Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK
Russian media sees war clouds over Chechnya
Russian generals "do not wish to confine operations to Dagestan"
The Russian news agency Interfax says there is mounting evidence the army plans to cross into the breakaway region of Chechnya for the first time since the war of 1994-96.
"The Russian leaders are considering sending a large federal force into Chechnya," the Interfax commentary says.
"The General Staff is said to be working overtime on the schedule and stages of the operation while an army group is being built up for possible engagement in Chechnya."
The agency cites as evidence of preparations the movement of crack troops and military hardware to the North Caucasus, including a marine battalion and five paratroop battalions.
Destroying the 'wasps' nest'
Russian Centre TV showed troops boarding trains in the south Russian region of Stavropol en route to the Dagestani town of Khasavyurt near the Chechen border.
"The servicemen of the Novorossiysk and Stavropol airborne assault regiments are leaving for another off-base assignment," the channel's correspondent said.
"Relatives are not bidding farewell to them and marching songs are not being played.
"They avoid talking about their destination and how long they are going for.
"The only thing they know is that the train will go to Khasavyurt."
One officer said in an interview that he was heading for "his second war".
"My uncle once told me: it was your own choice, so off you go," the officer said. "My mother began weeping, I asked her not to cry. It is my second war."
The Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that the feeling in the Russian army was that the recent incursions into Dagestan by Chechen-based Islamic militants showed the army had to attack in Chechnya itself.
"The military, who have experienced all the horrors of war, wish to continue the 'antiterrorist operation' in Chechnya rather than confine it to Dagestan," the newspaper said.
The view of "practically all the officers" was that the wasps' nest must be destroyed.
"The main thing is to ensure they do not stop us, as they did in 1995 and 1996," officers were quoted as saying.
The newspaper reported a dangerous mood of "euphoria" among the troops after the militants' retreat and an eagerness for action among politicians facing elections.
"Will and enthusiasm alone cannot conquer a well-trained and well-armed enemy.
"Nor can you organise the military's actions to suit the politicians, who, in turn, must remember that resolving problems by force is an extreme measure and not a card to be played in the election campaign.
"The only ones who pay for these mistakes are the mothers who lose their sons."
The price of action
In its analysis of the situation, the Segodnya newspaper predicted that there would be no major ground operation but strikes would be made against militant bases in Chechnya while the Russian Government continued to maintain contact with the official Chechen Government.
"Judging by Segodnya's information, Moscow intends to resort to preventive strikes on the militants' bases in Chechnya - mainly from the air - without ruling out talks with official Grozny," the paper's correspondent wrote.
"My impression from talking to the Putin entourage source was that Moscow is not ready and does not intend to get involved in a large-scale ground war against Chechnya."
The correspondent added that the idea of imposing a "cordon sanitaire" around Chechnya, much talked about by Russian politicians, was unrealistic due to the costs involved.
"Such measures are simply unfeasible today. In particular, Segodnya's high-ranking source from Putin's entourage admitted that there are no funds for establishing a full-scale border with Chechnya and will not be available in the foreseeable future."
The cheapest option for Russia, "however sad or cynical this might be", was "a continuation of something resembling a sluggish 'trench warfare' in Dagestan".
In the absence of fighting on the ground, the media in the North Caucasus itself has been conducting a fierce war of its own.
The attacks were designed to create a climate of fear in which President Boris Yeltsin's administration could retain power, he said.
"The causes of these explosions are absolutely clear. Something which will save the corrupt Kremlin bosses whatever happens is being prepared.
"This could be either a state of emergency or a military state, or the physical elimination of the main contenders for the Kremlin chair."
Meanwhile, Dagestan's pro-government Severnyy Kavkaz newspaper has accused members of the militants led by Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev of raping local women with the aim of infecting them with Aids during the recent cross-border attacks .
Source: Radio Russia, Moscow, in Russian 17 Sep 99
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