Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 192

The federal forces command in Chechnya have officially announced that they have completed the first step in creating a security zone in Chechnya. Russian troops now occupy the entire section of Chechnya north of the Terek River. Russian military officials have indicated that it remains unclear whether the security zone will be widened (NTV, ORT, RTR, October 17).

This area of Chechnya above the Terek belonged to Stavropol krai until 1957. It is possible that Moscow will limit itself to setting up structures of power in that region alone. First, the fact that it is a steppe makes it easier to control. Furthermore, the Terek River is a natural boundary from the rest of the country, and makes it difficult for Chechen fighters to cross into the north. However, even if the Kremlin decides not to widen its area of control, it is clear that Russian forces will carry out preemptive strikes against concentrations of Chechen fighters in the south. According to the Chechen authorities, Russian forces attacked a column of refugees near the Chechen village of Pervomaisk. Moscow categorically denied the report.

Over the weekend, battles continued near the Chechen towns of Bamut Goragorsk and Gudermes, the second-most populous city in Chechnya. It would appear that Moscow is trying to push the main force of Chechen fighters into the mountains. It is also clear that the Russian forces will face tough resistance. Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev said that entry of Russian troops has forced Chechnya’s fractious field commanders to forget their disagreements and unite. The Russian military command, meanwhile, claims that the Chechen forces have bought twenty-eight U.S.-made Stinger shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles (NTV, October 16-17).