Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 28

In an article entitled “The Carpet Bombing of Georgia,” which appeared in the September 24 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, journalist Andrei Savitsky wrote that the Russian military were drawing up elaborate plans for attacks on Georgia that would “cut off the penetration of the rebels from Georgia to Chechnya.” Among the measures being considered were massive bombardments to serve to set off winter avalanches, a tactic used by Soviet forces in Afghanistan in 1979-1980. The best tool to be used against rebels ensconced in the mountains, Savitsky noted, was the Mi-8MTKO military helicopter. Unfortunately, he was required to add, Russia has only two such helicopters in use in Chechnya “which the rebels have organized a real hunt for. For the destruction of each of these machines the rebels have set a reward of US$60,000.”

Also in the September 24 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Il’ya Masksakov, a journalist who frequently covers the war in Chechnya, speculated that the Russian military might be contemplating “nuclear strikes” against Georgia. “Absurd?” he asked. “Of course it is, as is everything that is presently taking place in relations between Russia and Georgia. However, the declarations coming from Moscow do fully characterize a situation under which the use of nuclear weapons would be acceptable.”

Writing in the September 26 issue of Vremya MN, a leading Russian military journalist, Viktor Litovkin, wrote that a “military scenario” for the problem of the Pankisi Gorge represented “the most dangerous and short-sighted” one for Russia. But precisely such a scenario, he added, “has taken possession of the minds of many people in epaulettes.” The Russian media, he recalled, had in recent days been full of detailed articles citing “unnamed officers of the General Staff,” concerning how an operation by Russian forces would be mounted in the Pankisi Gorge. “We have already heard from one minister of defense [Pavel Grachev] that he would take Grozny ‘with two paratroop divisions in two hours,'” Litovkin commented sarcastically, “How that ended and what it brought the country to there is no need to remind anybody. So a legal right to a preventive strike is not the same thing as its real possibility.”

“Before one begins such actions,” Litovkin cautioned, “one must clearly represent to oneself how the actions will proceed and how they will end. And they will proceed (here there can be no doubts) with enormous losses for the civilian population [of Georgia], with the destruction of housing and economic sites, with a flow of refugees into Tbilisi and other cities, with terrible reports on all the television channels of the world and with angry declarations in the OSCE and the UN.” Litovkin ended by asking: “Is Chechnya really not enough for us? Do we really have to repeat it in sovereign Georgia?”