who carried out a regular war against the Russian troops are appearing small, isolated groups of younger-generation guerrillas, it seems completely uncoordinated with any central command structure. These groups are adopting the tactics of terrorism–not only within Chechnya but in other regions as well, especially in Dagestan as the weakest link in the ‘Caucasian chain.’ At this point even the destruction of Basaev and Maskhadov would not be likely to end the problem of armed separatism.”
Basaev, meanwhile, has threatened via an extremist website to escalate his war against Russian civilians to a new level: the use of chemical weapons. According to a statement published on the Kavkaz-Center website, this new step is a direct response to Russia’s recent assassination in Qatar of Basaev’s fellow extremist Zelimkhan Yandarbiev.