Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 230

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has announced that the likelihood of Russian federal forces storming the Chechen capital of Djohar will depend on the behavior of both the Chechen fighters and the civilians there. Meanwhile, the Chechen side is claiming that federal troops are continuing to bombard the capital, and denying Russian charges that they [the Chechen fighters] have been preventing civilians from leaving the capital. According to Chechen officials, 315 civilians, including elderly ethnic Russians, left Djohar during the last twenty-four hours. Chechen officials claim that the main obstacle to an exodus of civilians is the continuing shelling of the city by the federal forces, and secondarily that many of the civilians remaining in Djohar are too old and weak to make it on foot to one of the authorized Russian checkpoints outside Djohar. Russian military officials, meanwhile, claim that they did not shell the capital yesterday (December 12), in order to give the civilians an opportunity to leave. According to various estimates, as many as 50,000 civilians remain in the city (, Russian agencies, Radio Liberty, December 12).

Meanwhile, the Russian military seems to have decided to put off storming Djohar, concentrating instead on driving the Chechen fighters into the inaccessible mountainous regions of the republic. Over the weekend, Russian aviation and artillery continued to bomb Chechen towns and villages throughout the republic’s foothills. According to General Gennady Troshev, commander of the Russian forces’ western front, federal troops are preparing an attack, from Dagestani territory, on the mountainous regions of Chechnya. Russian military officials say that most of the Chechen fighters have been forced into the mountains and that the federal troops have blocked their return to the lowlands. Thus the Russian forces are repeating almost exactly the tactics of General Yermolov during the Caucasus War of the 19th century. During that war, the Russian forces managed to win by forcing the rebels into inaccessible mountainous regions, thereby robbing them of access to supplies of food and ammunition. Today, according to Apti Batalov, who heads the administration of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, villages in the foothills and the mountains are already suffering from starvation (Russian agencies, December 12).

Such 19th century methods of warfare, however, are considered barbaric at the end of the 20th. Thus, along with the international community, some Russian politicians have begun to criticize them. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said yesterday that instead of an antiterrorist operation, the Russian forces are carrying out a “war of vengeance.” Yavlinsky noted that a war against terrorism cannot be carried out with large-scale military operations which victimize civilians. The Yabloko leader said that he personally told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that such a war can only bring shame. Yavlinsky also said that Yabloko has supported and will continue to support Russian military actions aimed both at preventing aggression against Dagestan and at creating a “security belt” in Chechnya (Radio Liberty, December 12).