Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 178

Nezavisimaya gazeta is reporting that the Russian military leadership is considering a plan to send ground troops into Chechnya (see the Monitor, September 27), according to which Russian troops will occupy both the area along the left bank of the Terek River in the breakaway republic (Leftbank Chechnya) and the adjacent Nadterechny Region. The ethnic Russian-populated region along the Terek was formerly part of Stavropol krai, but in 1957 was made part of the Checheno-Ingushian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Between the time that Dzhokhar Dudaev, Chechnya’s first president, came to power and the entry of Russian troops into the republic in 1994, Nadterechny Region was controlled by the anti-Dudaev Chechen opposition and thus was not subordinated to Dudaev.

Nadterechny Region was used by the Russian Special Services in November 1994 to stage a military attack by the opposition on Grozny (Djohar), the Chechen capital. Russian troops, including tank commanders, were among the attacking forces. After the anti-Dudaev opposition’s attempt to storm Grozny failed, the Kremlin decided to send troops en masse into Chechnya. In December 1994 these troops occupied both Leftbank Chechnya and Nadterechny Region with virtually no losses. They did incur huge losses in attempting to storm Grozny and in attacks on Chechnya’s high mountainous regions. It is worth noting that on the eve of the invasion of Chechnya by Russian troops, one of the Russian military’s scenarios was to take control only of Leftbank Chechnya and Nadterechnya Region, while blockading the rest of the breakaway republic. This idea, however, was ultimately rejected.

Today, it would appear that the Kremlin has returned to this plan, adding to it only the idea of creating “cordone sanitaire” around the perimeter of Chechnya’s borders. Meanwhile, observers on the scene report that troops are concentrating in Ingushetia, Mozdok and Kizlyar, and could imminently plunge into battle. It can be assumed that the Russian military leadership is intentionally misleading the public in order to achieve the effect of surprise in attacking Chechnya. It is also worth noting that Moscow even now is not ruling out the possibility of dialogue with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Maskhadov himself, while condemning Russia’s “new aggression” against Chechnya, is insisting on an immediate meeting with President Boris Yeltsin. Nezavisimaya gazeta, citing Maskhadov himself, claims that an alliance between the Chechen president and rebel field commander Shamil Basaev is not possible under any circumstances. At the same time, federal troops will have to enlist the support of influential forces in Chechnya if they enter on the ground, and thus it is possible that Moscow is trying to exacerbate the contradictions between Chechen military-political groups (NTV, September 27; Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 28).

It is also possible, however, that the Kremlin is hoping to resolve the Chechen crisis without resorting to the direct introduction of troops onto Chechen territory. Yuri Baluevsky, who is deputy head of the Russian armed forces’ general staff and head of its main operational directorate, said that “it is not ruled out that troops will not go into Chechnya at all.” Baluevsky argued that all possible means will be used against Chechen guerrillas “besides nuclear weapons,” and suggested a special operation aimed directly against Basaev and fellow radical field commander Khattab might be in the works. Baluevsky said the Russian military has the means to “win” in Chechnya without a ground operation–by using air power and special forces (Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 28).