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Iron fist leaves no room to move in Chechnya

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  • Moray Pickering
    Iron fist leaves no room to move in Chechnya By Hooman Peimani http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/EA04Ag03.html According to the Russian Emergency
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2003
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      Iron fist leaves no room to move in Chechnya
      By Hooman Peimani


      According to the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, more than 40 people
      were killed and more than 60 wounded on December 27 when two Chechen suicide
      bombers drove two trucks containing explosives into the Chechen government
      compound in Chechnya's capital, Grozny. The attackers' ability to pass
      through three security cordons around the compound reflected the inability
      of the Russian security forces to ensure even the security of the pro-Moscow
      republican government, despite the massive and brutal suppression of Chechen
      separatists, the blatant human rights abuses by the Russian military in
      Chechnya, and several dismissals of the Russian military commanders there.

      Undoubtedly, the bombing was a clear case of security failure of the Russian
      forces stationed in the republic, although the two pro-Moscow high-ranking
      republican officials, Akhmed Kadyrov (head of the republican government) and
      Mikhail Babyche (his deputy) were not in the compound at the time of
      incident. Being the house of Chechnya's government, the severely damaged
      compound was reportedly protected by three security cordons established by
      Russian forces.

      In his reaction to the incident in Moscow, where he was at the time of
      bombing, Kadyrov expressed his shock and requested an investigation into the
      actions of the security forces around the compound, as he stated, "How could
      the terrorists have managed to break through three fences around the
      government building?" However, he reportedly did not call for increased
      security measures in Grozny on the grounds of the futility of such measures,
      including checking cars through road blocks, to prevent further attacks,
      given the ability of Chechen "terrorists" to act as if they are "masters of
      Grozny", as evident in their operations in that city.

      Apart from the heavy casualties and severe damage to the compound, the
      attack on the Chechen government compound was a major embarrassment for the
      Russian government. Prior to the incident, the Kremlin insisted on the
      Russian forces' military success in Chechnya and on its putting the republic
      on the path of normalcy, a situation promising the end of the military
      operation there in the near future. Based on that argument, on December 18,
      the Russian government turned down the Russian parliament's call for a state
      of emergency in Chechnya. However, the December 27 attack clearly proved
      otherwise. Particularly, the choice of target and the success of the
      attackers demonstrated the operational capability of the anti-Moscow Chechen
      militants as well as their determination to pursue their cause, ie,
      independence for Chechnya.

      The failure of the Russian government to restore its authority in the
      breakaway republic has not been confined to the mentioned case only. In
      fact, Moscow has failed to achieve that objective through use of brute force
      since 1991 when the fall of the Soviet Union triggered the independence
      movement in Chechnya. After tolerating the latter's practical independence
      for about three years, the Russian massive military campaign in 1994, which
      lasted until 1996, only resulted in heavy casualties for both sides to the
      conflict without securing the Russian objective of ending the independence
      movement in Chechnya. In the end, Moscow had to accept for a while (although
      not officially) the irritating status quo - the republic's practical

      Beginning in 1999, the second military campaign to secure the same objective
      has only brought about a self-declared success for the Russian government.
      Through its massive use of force, including heavy land and aerial
      bombardments, in a few months the Russian troops forced the Chechen armed
      groups to retreat from indefensible cities and to change their tactics.
      Lacking heavy weapons, they have since avoided classical warfare with
      Russian troops. Instead, they have resorted to small-scale hit-and-run
      operations against Russian forces all over Chechnya, and even in its neighbo
      ring Republic of Dagestan, from strongholds in the mountains and the

      Seeking to increase the cost of Moscow's effort to keep Chechnya within its
      territory, the armed Chechen groups have inflicted constant losses in human
      lives and military hardware on the Russian military, pro-Moscow Chechens and
      police forces through their attacks on small concentrations of those targets
      and through their ambushes on Russian military convoys. Their significant
      use of anti-aircraft missiles since 2002 has challenged the Russian
      military's air superiority, as reflected in the shooting down of many
      Russian military helicopters in that year.

      The numerous reported abuses of human rights by the Russian forces against
      the civilian and armed Chechens alike have failed to end the Chechen
      independence movement about four years after the beginning of the latest
      military campaign, although it has certainly pushed many formerly reluctant
      Chechens toward the armed groups. Since 1999, the Russian forces have
      controlled the cities mainly during the day while seeking shelter in their
      barracks at night for fear of constant Chechen attacks. They have proved
      unable to control Chechnya as a whole and to ensure the allegiance of its
      population to Moscow.

      The Kremlin's agonizing inability to end the armed separatist movement
      through its costly military operation has resulted in the dismissals of many
      commanders of the Russian forces in Chechnya who have blamed for the bitter
      reality. However, such policy has failed to change the pace of events in
      Moscow's favor. As a recent example, on December 18, Russian President
      Vladimir Putin dismissed Colonel General Gennady Troshev and handed over his
      position to Colonel General Vladimir Boldyrev.

      Against this background, the December attack on the Chechen government's
      compound should not surprise anyone, especially because it took place after
      a major bombing of a police station in Grozny in October during which at
      least 25 people were killed. However, the ability of the attackers to bypass
      the Russian security forces is definitely a matter of surprise, both for
      indicating the weakness of the Russian military's security arrangement in
      Grozny and also for its timing. The attack happened about two months after
      the surprising October takeover of a theater in Moscow by Chechen militants.

      The Chechen conflict since 1991 has proven that Moscow's resort to extensive
      use of force can only turn Chechnya's cities, including Grozny, into rubble,
      while leaving its objective unachievable. Although the Russian government
      has a right to preserve its territorial integrity, the decade-long negative
      experience of its high-handed approach toward Chechnya should convince it
      that unless the root causes of separatism are addressed, its iron fist
      policy will only deepen mistrust and hostility between the Chechens and the
      Russians. The latter will surely prolong the devastating war in Chechnya and
      will delay the finding of a mutually acceptable peaceful settlement to the
      Chechen conflict.

      Dr Hooman Peimani works as an independent consultant with international
      organizations in Geneva and does research in international relations.

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