Moscow rules out full-scale Grozny attack

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Attempting to secure the moral high ground in the Chechnya conflict, a Russian general yesterday ruled out a full military assault on the capital, Grozny, and said the "terrorists and bandits" Moscow was fighting were feared and loathed by nearly all of the local population.

Attempting to secure the moral high ground in the Chechnya conflict, a Russian general yesterday ruled out a full military assault on the capital, Grozny, and said the "terrorists and bandits" Moscow was fighting were feared and loathed by nearly all of the local population.

"There will be no storming of Grozny," said ColonelGeneral Valery Manilov, deputy chief of the general staff, denying reports that Moscow was about to launch a frontal attack similar to the one that devastated the city in 1994-96.

Insisting that Russia had taken to heart its experience of five years ago, General Manilov told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute in London that Moscow was conducting a "limited operation" aimed at enemy bases, supply lines and communications.

But he could not clear up the ambiguity of the Kremlin's position - how to root out the insurgents yet avoid going into Grozny proper and without bombarding civilian centres where the guerrillas operate.

He said Russian losses in the present campaign and earlier fighting over Chechen incursions into Dagestan were 180 killed and 400 wounded.

He put "terrorist" losses at 2,000 in Dagestan and 1,500 thus far in Chechnya proper, although these seem on the high side, given the estimated total insurgent strength of 20,000.

Another sense in which Moscow has learnt the lessons of the previous conflict, in which it appeared a brutal aggressor in the eyes of the world, is that not only the war on the ground must be won, but also - and scarcely less important - the propaganda battle at home and abroad.

General Manilov depicted his foes as ruthless and savage warlords, "parasites on the body of their people" driven less by Islamic idealism than money, weapons and support from an international terrorist network. "Osama bin Laden is one sponsor and I could give other names." Far from being gallant freedom-fighters, he maintained, the Chechen insurgents lived off extortion, violence and kidnapping. There was a pool of 2,000 hostages. "Some get killed, some are let go but the overall figure doesn't change." Of them, 300 were usually from other parts of Russia, 50 to 60 were foreigners and the rest Chechens.

The result was a rule of terror in which "80 per cent of the population hates and fears the terrorists".

He rejected charges of Russian hypocrisy over Chechnya, and the parallels drawn abroad between the campaign in the Caucasus and Nato's military onslaught on Yugoslavia in spring, which Moscow opposed.

The Chechen operation was far smaller, it was to protect what was internationally recognised as a sovereign part of Russia, and enjoyed overwhelming support from the local populace.

In Kosovo the local population had suffered, General Manilov said, passing in silence over the fact that the same could occur in Chechnya. Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen president, was "a legitimate leader" but "absolutely powerless to counter the terrorists".

Comments