The conflicting reports concerning a political settlement to the Chechen conflict come at a time when even pro-government media are reporting war-weariness among the federal forces. Over the weekend, one of the country’s state television channels quoted officers in Chechnya speaking openly of their men being exhausted after seven months of fighting and wanting to go home (RTR, April 15). In addition, few observers believe that the federal forces are close to prevailing militarily. It is springtime in the Caucasus and the landscape is already covered in foliage, creating ideal conditions for guerrilla warfare. Indeed, in footage aired over the weekend, soldiers were shown exchanging fire with rebel snipers hidden in a wooded area (NTV, April 16). Meanwhile, an officer of the Federal Security Service and a policeman were shot to death and three other police officers wounded yesterday in the town of Argun. The incident occurred while the officers were checking the passports of residents of an apartment building. Interior Ministry officials reported today that federal forces in the Chechen capital had discovered and destroyed a cache of weapons and ammunition that rebels had hidden for use in future guerrilla attacks. According to Russian officials, some 400 rebel fighters remain in the Chechen capital and are operating in small units of three to ten men each (Russian agencies, April 16-17).
Even General Gennady Troshev, the acting commander of the Russian military contingent in Chechnya, said that while Chechnya had been relatively quiet over the weekend, the situation in the republic’s southern mountainous regions, particularly Nozhai-Yurt and Vedeno, was “very difficult.” Troshev said that the rebel forces were mainly concentrated along Chechnya’s eastern borders. Russian aviation yesterday hit rebel positions in Nozhai-Yurt, Vedeno and the Argun Gorge. Military sources reported that rebel units were trying to seize control of various strategic heights in the Argun Gorge, and that two units controlled by rebel field commander Ruslan Gelaev were operating in Achkoi-Martan and Urus-Martan, two regions supposedly already under federal control (Russian agencies, April 16-17).
The general sense that there is no light at the end of the tunnel in Chechnya is shared by informed Western sources. Russian agencies today cited an article published yesterday in the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, which quoted the head of German intelligence as saying that the situation in the entire Caucasus region had “dangerously worsened” and that the federal forces do not “control the situation” in the region. He was quoted as saying that the war in Chechnya could soon spread to neighboring Russian regions and to Georgia, and that Chechen Islamists were receiving support from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement and Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden (Russian agencies, April 17).
RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION PROTAGONISTS THINK BIG.