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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Assault: Who's in Charge?

Russia's effort to surround Grozny and bring the rebellious Chechen republic to its knees may be complicated by the fact that the leaders of the invading troops are "tripping over each other's feet," in the words of one military analyst.


By most recent accounts, the force approaching Grozny is comprised of troops from the Russian Army, the Federal Counterintelligence Service and the Interior Ministry, with additional forces slated to join the effort.


And though First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets is nominally in charge of operations in the Caucasus, the picture close up is far more complex. Military analysts say that everyone -- and no one -- has a hand in executing the intervention.


"If we win, everyone will have been a leader," said one Russian military analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If we lose, we will spend a long time looking for the leader."


Part of the problem stems from the marbled mixture of troops on their way to the tiny breakaway republic. The Russian Army and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev are charged with coordinating the invasion under Soskovets' supervision, and the bulk of the troops nearing Grozny most likely belong to the North Caucasus Military District.


But the buildup of Interior Ministry and counterintelligence troops around Chechnya is "beginning to outnumber the ground forces," said John Erickson, a military analyst and professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.


"It's very difficult to decipher," he said. "It appears that they are tripping over each others' feet."


"You can only guess who's running things down there," said the Russian military analyst. Military sources are not revealing exactly which troops are in Chechnya, for fear of public resistance from family members should it become known who is there.


The other part of Moscow's leadership problem in Chechnya stems from the lack of a coordinated policy since Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev proclaimed his independence from Russia three years ago.


Since then, Russia has three times implied that it would use force to restore order in Chechnya, only to back off. Last week, Grachev foreswore the use of force in Chechnya, days before President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree authorizing the use of "any means necessary" to return Chechnya to the fold.


"I don't think there was a policy at all," Erickson said. "There certainly isn't one now."


Moscow may also have failed to learn an important historical lesson. This year marks the 150th anniversary of a painful Russian defeat in Chechnya. In 1844, Prince Vorontsov led the Fifth Corps of the Russian Army in a full-scale attack on Chechnya, on orders of Tsar Nicholas I.


Troops then encountered roadblocks and were attacked by sympathetic neighbors, just as they are now. Erickson said the defeat was the result of sloppy policy coordination.


"If the Russian commanders would only read their history books," he said.