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|Chechnya : Ruthlessness is no solution|
|01/10/02 at 06:52:22|
|P.Felgenhauer: Ruthlessness is no solution|
Thursday, Jan. 10, 2002. Page 9 The Moscow Times
Ruthlessness is No Solution
By Pavel Felgenhauer
For two years Russian soldiers have been fighting in the streets of
Grozny. There have been lots of casualties -- on some days up to a
hundred dead -- and many more wounded.
Thousands of bombs and shells, including highly destructive
incendiary bombs, rained down on Grozny, and in the end there was not
a single house left undamaged in a city that once had as many as half
a million inhabitants. After almost a month of nonstop bombardment
the morale of the Chechen rebels broke and they retreated in
disarray, losing in the retreat many times more men than during the
Some rebel units were completely wiped out, and many rebel leaders
were slain or badly wounded. Russian generals were talking of victory
being at hand.
Victory in Chechnya now seems as far off as ever. Russian troops are
still mopping up or "cleansing" the towns and villages that they
have "cleaned" many times before in search of rebels. This week a
special operation was conducted in the town of Argun to the northeast
of Grozny -- a town that was captured without a fight by the army in
the fall of 1999.
Many Chechens are killed or arrested during these cleansing
operations. Some Chechens disappear while in the custody of the
military or special forces -- most apparently killed without trial or
tortured to death, their bodies then ditched somewhere or secretly
All the dead and most of the arrested Chechens are declared by the
Russian authorities to be rebels or terrorists. In fact, many of them
may indeed be part of the resistance.
Chechnya is not large -- 80 kilometers wide and 160 kilometers in
length. Most of the country is barren mountains or barren hills and
steppe. There is some scrub and several small woods the size of New
York's Central Park. At the beginning of the 1990s there were as many
as 1 million people living in Chechnya. After a decade of devastation
and killing there are several hundred thousand inhabitants left, with
hundreds of thousands more living as refugees in neighboring
The Russian occupation force in Chechnya is more than 80,000 strong.
However, sustaining such a large field force for more than two years
has seriously strained the financial and logistical capabilities of
the military. Plans have been announced to begin a partial withdrawal
of troops, leaving only units from the North Caucasian military
district to continue the suppression of the Chechen rebellion.
Today, the Russian forces in Chechnya are trying to decimate the
resistance in anticipation of a possible withdrawal in the spring.
Russian generals are also doing their best to take advantage of the
harsh winter in the North Caucasus, with the cold and heavy snow
making it harder for the rebels to melt into the countryside than in
summer, forcing them to take refuge in villages.
Successful and ruthless operations by U.S. troops in Afghanistan have
also inspired Russian commanders. If U.S. soldiers are allowed to
wipe out entire villages in revenge attacks, kill hundreds of
innocent civilians "by mistake," cause mass hunger and deprivation by
deliberately attacking and destroying International Red Cross
stockpiles of relief supplies, then who can possibly scold Russian
generals for war crimes in Chechnya? Today the West has given Moscow
total carte blanche to do whatever it pleases.
But sheer ruthlessness cannot stop popular rebellions and is
particularly counterproductive in fighting terrorists, as the United
States may soon discover as it celebrates its Afghan victories. The
Russian predicament in Chechnya is probably even worse.
Russian troops are undisciplined, badly trained and poorly commanded.
Their weapons are basically the same as those used by the Soviet
Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. They have no modern communications
or night-vision equipment and no GPS positioning equipment to
There are some Soviet-made precision-guided weapons in the Russian
inventory, but army officers and soldiers are not trained to use them
properly. Marauding and random violence by undisciplined servicemen
only stimulate more Chechens to join the resistance after every
cleansing operation. In a province as small as Chechnya occupied by
so big an army, the resistance can survive only because it is the
Since 1995, this is the fifth winter offensive by Russian forces in
Chechnya. They did not succeed before and are unlikely to succeed
Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.
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