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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 14:34 GMT
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
Russian soldiers Russian soldiers on patrol in Chechnya


By defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The text of the Russian leaflets dropped on Grozny warn residents to leave the Chechen capital by Saturday - this, it bluntly states, is the only way they can avoid death and the destruction of their city.

Battle for the Caucasus
The Russian armed forces certainly have the means to carry out their threat.

Russian generals know that in close combat their poorly trained conscript soldiers are no match for the well-motivated and hardened Chechen fighters.

So now they are playing to their strengths, seeking to use firepower to clear areas of Chechen fighters while avoiding the sort of close-up infantry combat.

Chechen woman Thousands of Chechens have fled the fighting
Thus Russia has adopted sledgehammer tactics, using long-range artillery, tank fire and aircraft to pound away at centres of Chechen resistance.

This war at a distance has of course created widespread casualties among civilians for which Moscow has been criticised by the West.

It is hard to get accurate information about Russian losses; some aircraft have been shot down - evidence that even the basic anti-aircraft systems available to the Chechens are highly capable against low-flying Russian jets.

This has tended to push Russian attacks to higher altitude, again increasing the risk of civilian casualties.

Most of the Russian weaponry used is well-known from earlier campaigns.

New helicopters

However, Russian sources have claimed that there are plans to deploy a small number of its most recent attack helicopters.

The Ka-50 - or Hokum-A, as it is known to Nato - will be used in the region, as part of an experimental combat unit.

So far these tactics have paid off. But as the war reaches its climax in the struggle for Grozny, Russia's tactics may win it few friends.

There is talk in Russian military circles of using a variety of explosive weapons in the final onslaught that will either penetrate cellars and bunkers or simply suck out the air leaving their occupants dead.

The consequences for wounded or frightened civilians who either cannot or will not leave the city are terrible to imagine.

But the question remains for the Russians - what then?

Waiting for revenge

Russian firepower cannot kill all the Chechen fighters from long range. Troops will ultimately need to go in to clear the city.

The Chechen fighters have inevitably given ground in the face of the Russian onslaught.

Their relatively light weaponry means that they cannot match Russian firepower or manoeuvre forces in open country.

What they really need is a repeat of Russia's mid-1990s full-scale ground offensive against the Chechen capital, Grozny.

That's when any remaining Chechen fighters will seek to use the cover of the ruins to take their revenge.

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See also:
24 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Chechen war divides neighbours
23 Nov 99 |  Europe
Ingush president expects long conflict

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