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Friday, 10 December, 1999, 22:43 GMT
Analysis: Danger ahead for Russia's military

Russia wants to avoid casualties

By regional analyst Tom de Waal

The Russians are moving nearer to the military victory they want in Chechnya. But first they have to take Grozny.

Battle for the Caucasus
The military wants to avoid repeating the mistakes of 1994-5 in which tanks and conscripts were sent into the city on New Year's Eve, only to be slaughtered by Chechen fighters.

The warning to the civilians of Grozny to leave was clearly intended as a prelude to a massive air bombardment in which the city, already half in ruins from the last war, would be utterly destroyed before being captured.

Tactics of heavy bombings
There has been speculation that the Russians would use so-called fuel-air bombs which can kill anyone sheltering in cellars.

The main constraint on the generals here is a political one. If they begin a ferocious attack on Grozny, while there are still old and sick people still there, there will be a furious reaction from the international community.

Some Russian opposition politicians may also be critical, such as the mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov. He says that he was worried that Russia was waging a war against the Chechen people, which it would lose.

But the military calculation is not so simple either. Even if the city is levelled, a few hardened fighters may hold out in the urban wasteland of Grozny and could still inflict heavy casualties on incoming Russian soldiers.

Click here to see a map of the region

After Grozny, the next phase of the campaign will be in the hills and mountains where most of the Chechen fighters have retreated.

The fighters will find it difficult to spend the winter in the mountains, with little protective tree cover over their heads. But it will also be perilous for the Russians to advance amidst fog and mist into the winding valleys of the Caucasus.

Will the Russian flag fly over Grozny?
The key factor here will be how much support the guerrillas will get from the local population and how many casualties the Russian army is prepared to endure.

So far both sides have avoided major battles and the Chechens have retreated from most of their strongholds without heavy casualties.

What could turn this campaign into a long partisan war is the mobility of the Chechen fighters, especially at night, when they are able to move with ease even in areas densely packed with Russian soldiers.

Judging by last time, most Russian conscripts prefer not to risk their lives by picking a fight in the darkness with the fighters.

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See also:
24 Oct 99 |  Europe
The first bloody battle for Grozny
08 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Besieged in a doomed city
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
10 Dec 99 |  Europe
Refugees fear Grozny assault
10 Dec 99 |  Europe
Cold War chill lingers

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