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Wednesday, September 29, 1999 Published at 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK

World: Europe

Russian paratroopers search for rebels in Chechnya
Russia compares Chechnya with Kosovo

By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Russian military commanders are drawing parallels between their air operations against Chechnya and Nato's long-running bombardment of Kosovo.

Battle for the Caucasus
  • Chechnya: Round two?
  • Battle for the Caucasus
  • Cat-and-mouse conflict
  • Islamic roots in Dagestan
  • Russia's demoralised army
  • The Russian Air Force commander has even given Nato-style press briefings complete with gun-camera images of air strikes and so on.

    In purely superficial terms the conflicts in Chechnya and that in Kosovo appear to have many similarities.

    The Russian military certainly think so, pointing to their use of air power, allied with precision-guided weaponry, in an explicit attempt, they say, to reduce civilian casualties to a minimum.

    A different kind of conflict

    [ image: Refugees are fleeing the conflict]
    Refugees are fleeing the conflict
    Just as in Kosovo though, civilian casualties cannot be avoided and thousands of refugees are on the roads. Even the choice of targets is superficially similar; the Russians hitting oil storage depots and other strategic installations, along with a television station; just as Nato did in Belgrade.

    But in reality the two conflicts are very different. Nato acted against Belgrade to halt the supression of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and to force Serbian troops out of the province. It was fighting against a centralised government machine against which military force was expected to have the desired effect.

    Kosovo may have been an affront to Nato's values, but it hardly represented a real security threat to its own territory.

    Kosovo precedent

    [ image: Military commanders have given Nato-style press briefings]
    Military commanders have given Nato-style press briefings
    In Chechnya on the other hand, the Russians are using air power against a dispersed guerilla force, which Moscow believes is behind a wave of bomb attacks in the Russian capital.

    Russia's own security interests are very much implicated in the struggle, though whether the means it is using will have the desired effect is uncertain.

    What is interesting is why the Russian military, so critical of Nato's air campaign in the Balkans, is now so willing to see this as a precedent for its own actions. In part it is an effort to make its air raids more acceptable - both at home and abroad.

    But it is also an attempt to place Russia on an equal footing with the West - an assertion that what Nato can do in its interests Russia will do too if it feels threatened.

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