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Tuesday, November 9, 1999 Published at 16:23 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: Russian confidence runs high

Compared with the previous war, the army is doing its job well

By Russian affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel

The Russian high command is enjoying what is going on in Chechnya.

Battle for the Caucasus
The Russian army appears to be meeting little resistance to its onslaught in the breakaway republic, where reinforcements of tanks and artillery arrived on Monday.

For the military leadership, questions of displaced persons, refugee camps and human suffering count less than the way in which the Russian army is carrying out the task assigned to it to deal with rebel forces.

And, especially when compared with the way the military operation was conducted from the outset of the war in Chechnya between 1994 and 1996, the army is doing its job well.

Casualties the key

The key reason why the operation is going well - and is perceived by the Russian people to be going well - is that casualties for the Russian army have been low.

[ image: More than 200,000 civilians have fled to neighbouring Ingushetia]
More than 200,000 civilians have fled to neighbouring Ingushetia
Official figures given out by the ministry of defence say less than 300 Russian soldiers have died.

Furthermore, the way in which the conflict began this time was in marked contrast to 1994.

In 1994, there was a strong sense that the Russian army stumbled into the fight through ill-thought out political decisions.

This time, the Chechens gave the Russian Government a reason for sending in the army.

In August, Chechen rebels carried out raids into the neighbouring republic of Dagestan.

Then there was a series of bomb explosions in Russian cities, which the government blamed on the Chechens.

Although it has not been proved that the bombs were the work of Chechens, the Russian Government succeeded in establishing that idea in the popular consciousness.

Cautious tactics

How else to deal with these people, their logic then ran, other than to send in the army?

Within a month of the last war starting, the Russian army attempted to take the Chechen capital, Grozny, with a frontal assault - employing disastrous tactics.

After six days, they were forced to withdraw. This time, the army has adopted what for them is a safe tactic, of bombarding Grozny with aircraft and artillery.

No date had been given for when the army might try to take Grozny, but the idea has not been ruled out, either.

False sense of security

Indeed, thanks to the tactic of using aircraft and artillery, the Russian army may well be able to sustain this campaign for much longer, whilst still taking limited casualties.

This will be especially true if reports are confirmed that the Russians are employing fuel-air explosives in Chechnya.

These are weapons that cause a massive blast, which can blow away flimsy defences and lead to far greater human casualties than would be expected from conventional explosives.

But the successes which the generals have attained so far could lull them into a false sense of security. Confidence in the Russian military is high, and could encourage a feeling that the Chechens are simply there for the taking.

But this could lead to a serious long-term problem in sustaining the fight.

At the moment, the military appears to be being provided with all the equipment it needs to carry out this phase of its task. But it looks highly unlikely that the Russian economy could maintain a long-term war in the Caucasus.

And only the most optimistic - or foolish - generals would assume they can wipe out the Chechen threat once and for all.

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