Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 9

The Russian military said yesterday that it had completed operations to clear the Chechen town of Shali and Argun of rebel fighters. Evidence suggesting that federal troops had indeed reasserted control over Shali was the visit made there yesterday by Nikolai Koshman, the Kremlin’s representative in Chechnya. Local inhabitants showed Koshman fragments of a Russian rocket that hit Shali on January 10, killing not only rebel fighters, but also civilians (NTV, Radio Liberty, January 12).

Such declarations of victory, however, have to be viewed with skepticism. There is every reason to believe that these operations to clear rebels from population centers are carried out to please the military brass rather than actually achieve results. Indeed, many rebel fighters simply join the local militias which Moscow formed to protect towns from the rebels, which gives them access to weapons. The time devoted to the “clearing” operations in Argun and Shali, moreover, was said to be laughable. The operation in Argun, where several thousand civilians live, took only two days, and only eleven crates of weapons were found (particularly curious, given that practically all the civilians own guns). The search of Shali, a town with more than 20,000 inhabitants, took several hours, and the only weapon found was a telescopic scope for a sniper rifle. Federal forces were in such a rush to leave Shali that they didn’t notice that several wounded rebel fighters remained in the local hospital, where they were receiving treatment (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 12).

Meanwhile, despite the fact that what is going on in Chechnya is often little more than a parody of a military operation, Moscow continues to issue threats. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev has vowed that “there will be no cessation of military actions against the fighters.” Acting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, he says, has given the troops “concrete military tasks which take into consideration the real situation.” Sergeev also rejects the latest call from Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov for the start of peace talks (Russian agencies, January 12).