Chechens Hunker Down for Russian Onslaught
In what Agence France Presse is calling a "tactical" retreat, Chechen rebels are reportedly regrouping near the center of Grozny from positions northwest of the city. At the same time, Russian officials are touting the slow advance into the Chechen capital as a major tactical victory, stating that the offensive is in its final stages. If it is true that the rebels are strengthening their positions to make a final stand and that the Russian government is becoming extremely tense about dragging out the war, then the year 2000 may begin with a bloodbath in Grozny.
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's press office told Agence France Presse Dec. 29 that, "Chechen units had left certain parts of the Staropromyslovskaya district to fortify their lines of defense." Meanwhile, Russian special forces, backed by artillery and air support and pro-Russian Chechen militias, are making painfully slow progress in the city’s outskirts. With enough time, Russian forces could carry out proper siege warfare tactics against isolated pockets of Chechen fighters. Instead, Russian forces are engaging in high casualty urban attritional warfare.
But as Russian troops tighten the noose around the estimated 2,000 Chechen rebels defending Grozny, pressure is mounting to end this operation as soon as possible. Russian commanders, on the eve of the Russian assault, said Grozny would be seized within five days. Five days have passed since Russian forces started moving into Grozny proper and Russian military leaders are still announcing the battle will end soon. Russia’s deputy chief of staff Gen. Valery Manilov said Dec. 28 that Russian forces are "steadily moving towards the center," adding that they "tentatively plan to reach by the New Year some key targets, including the liquidation of the main terrorist armed groups."
Based on the tactics followed since Dec. 23, aimed at avoiding casualties, it will still take weeks for Russian forces to completely control the Chechen capital. As well, the Chechen rebel’s so-called tactical retreat is more likely a move designed to take advantage of a large-scale Russian assault. An actual tactical retreat would mean abandoning the city or moving their lines toward an escape route near the outskirts of the city.
Either the Chechens are now broadcasting their moves, which would actually help the Russians form a tighter ring around rebel positions, or the reports about the Chechen tactical retreat are simply untrue, and the rebels are holding their fire in order to ambush Russian troops. Either way as the New Year’s deadline draws nearer, political pressure to capture Grozny and end the offensive quickly may take precedence over avoiding casualties.