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Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 06:32 GMT 07:32 UK
Analysis: Chechnya one year on
A limited operation quickly became a full-scale offensive
A limited operation quickly became a full-scale offensive
By Steve Rosenberg in Moscow

Exactly one year after Russian troops began moving into Chechnya, the conflict continues and there is no end in sight.

There has been no war in Chechnya, one Russian official assured me this week, just an anti-terrorist operation.

That has been the Kremlin's line ever since the first shots were fired.

But what began as a limited operation against terrorists soon turned into a full-scale offensive against the breakaway republic's government and rebel fighters.

Thirst for revenge

At the time it was an operation which had the full support of the Russian people.

Thousands of Chechens had to flee their homes
Thousands of Chechens had to flee their homes
Few needed any convincing that Chechens were the enemy and needed to be punished.

After all, it was Chechen rebels which had invaded Dagestan weeks before and it was Chechen terrorists, according to the authorities, which were to blame for the series of explosions in apartment blocks which left over 300 dead and shocked the nation.

Such was the level of public anger and the thirst for revenge that all memory of the last Chechen war, so disastrous for Russia, suddenly disappeared.

But then this wasn't going to be a war was it, just an anti-terrorist operation?

One year on, though, that Kremlin speak rings hollow.

This has been a war in its most bloody and brutal form.

Death toll

Just look at the figures - nearly 3,000 Russian servicemen dead, almost 8,000 wounded, and those are only the official numbers.

Rebels move around with consummate ease
Rebels move around with consummate ease
The Committee for Soldiers' Mothers says take those figures and double them.

Thousands of civilians too have been killed.

Add to that widespread reports of summary executions, torture and rape by Russian troops and you start to get a picture of what this war has been like.

So what then has Russia achieved after a year of fighting?

Victory, claims the Kremlin. With bombs and bullets, the Russian army has forced the rebel republic of Chechnya back into the Russian fold.

There is little talk now of Chechen independence.

Russian troops control most of the republic, but not all of it.

The rebels continue to hold out in the mountains and even in those areas where federal control is thought to be secure, by night Chechen fighters often move around with consummate ease, able to plan and launch attacks on the troops.

Russian soldiers continue to die in Chechnya at a rate of 10 a week.

Putin's role

The Kremlin is rapidly losing faith in the civilian administration which it installed in Chechnya.

Instead of rebuilding the republic, local politicians have been too busy fighting amongst themselves, and there are many who suspect Moscow's puppet government of collaborating with the rebels.

But for one man at least this war has already proved an unqualified success.

It helped turn Vladimir Putin from prime minister into president.

Tens of millions of Russian voters saw Mr Putin as the strong hand Russia so badly needed to restore its self-respect.

Even today, most Russians still support the military operation and Mr Putin's handling of it.

But that support may not last indefinitely and is already beginning to falter.

If the war drags on and Russian soldiers continue to die, Mr Putin's image as Russia's saviour could be lost forever.

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