Would Invasion Be a Disaster?

Date: October 10, 1999
Source: The Moscow Times
By Brian Whitmore


The Kremlin has reportedly given the ground war a green light. But while we still do not know the exact plan, military analysts say this could be a disaster in the making.

For the past several days, media have been floating various ground war scenarios. The most common has Russian forces occupying northern Chechnya as far south as the Terek River, which flows only about 15 kilometers north of Grozny, the Chechen capital. The river is as far as 40 kilometers from the border in some spots.

The daily newspaper Segodnya, however, reported Wednesday that the Russian military aims to eventually gain control over all of Chechnya. According to Segodnya, Russian forces will attempt to drive guerrilla forces into Chechnya's mountains by the winter, isolate them and hope they freeze to death.

Whether that's the exact plan or not, an invasion of some sort is underway.

Interfax, citing Defense Ministry sources, reported that plans for a ground operation are in their final stage. Airborne and infantry units will be the nucleus of the strike force, the agency reported, with some 20,000 servicemen from both the defense and interior ministries being transferred to Dagestan and North Ossetia as reinforcements.

Military analysts say that Russia could be making a major mistake, especially with the cold weather and poor visibility that will be coming soon.

"This is mass idiocy," said Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst.

"I don't understand Russia's military strategy. I am afraid that Russia is headed for a total military disaster."

"Military strategy says that you should never, ever, initiate a ground operation with winter approaching," said Alexander Zhilin, a military analyst for the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti. "This is absurd and ineffective. From a military point of view it makes no sense."

Zhilin said that over the next month the weather will change and cloud cover will hinder Russia's ability to conduct airstrikes and give badly needed air cover to ground troops.

He said that from 30,000 to 50,000 troops are necessary to occupy northern Chechnya to the Terek River, but that Russian forces have three weeks at the most to complete the operation before the weather starts working against them.

"I am afraid that there are going to be massive casualties," Zhilin said, adding that while public opinion and media are more or less supporting the military right now, this will change as soon as heavy combat losses mount.


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