The well-known military journalist Pavel Felgenhauer recently suggested that there might be less to the announced withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya than meets the eye. According to official sources, he noted, there are now approximately 80,000 Russian troops in Chechnya, about 40,000 of which are from the Defense Ministry and the remainder from other forces. Chechen sources, however, assert that the Russian occupying army is in actuality 120,000 to 160,000 strong, figures which would seem on the surface to be inflated. At the end of January, however, Felgenhauer pointed out, it had been officially announced by presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky that the combined forces of the Defense Ministry (57,000) and Interior Ministry (36,000) totaled 93,000. And this figure “did not include garrisons stationed close to the border in the Northern Caucasus or logistical and support units stationed outside of Chechnya but involved in the fighting (including air force squadrons).” Taking all of this into consideration, Felgenhauer concluded, “perhaps there is some measure of truth to the inflated rebel figures.” As for the present announced force reduction, “The units currently scheduled for withdrawal consist of about 5,000 men. [However] it should be noted that the authorities have often withdrawn various units with great fanfare, only to quietly replace them with other units later. Essentially, they try to depict the normal rotation of units as a cutback” (Moscow Times, March 22).
Writing in the no. 12 (March 22) issue of Obshchaya Gazeta, journalist Bakhtiyar Akhmedkhanov likewise commented on the announced Russian force reduction. “Over the past week,” he wrote, “several units have left the [Chechen] republic, the largest of which was a regiment. On television they showed the solemn send-off of an entire brigade [supposedly] to Siberia, but that brigade is currently standing in neighboring Dagestan.” And Akhmedkhanov continued: “Our military sources maintain that the ‘withdrawal of troops’ is in fact a normal rotation of forces, as a result of which fresh and–the main thing–better prepared units are being introduced into Chechnya. There is also information that some of these units have been trained at special centers where the soldiers learn how to conduct military actions under mountain conditions.”