Russian troops in Djohar, the Chechen capital, held a parade yesterday to mark Defender of the Fatherland’s Day–known during the Soviet period as Soviet Army Day. The symbolic purpose of the parade was to symbolize the defeat of the Chechen rebel forces. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told the servicemen gathered for the ceremony that the final phase of the operation to destroy “band formations and terrorist groups that were trying to tear down Russia” had been completed (Russian agencies, February 21).
While the parade was taking place in the Chechen capital, military operations were continuing in the Argun Gorge. Russian military officials claim that federal forces have almost reached the village of Borzoi-Yurt, high in the mountains, where the headquarters of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov are reportedly located, and that the village will soon fall. They also claim, citing radio intercepts, that Chechen field commander Khattab, who is of Jordanian or Saudi extraction, and other foreign fighters will soon try to leave Chechnya. According to Russian military intelligence, Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev is hiding in a village in a region of Chechnya already under federal control. Basaev, who lost a foot to a mine while fleeing Djohar (Grozny), is virtually comatose and requires immediate medical help. Basaev’s men are reportedly looking for a way get him to Georgia. Russian military officials also say that Chechen field commander Salman Raduev has been killed in an internecine battle, but concede that the report has not yet been confirmed.
On February 18, a photograph supposedly taken by Reuters of Basaev and showing him relatively healthy was posted on the Chechen rebel website, which claimed that Basaev plans to get back into the battle in a matter of days (Kavkaz.org, February 18). It is also worth noting that during the last Chechen war, Russian mass media reported Raduev had been killed, and even showed his grave.
Meanwhile a Russian weekly rained on the Russian troops’ parade by reporting that the bombardment of the village of Kady-Yurt by federal forces had killed 167 civilians. Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Acting President Vladimir Putin’s point man on Chechnya, denied the newspaper’s charges, saying that those who were killed were Chechen fighters, not civilians (Novaya gazeta, NTV, February 21).
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