The Muslims of Ichkeria are facing a long, hard winter as over 250,000 have been forced to flee their homes to avoid Russian military operations and air raids, and many are stranded in the open or with little shelter as the region’s harsh winter weather sets in.
Meanwhile, the Russian forces are continuing to attack the whole of the country with intensive air raids, sometimes attacking more than 100 targets a day. While the Russians are claiming to be concentrating on military targets only, the truth on the ground in Ichkeria is very different. Last moth, the tergetting on a market place in Jauhar-Ghala (‘Grozny’) caused outrage around the world; but elsewhere in the country, villages, homes, schools and mosques are now being targeted on a routine basis.
Despite offers to negotiate from Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov, the Russians are refusing to talk on any terms, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Russian Army, in particular, is determined to restore some of the ‘honour’ it lost in the 1994-96 war by totally destroying the country and trying to kill as many of the Chechen people as possible.
By the end of October, some 50,000 Chechens had fled the country into the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia, where they are living with local families, in squalid camps and in some cases in the open. Tens of thousands more have since been prevented from leaving Ichkeria by Russian border guards whose orders are to send them back into Ichkeria regardless of their condition.
Meanwhile, the Russian military reportedly continued its military build-up in the north of Ichkeria, which it occupied in August and September, and in the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia to the west and Dagestan to the east.
The Russian ground forces are continuing to pressure upon Chechen mujahideen position from the north. Their recent strategy appears to have been to focus pressure on Ichkeria’s second city, Gudermes, which lies east of the capital Jauhar Ghala, on the road towards Dagestan, and on Bamut, west of the capital.
Chechen forces said on November 9 that they had repulsed a major Russian advance towards Gudermes by using Gras surface-to-surface misssiles. Russians have also been advancing slowly into Ichkeria from the east and the west.
For the time being, however, the Russians seem content to apply pressure on Chechen positions without launching all-out attacks on Ichkeria’s major urban centres, waiting instead until the Ichkerian resistance is weakened by incessant air strikes, shelling and the cold.
Maskhadov’s pleas for negotiations with the Russians have meanwhile fallen on deaf ears. It is unlikely that Yeltsin has the political courage to reach a settlement, even on the hugely favourable terms now available, preferring instead the blunt intrument of war. Russian politicians and public opinion are also deaf to the appeals for humanitarian assistance or relief of any kind, reflecting their traditional cruelty and contempt towards the Muslims of the Caucasus, the Chechens in particular.
The Russian military, which was badly humiliated in the 1994-96 war, for which they refused to accept responsibility, blaming the politicians for the defeat instead, have also indicated that they are unwilling to countenance any easing of the war on the Chechens, insisting that only total victory ( which means the total destruction of Ichkeria and possibly the virtual extermination of its people ( is the only end they will accept to the conflict.
The Russian army has traditionally stayed distant from politics, but in recent days generals and other senior military officers have repeatedly made public statements criticising the politicians for supposed weakness.
General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the western group pf forces in Ichkeria, was quoted in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper on November 6 as saying that there would be “a massive defection of officers of all ranks, including generals, from the armed forces” if Moscow tried to halt the campaign.
“The Russian officer corps is not prepared for another slap in the face,” he said. “Some even think that with such a turn of events, the country would be pushed to the brink of civil war.”
Officially, the latest campaign is an extension of operations against Chechen mujahideen in neighbouring Dagestan which began in August, and a response to bomb explosions in Moscow and other Russian cities later in the month.
However, the army’s position makes it clear that the Russians were determined to find an excuse to fight the Chechens again to avenge their 1994-96 humiliation. It seems unlikely the the Chechens will be permitted to survive these attacks.
The Chechens have a long and proud history of resisting Russian imperialist aggression, dating back over 200 years. They have repeated survived apparently insuperable odds, and come back to fight again. But the Russians are too big an enemy for them to wholly defeat, even with assistance from the west and/or from Muslim states. Despite some cosmetic humanitarian aid, and occasional sympatheitic words, the west is determined to stay out of the region, and Muslim states lack the courage or the independence to intervene.
The Chechen situation, and those of other Muslim people fighting foreign aggression on the frontiers of the Muslim world, is unlikely to survive as long as the heartlandss of Islam remain under foreign control, direct or indirect. The sight of Muslim people in places like Ichkeria, Bosnia, Palestine and Kashmir being repeatedly betrayed by muslim governments and the west is familiar. The prospects for the Chechens seem grim indeed.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1999