The January 11 issue of the newspaper Moskovsky komsomolets carries a report by two journalists who recently visited both Djohar (Grozny) and the large Russian base located at Khankala on the outskirts of the city. The reporters note that, in general, the Russian media–both television and print–have ceased covering the war. “The viewer and the reader,” they observe, “are gaining the impression that the situation in the republic has normalized and that peaceful times have come.” Nothing, they underline, could be further from the truth.
“Only during [Russian Orthodox] Christmas week,” they report, “bases of the federal forces were subjected to weapons fire and attacks 172 times, including eighty-seven incidents in Grozny and at Khankala. In addition, about 200 landmines and explosive devices were disarmed during that period. And it should be noted that this is official information coming from a military agency.” “If we translate these 170 attacks into plain Russian,” the authors sum up, “it means that a real war is continuing in Chechnya. And the rebels do not at all constitute dispersed bands of bandits; rather they are strong and bold enough to permit themselves to attack bases containing thousands (if not tens of thousands) of soldiers.”
The report also remarks that relations between the Russian military and forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs based in Chechnya have become hostile and strained. “And their common enemy is the [pro-Moscow] Chechen police.” “Today,” the authors conclude in their report, “the rebels don’t have to take Grozny by storm. They’ve already taken it.”
In a similar vein, the January 5 issue of the online daily Gazeta.ru carried an article provocatively entitled, “The Federals Have Lost Grozny.” The author, journalist Tat’yana Gromozova, traveled at night in a heavy military truck from the fortified Russian base at Khankala to downtown Djohar accompanied by an intrepid young soldier-driver, Vovka, and a military colonel. The truck, she recalls, “flew through the absolutely dark city at wild speed.” Other vehicles would attempt to settle into their slipstream in a hope of avoiding being blown up by landmines. When the colonel would order Vovka to slow down, he would decline, asserting: “Comrade colonel, I want to arrive there alive.”
As they flew past the rubble of endless destroyed buildings, the truck crew had to keep an eagle eye out for separatist snipers, especially those with grenade launchers. As they zoomed pas a ruined eight-story building, it was noted that even Russian military sappers were refusing to enter the edifice because it has been so heavily mined by both the federals and separatists. “Yet every night from the eighth floor they fire at the nearest [Russian military] checkpoint.”
Officially, Gromozova remarks, “there are about 500 bandits in the city,” but in private conversation soldiers state their conviction that “a majority of the male populace of the city belong to the rebels.” The city’s total population is now said to be 120,000. When they arrive at their destination in one piece, the colonel confides that there have been reports that the Russian government is planning to stop providing Russian contract-soldiers with their pay. “If they stop paying them,” he warns, “then no one will come here. They’ll all run away. Here everyone is a contract-soldier. Do you understand?” And the truck drove off.