According to Western and Chechen reports, a battle between federal troops and rebels near the Chechen capital of Djohar [Grozny] on April 28 claimed the lives of fourteen Russian servicemen. The agency cited both rebels and Russian troops who participated in the battle as sources for its report (Agence France Presse, Kavkaz.org, April 28). According to rebel sources, the federal forces sustained additional losses on April 30, when thirteen servicemen were killed as the result of a rebel attack on a military convoy thirty-five kilometers east of the Chechen capital.
Moscow, however, has categorically denied both reports. Stanislav Kovun, deputy commander of Russia’s internal troops, insisted that there was no battle near the Chechen capital on April 28 and that no Russian servicemen were killed that day. Other military sources denied the reports of an April 30 attack on a military convoy (Russian agencies, April 28, May 1).
Regardless of whether these attacks took place, it is already clear that with the arrival of spring and vegetation in Chechnya, the federal forces’ operations there have bogged down and the rebels may be gaining the military initiative. Indeed, the number of attacks on Russian army and Interior Ministry units has been increasing. Just yesterday alone, rebels attacked eight Russian posts, including a military command post near the town of Shatoi which Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government’s representative in Chechnya, had been visiting moments before the attack. Rebels also hit the central military commandant’s headquarters in the Chechen capital, killing one soldier (Associated Press, May 2).
The situation has apparently become so serious that even the Russian military has stopped issuing triumphal statements and begun expressing worry about the course of the military operation. The recent comments of General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the North Caucasus military district’s 58th army, was symptomatic. Shamanov, who had previously spoken about the Chechen operation only in optimistic terms, said in an interview last week that the “operational environment” in Chechnya was “worsening” (Krasnaya Zvezda, April 28).
The military has also stopped predicting that the rebels will fail in their apparent attempts to spread the war to neighboring Dagestan once again. Russian military sources have been openly expressing the fear that with the opening of mountain passes and crossings, the rebels will be able to receive assistance from across the Russian-Georgian border and from Azerbaijan, via the Dagestani-Chechen administrative border. At the same time, the Russian special services have allegedly discovered that the Chechen rebels have bacteriological weapons at their disposal, and have received S-5 and S-8 rockets from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement, which are said to be sitting in Georgian customs terminals. In addition, the rebels are reportedly awaiting the arrival of eight Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, 300 RPG-26 hand-held antitank weapons, and communications equipment. The rebels have allegedly already used Grad launchers to fire radioactive shells against federal forces (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 29).
The reports alleging that weapons are being transported to the Chechen rebels via Georgia has fueled fears that the conflict could spill over into neighboring Georgia. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Austria’s foreign minister and head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said yesterday that there was a “real danger” that the war could spread to Georgia. She made her comments after meeting with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital (Reuters, May 2). According to the military, 50 Chechen fighters were killed April 30 as a result of air strikes on rebel positions in the mountainous regions of Chechnya, along the republic’s borders with Georgia and Dagestan (Radio Liberty, May 1).
BODIES OF NINE PERM OMON TROOPS DISCOVERED IN CHECHNYA.