Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 14

Russian information agencies, citing military sources, reported on the morning of January 18 that federal forces had undertaken their heaviest bombardment of the Chechen capital so far in the current campaign, had made a breakthrough in the Chechen capital, and were fighting in the city center. Russian generals were quoted as saying that only three to four days more were needed to establish full control in Djohar (Russian agencies, Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 19).

As both Russian and foreign observers have noted, Moscow learned its lesson in its January 1995 attempt to storm the Chechen capital, and has cardinally changed its tactic this time. As BBC military affairs analyst Jonathan Marcus noted, the Russian army learned serious lessons from the previous Chechen campaign and is trying to avoid direct confrontations with the Chechen fighters, using instead long-range artillery and air power. Moscow this time has also refrained from using armor within the city, so as not to repeat the 1995 fiasco, when Russian tanks became steel graves for Russian servicemen in the streets of Grozny [Djohar]. In this respect, Russia’s political leaders have come to resemble their Western counterparts in carrying out military operations. They are attempting to avoid large-scale casualties among Russian soldiers, fearing that these might lose the battle for the hearts and minds of their citizens. On the other hand, there also major differences: while using long-range weaponry, the Russian army, unlike NATO, has only antiquated weapons, which prevents it from effective “pinpoint” strikes against guerrilla concentrations. Thus the active use of aviation and artillery has sharply increased the number of victims among the civilian population (NTV, ORT, BBC, January 19).

In addition, Chechen sources are denying the Russian reports that the federal forces in Djohar have made a breakthrough. Momadi Saidaev, head of the operational department of the Chechen army’s headquarters, claims that the Russian army has not even begun to storm the city. Federal forces, he says, are now only on its outskirts, and their casualties will increase as they move toward the city center (, January 19).

The heavy fighting in and around the Chechen capital did not stop a visit to Chechnya by a delegation of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), headed by Lord Russell-Johnston. The delegation visited Gudermes, the second largest city under federal control, and Chechen refugee camps in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. Members of the delegation met with Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, who said that he agreed with the view that starting negotiations with the legitimate Chechen authorities is necessary. The results of the PACE delegation’s trip to Chechnya will provide the basis for a discussion of the Chechen situation on January 27 in Strasbourg, as part of the PACE winter session. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has been invited to speak at the session. Some members of the PACE delegation believe that Russia’s membership in the organization should end. According to Lord Russell-Johnston, PACE at this time does not plan to take strict measures against Russia. During a January 18 meeting with Acting President Vladimir Putin, however, he expressed his disagreement with the way Moscow is conducting the war (Radio Liberty, January 19).