In the wake of the September 17 rebel attack on the cities of Gudermes and Argun, along with the downing of a military helicopter over Djohar (Grozny), the Chechen capital, the Russian authorities have stepped up security measures throughout the republic. Russian military has blockaded practically every major population center in Chechnya. No civilian cars or trucks are being allowed into Djohar. The streets of the Chechen capital are reportedly empty, with neither schools nor the university open. Security checkpoints have been closed to ordinary citizens and employees of the pro-Moscow government alike. The picture in Gudermes, Chechnya’s second-largest city and former headquarters for the pro-Moscow administration, is much the same, with Russian troops carrying out searches and passport checks throughout the city in the wake of this week’s rebel attack. Violence continued after the initial rebel attack on Gudermes: The next day (September 18), rebels fired on the local Interior Ministry headquarters, killing one policeman and wounding three. An undisclosed number of attackers were reportedly killed. Meanwhile, the city administration in Argun, which was also attacked by rebels, was still practically not functioning yesterday (Radio Liberty, September 19). The Izvestia.ru website reported yesterday that female employees of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow government were being evacuated from Djohar to the Russian military base at Mozdok, in the neighboring republic of North Ossetia. A spokeswoman for the Chechen government denied the report, calling it “panicky nonsense” and noting that most of the Chechen government’s employees were local Djohar residents (Izvestia.ru, NTV.ru, September 19).
Whatever the case, it is clear from this week’s rebel attacks that the federal authorities’ oft-repeated claim that the Chechen rebels are no longer able to mount large-scale operations is absurd. What is less clear, however–at least from official statements–is exactly what happened in Gudermes. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov claimed that 300 rebels attacked administrative buildings in the city, while Vsevelod Chernov, Chechnya’s chief prosecutor, said the largest group that attacked Gudermes consisted of ten to fifteen rebels, accompanied by other rebel units made up of only three to five attackers each. Gryzlov, meanwhile, blamed the attack on the existing passport system in Chechnya, claiming that there were a large number of people in the republic with no identification documents who were posing as peaceful civilians by day and taking up arms at night. For his part, Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya, said the republic’s power structures must be held responsible for this week’s attacks. Kadyrov claimed that the rebel attackers entered Gudermes on buses, launched their attacks and freely left the city the following morning (September 18). The Russian authorities say ten of their servicemen were killed and eleven wounded during the fighting in Gudermes, with seventeen rebel attackers killed. Akhmed Abastov, head of the Gudermes district administration, said that the federal side fired 300 to 400 artillery shells at the rebels who attacked Gudermes. Abastov said that the artillery strikes were accurate and thus avoided significant collateral damage among the city’s civilian population (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, NTV.ru, September 19; see also the Monitor, September 18).
The Chechen rebels, meanwhile, put their own spin on this week’s attacks. According the pro-rebel website Kavkaz.org, the separatists’ “large-scale counterattack” showed the real power and capabilities of rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. “The mujahedeen command does not hide its goals and is readying new operations against the Russian occupation-terrorist gang,” the website declared. “Having carried out its assigned tasks in three of Ichkeria’s largest centers, the country’s armed forces can at any moment begin large-scale… actions to liberate Ichkeria from Russian occupation troops” (Kavkaz.org, September 19). A Russian newspaper warned that the rebels may “strike blows at the key federal positions in Chechnya and try to seize Grozny,” meaning that there could be “a cardinal change” in the character of the Chechen conflict in the immediate future (Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 19). A website quoted sources in the intelligence section of the federal forces in Chechnya as saying that the rebels enjoyed the support of the local population in a majority of Chechnya’s districts, including those in the north, which were ostensibly under federal control, and could mount attacks like those of this week in any of the republic’s cities. These same sources were quoted as saying that the rebels were preparing attacks in Argun and Shali (Lenta.ru, September 19).
PUTIN’S VISIT TO ARMENIA ASSESSED IN YEREVAN.