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Friday, 28 September, 2001, 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
Analysis: New rules in Chechnya
Russian tank fires in Chechen village
Russian never showed restraint in Chechnya
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

The attacks in the US have left both sides in the continuing conflict in Chechnya with a sense that the rules of the game may have changed - but it is a feeling that could quickly evaporate.

They are fighting on - Russian officials claimed on Friday to have killed 10 rebels in 24 hours - but they are also, for once, making some contacts with each other, and have even held talks about talks.

A Chechen is questioned at a Russian filtration camp
Russian abuses will still cause offence
The Russian mood is definitely buoyant.

Moscow feels that there is an obvious similarity between the US's planned reprisals against Osama Bin Laden - the man it accuses of plotting the attacks on New York and Washington - and its own actions in Chechnya.

It now expects the global anti-terrorism coalition to stop carping about the way it conducts its business there.

Tensions

President Putin may have been hinting at this when he said in a television address that the extent of Russia's partnership with the coalition would depend on the level of "mutual understanding" achieved on international terrorism.

Rebel commanders Shamil Basayev and Khattab
Radicals: Shamil Basayev (left) and Khattab
Shortly afterwards President Bush, as if on cue, called on the Chechen rebels to break their links with Bin Laden.

For the rebels, on the other hand, the attacks on the US, and the military response now being prepared, hold little promise of any improvement in their situation.

They may fear a redoubled Russian assault, as well as a loss of international sympathy. And if they received funds and support from Osama Bin Laden - as many believed they did - these may now dry up.

On top of that, there is much scope for the tensions that have always existed between rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov and his two most radical and powerful commanders - Shamil Basayev and the Arab, Khattab - to deepen.

Surrender

There have also been signs that Georgia may be about to get tougher with Chechen guerrillas sheltering on the southern slopes of the Caucasus - either to pre-empt a feared Russian incursion into Georgian territory, or because Georgian leaders too feel that something has changed since 11 September.

The rebels' exploratory contacts with Russian officials, following President Putin's call for them to lay down their arms, could therefore be born out of desperation.

They are likely to be using the opportunity to gauge Russian intentions - and nothing more.

As always, Russian officials have said they are only interested in a Chechen surrender. They have explicitly discounted any kind of power-sharing arrangement.

No compromise

In the end, it could be that despite appearances, nothing has really changed, for the following reasons:

  • While the outside world may be distracted by events in the US and Afghanistan, few in the West accept the Russian view of the Chechen rebels as "terrorists" pure and simple.
  • There is no reason to assume that Western states will stop criticising Russian forces altogether if they resume some of their nastier practices - non-governmental organisations certainly won't.
  • A US attack on Afghanistan will not be the first example of Western military actions that Russia has used to justify its offensive in Chechnya: it tried the same approach during Nato's bombing of Serbia. Few accepted the argument then, and few are likely to accept it in future.
  • Predictions of a no-holds-barred Russian assault are probably misplaced, because Russia under President Putin never showed much sign of moderating its actions in Chechnya under outside pressure.
  • Russia doesn't want to compromise with the rebels, and yet wiping them out seems beyond its military capability.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Broomby
"The Russians accuse the Chechens of having links with Osama Bin Laden"
Russian ambassador to Britain, Grigory Karasin
"There should not be any appeasement to terrorists wherever they are"
See also:

06 Sep 01 | Europe
Chechnya's decade of disaster
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