Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 119

During the night of June 17, through the early hours of the following morning, Chechen fighters not under the control of the authorities in Djohar carried out attacks on checkpoints manned by Russian Interior Ministry troops located in Dagestan’s border regions with Chechnya. Earlier in the day, Chechen guerrillas attacked a police patrol car in Stavropol. Three soldiers were killed in the Dagestan attack and four killed in the Stavropol attack. According to official Russian reports, attacks were launched against Chechen guerrillas in response, and a column of fifteen trucks carrying Chechen fighters was destroyed by Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters. A later official report claimed that 200 Wahabbi Muslim fighters who had been involved in the attacks on the Russian troops had been killed.

These numbers, however, are highly questionable: The claim to a column of fifteen trucks being destroyed, for example, does not jibe with official claims that the law enforcement troops are confronting mobile, well-trained and highly professional bands. But even if it turns out to be true that the Russian side managed to kill 200 guerrillas from the air, it will be very difficult for the military command to explain how they were able to identify them as Wahabbi Muslims. In any case, what is clear is that the Kremlin, at least rhetorically, is taking a very hard line on such attacks, and that, if they are repeated, Moscow intends to launch rocket attacks against guerrilla training bases on Chechen territory (NTV, ORT, RTR, June 18; Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 19).

The attacks in Dagestan and Stavropol were the largest military action by the radical Chechen field commanders since the end of the Chechen War. It is noteworthy that the attacks took place right after Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov agreed to carry out a joint struggle against criminal groups (meaning the anti-Maskhadov field commanders). One gets the impression that the rebel field commanders are trying to demonstrate to both the Kremlin and the official Chechen authorities who is boss in Chechnya. In Maskhadov’s view, these latest attacks were designed to ruin his planned meeting with President Boris Yeltsin. At the same time, the newspaper “Kommersant” has reported that the attacks were carried out by guerrillas trained in training camps run by the field commander Khattab. The paper notes that the situation along the Russian-Chechen border gets destabilized every three months, when guerrilla-trainees from Khattab’s camps carry out attacks as their final “exam” prior to “graduation” (Kommersant, June 19).

However, regardless of whether this version is true, it is obvious that Moscow is intent on ending cross-the-border raids. Ever since Sergei Stepashin became prime minister (he was one of the initiators of Moscow’s 1994 decision to dispatch troops to Chechnya), Moscow has shown clearly that it plans to carry out a tough policy in regard to the anti-Maskhadov field commanders in Chechnya. Proof of this has been Moscow’s counterattacks against guerrillas and the fact that the Russian authorities, following the latest incidents, have for the first time officially announced their intention to launch rocket attacks against terrorist bases in Chechnya.

In the meantime, Cossack leaders in Stavropol warned that they would take matters into their own hands if the federal authorities were incapable of stopping armed attacks from Chechen territory (NTV, June 20).