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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 17:17 GMT
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
Russian soldiers Russian soldiers on patrol in Chechnya

By defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Moscow's second Chechen war within a decade illustrates both the strengths and the weaknesses of Russia's post-communist military machine.

Battle for the Caucasus
During the first Russian assault in Chechnya, between 1994 and 1996, the Russian military was humbled by well-motivated guerilla fighters despite its overwhelming superiority in firepower.

This time the Russian generals have learnt some of the lessons of that war.

This Russian onslaught has focused upon air power and artillery and rocket fire.

The Russian strategy has been to use both fixed-wing aircraft and attack helicopters as well as a whole array of both towed and self-propelled artillery systems.

Chechen woman Thousands of Chechens have fled the fighting
This war at a distance has of course created widespread casualties among civilians for which Moscow has been criticised by the West.

But the Russian generals are playing to their strengths; seeking to use firepower to clear areas of Chechen fighters while avoiding the sort of close-up infantry combat where the motivation of the Chechens makes them vastly superior to the relatively poorly trained Russian conscripts.

This gruelling form of combat has seen few innovations. Most of the Russian weaponry used is well-known from earlier campaigns.

However, Russian sources have claimed that there are plans to deploy a small number of its most recent attack helicopters.

The Ka-50 or Hokum-A, as it is known to Nato - will be used in the region, as part of an experimental combat unit.

Chechens give ground

The Chechen campaign is already having an impact on defence spending with efforts to send additional night-vision equipment and unmanned intelligence gathering drones to the region.

It is hard to get accurate information about Russian losses; some aircraft have been shot down - evidence that even the basic anti-aircraft systems available to the Chechens are highly capable against low-flying Russian jets.

This has tended to push Russian attacks to higher altitude, again increasing the risk of civilian casualties.

Chechen militants Chechen fighters have inevitably ceded positions to Russian forces
The Chechen fighters have inevitably given ground in the face of the Russian onslaught.

Their relatively light weaponry means that they cannot match Russian firepower or manoeuvre forces in open country.

What they really need is a repeat of Russia's mid-1990s full-scale ground offensive against the Chechen capital, Grozny.

So far the Russians have avoided playing the Chechen's game. But by the same token it is not clear that Russian firepower alone or its current tactics can necessarily bring this war to a final conclusion.
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See also:
25 Nov 99 |  Europe
Russia tightens grip on Grozny gateway
24 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Chechen war divides neighbours
23 Nov 99 |  Europe
Ingush president expects long conflict

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