Prague, March 18 (RFE/RL) - "Russia is showing its
muscles" says Salid Dumdayev, one of many Chechens who managed to
flee the village of Sernovodsk before it was destroyed by Russian
troops during recent artillery and rocket assaults.
Dumdayev used to be a professor of Russian literature. Now he is a
refugee in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. He lost
everything: his books, his job and his home.
Dumdayev is a victim of a recent series of Russian assaults in
Chechen villages and communities, which, the Russian military claims,
harbor Chechen separatist fighters.
Within the last two weeks or so, Russian troops have been busy in
the villages of Sernovodsk and Samashki, Bamut and Achkhoi-Martan, and
the capital city of Grozny itself. Yesterday, the Russian media
reported new military attacks against the village of Vedeno. All these
places in are in the southern part of Chechnya. The northern part is
said to be controlled by the Moscow-sponsored Chechen "government" of
The Russian assault tactics are always the same. After long and
repeated barrages of artillery and rocket fire, and after a repeated
air bombardment, the soldiers move in to cleanse the area from
"bandits and other undesirable elements." reports say These,
invariably, also include many women, children and older folks.
It is impossible to establish precisely the number of casualties in
this war. But it is certain that during the 15 months of hostilities,
many thousands have died - some estimates put the number of dead at
more than 30,000 - many have been wounded and maimed, and uncounted
numbers have been turned into homeless refugees.
Chechnya has become a symbol of human tragedy. But it is also a
focus of an intense political intrigue. From the very beginning the
Chechen separatist movement has been seen in Moscow as representing a
danger to Russia's national integrity and a challenge to Moscow's
authority. This view is today stronger than ever.
Speaking last week (Mar 15) at a session of the State Duma,
Russia's Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov warned that a withdrawal
of Russian troops now "would lead to a chain of events representing a
direct threat to the Russian state," harming its international
standing and playing into the hands of "criminal elements."
And so, Russia appears determined to continue "showing its muscles"
in trying to bomb Chechnya into submission. The operation has
recently intensified, apparently spurred by President Boris Yeltsin's
insistence that the conflict ends before the June presidential
Last week (Mar 15) Yeltsin announced that he had found the way to
end the conflict. He stopped short of providing details, but said that
his security council had approved a plan to do so. He said that he
would made the plan public in a forthcoming nationwide address.
Today the Russian media reported that Russia's Defense Minister
Pavel Grachev had said that the military would begin withdrawing
troops from Chechnya in April. He was said to have noted that the
withdrawal would mark a stage in the overall peace process. But
Grachev was also reported to have said that interiorl ministry troops
The Chechen separatists seem unmoved. Meeting yesterday with a group
of foreign press reporters, Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar
Dudayev condemned the Russian military tactics as "acts of terrorism,"
and pledged to step up the armed struggle against the Russians.
But he also was quick to say that he would be "ready to meet any
(Russian) official capable of holding his promises" to negotiate the
end of hostilities. This, he said, could include the communists.
"Anything would be better," he said, "than the criminal (Yeltsin)
regime that is eliminating my people."
In the meantime, the situation in Chechnya is "deteriorating," to
use the euphemistic expression used by Tim Guldimann, head of the
"Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe"(osce) mission in
Grozny. Guldimann said that much of the blame for that should go to
Russian bombardments of Chechen villages.
Chechen Moscow-installed leader Zavgayev seems to agree with that
assessment. His spokesman told the Russian media last week that
indiscriminate shelling of Sernovodsk and other villages merely plays
into the hands of separatist forces.
Speaking to Western reporters yesterday, former Russian literature
professor Dumdayev said he was through with teaching literature.
"There is only one thing left for me," he said, "it is to take up
arms, join the (separatist) fighters who protect my people, and fight
for dignity and independence of my country."