Rob Ferguson


Russian roulette in a high risk war

(February 2000)

Socialist Review 238, February 2000
Downloaded from the Socialist Review Archive
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.

Russia’s rulers were counting on a quick, victorious war in Chechnya before the presidential elections in March, but this looks an increasingly unlikely prospect. Although their forces are advancing towards the centre of the capital Grozny and the military now claim to have taken the key rebel base of Vedeno in the southern mountains, the cost has been enormous. The Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers have counted over 3,000 Russian dead. A general in command of the northern front is now reported killed. In Moscow the papers which were, initially, enthusiastic supporters of the military offensive are now voicing doubts and criticism.

Grozny, once the world’s second-largest oil refining centre, has become a vision of hell. The city is in ruin. The Chechen fighters have employed the classic strategies of urban warfare which they developed during the last war. They have attacked Russian armour at close quarters to devastating effect, using the city’s sewers to move from one area to another. Light mobile units of snipers and machine gunners pin down the advancing columns while rocket propelled grenade launchers are fired point blank at tanks and personnel carriers.

Despite the war weariness and demoralisation felt by many ordinary Chechens, the brutality of the Russian invasion can only reinforce opposition. In the notorious filtration camps men and boys have been beaten and tortured on the supposition that they are all rebel fighters. Looting, summary execution and rape have been widespread. The “provisional government” set up by the Russians is made up of stooges with no popular support. The Kremlin even released a notoriously corrupt mafia politician, Bislan Gantemirov, from jail in order to head a so called pro-Russian “militia”. But, as in the last war, morale amongst the army’s unpaid conscripts is low.

Most ordinary Russians are still unaware of the true nature of Russia’s war. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s caretaker president, has seen his popularity rise to 62 percent. But his “success” is fragile, he is playing a high risk strategy and will pay a high price for failure.


Last updated on 22.12.2001