By Grigory Krichevsky And Tony Wesolowsky
Prague, March 21 (RFE/RL) - After more than fifteen months of fighting
to subdue the separatist revolt, Moscow says its forces have gained
control of the situation in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
But Chechen separatists say that is not true. They contend that
their fighters hold vast tracts of land in southern and eastern
Chechnya. They also claim control of villages both in the vicinity of
the capital Grozny and near the border with neighboring Ingushetia.
RFE/RL correspondent in Chechnya says the republic basically has
been carved in half. He says that supporters of the Moscow-backed
government of Doku Zavgayev control broad swaths in the north. But
key pockets of Chechen resistance are concentrated across eastern and
southern Chechnya. In particular, Chechen fighter strongholds are
reported located in the region of Gudermes (35 km east of Grozny) and
in the Vedeno region (50 km south of the capital).
Observers say Russian forces have had little success in the south
because of wily Chechen field commanders in the area. In particular,
they mention Aslambek Abdulkhadzhiev, a close ally of Shamil Basayev
and the chief in charge of defense on the village of Argun in 1995.
Basayev himself led a raid on the southern Russian town of
Budyonnovsk in which thousands of civilians were taken hostage last
Another key Chechen separatist leader is Khunkar Israpilov.
According to RFE/RL correspondent in Chechnya, Israpilov assisted
Salman Raduyev to break through the blockade of the village of
Pervomayskaya during another hostage crisis in Dagestan earlier this
year. Raduyev, a commander of the Gudermes region, masterminded the
Chechen separatist assault that began in Kislyar and culiminated in
a standoff with Russian forces in Pervomayskaya.
A few weeks ago Raduyev was reported killed, but Chechen separatist
leader Dzhokhar Dudayev told RFE/RL the Chechen field commander is
Recent attempts by Russian forces to seize the Chechen stronghold of
Bamut have also become embarrassing to the Russian military. RFE/RL
correspondent says Russian forces last week mounted a major assault s
on the village that had once served as a Russian military base. But
this week (March 18) Interfax quoted the Russian military command as
saying that about 400 Chechen fighters continued to repel attacks by
at least 1,500 Defense Ministry troops.
Continued fighting has also been reported in other areas of western
Chechnya, in the villages of Samashki, Orekhovo and Stary Atchkhoi.
Witnesses have said more than 600 civilians have been killed
in the shelling of Samashki in the last few days, though this figure
has not been confirmed.
Today, the Russian Military Command in Chechnya was reported to hold
talks with the separatists to convince them to lay down their
But in a recent exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Dudayev said the Russians were merely trying to drive a wedge between his supporters and the Chechen nation. Dudayev said Russian efforts would not succeed.
A recent Chechen separatist assault on Grozny showed just
how tenuous Russian control of Chechnya still is. After launching a
surprise offensive at the beginning of the month, Dudayev's supporters
managed to occupy over two thirds of the largely-ruined Chechen
capital. Over 200 Russian servicemen were said to have died in
fighting. Even now, Western correspondents report new clashes and
sporadic firing in Grozny. This refutes Russian assertions that its
military succeeded in mopping up all major Chechen resistance in the
With battles raging in the south, Zavgayev concentrates efforts to
preserve control on northern regions by signing a series of separate
peace accords with individual villages. The tactic is designed to
create a so-called "zone of peace".
Zavgayev has said six of 18 regions have been willing to
conclude such agreement with the Moscow-backed authorities.
Russian Defense Ministry officials say the settlements of Naursky,
Nadterechny, and Shelkovskoy have agreed to cooperate in the plan as
long as Russian forces are guaranteed security in their regions.
This "zone of peace" concept, first articulated by Zavgayev, is
reported to feature prominently in President Boris Yeltsin's
prospective peace plan for Chechenya.
The plan was reported to have been discussed at a security council
meeting in Moscow on March 15. Yeltsin said that it would be made
public by the end of the month.It is generally assumed that the
continuing war in Chechnya hinders his bid for reelection in the June
16 presidential poll.