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Thursday, December 11, 1997 Published at 15:51 GMT



Despatches
image: [ BBC Correspondent: Malcolm Haslett ]Malcolm Haslett
London

It is three years since Russian tanks crossed the borders of Chechnya to put an end, so they believed, to the separatist regime of Djokhar Dudayev. But the war in Chechnya turned into a disaster for the Russian army. And the Chechen regime, though it survived, now faces severe problems of a different kind. Here is BBC regional analyst Malcolm Haslett:

At seven o'clock in the morning on 11th December 1994 40,000 Russian troops began to move into Chechnya. Some Russian generals, and many politicians, had their doubts about the wisdom of the move.

But a small group of hardliners, led by Counter-Intelligence chief Sergey Stepashin and Defence Minister Pavel Grachov, persuaded President Yeltsin that a short, sharp attack would bring Dudayev's puny revolt to a rapid end. They were wrong.

Dudayev, himself a Soviet officer who had served with distinction in Afghanistan, had instilled a pride and defiance in Chechens which was only reinforced by the heavy-handed tactics of the Russian invasion. The Russian forces lost hundreds of men in the initial thrust when their poorly protected convoys were caught in ambushes.

Federal commanders then responded with often indiscriminate shelling and bombing of civilian areas. The result was heavy civilian as well as military casualties, and large-scale destruction.

Dudayev was killed, but his successors, in an astonishingly deft stroke, recaptured the centre of the capital, Grozny, and forced Russia to come to terms. President Yeltsin subsequently accepted that the invasion was the biggest mistake of his life.

But Moscow and Grozny have still made little progress in resolving the issue of Chechnya's status. And while the Chechens insist they must be given complete independence, Russia is not ready to release most of the funds it's promised for reconstruction.

The situation has been complicated further by a spate of kidnappings, of Russians and foreigners, and the rebellious statements of Chechen hardliners like Salman Raduyev. The peace has brought as many problems as the war.





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