Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Maneuvers: What Is the Strategy?

The combination of blockades, bombing runs and threatened storm attacks makes the Russian invasion of Chechnya look either like a multi-pronged attack or a confused melange of trial and error.


But if Moscow's military strategy is hard to distinguish, the consequences of a poorly planned military venture are not. Russian troops may be in for a prolonged and costly war.


"The whole thing is a bit of a mystery," said Charles Dick, a Russian military analyst at Sandhurst College in England.


"If this is an attrition operation, it is going to take a very long time," said John Erickson, a Russian military expert at Edinburgh University in Scotland.


In the place of military strategy, critics of Moscow's mission to the North Caucasus see shame and brutality.


"It's hard to call this a strategy," said Sergei Yushenkov, chairman of the defense committee in the State Duma and an outspoken opponent of the invasion. "It is the barbaric destruction of the city of Grozny and its residents."


Western and Russian analysts see only fragments of a military policy at best.


"It makes sense to talk about military strategy when you see battle between military formations," said a Russian military analyst who asked to remain anonymous. "I haven't seen that yet."


Moscow's stated aim is to blockade Grozny and strangle the separatist rebellion launched three years ago by Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev. But Russian jets have poured bombs on the city proper, striking military and civilian targets. And that only seems to galvanize Chechen resolve.


"Terrorizing the population makes no military sense," the Russian analyst said. "Why create new enemies?"


But the choices are few. Public opinion is against the war, and the sight of Russian body bags returning from Grozny could be politically destabilizing. And though international opinion for the moment is cautiously restrained, an all-out massacre in Chechnya could tarnish Russia's image abroad.


Still, Wednesday night, Moscow escalated its bombing raids, strafing the very center of Grozny and killing at least two dozen people.


"When you're in such a frustrated condition, and you're not making much progress, there is a strong temptation to turn to heavy bombing raids," Erickson said. "At least it appears that you are actually doing something."


On the other hand, taking control of Grozny is not without its own consequences.


"If the Russian Army is going to go in and storm the place, it is going to be quite costly," Erickson said. If there was ever a time to do just that, it has long since passed.


"Rather belatedly, they have realized this is a bigger problem than they thought," Dick said. "What they should have done was go in with overwhelming force if they were going to go in at all."


On Wednesday, Moscow dispatched a crack unit of army infantry to Grozny. That is likely not the preparation for a storm attack, but it may be the largest sliver of a military policy.


"That's the military strategy," the Russian analyst said. "Replacing old troops with new troops."