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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens Plan 'Blockbuster' Fight for Election

GEKHI, Chechnya -- Dressed in neat combat fatigues and a green velvet beret, a Stechkin automatic pistol at his belt and a heavy machine gun under his bed, Ali Makhayev, known to everyone as Doku, says that the attack on Grozny this month in which rebel fighters took back much of the city for several days was just a rehearsal.

Commander of the southwest sector of Chechnya which encompasses 11 villages, Makhayev, 40, a former builder and father of five, was one of the three leaders of the Grozny raid along with Shamil Basayev and Ruslan Gelayev.

"We will show a blockbuster movie before the elections, we'll see whether in Russia or Chechnya," he said in a recent interview at his home, which also serves as his headquarters.

President Boris Yeltsin may have his peace plan to announce Sunday, and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev may be planning to pull his troops out after delivering a last crushing blow. But the Chechen rebels say they have their own plans for the coming election campaign -- and these are unlikely fit in with Moscow's.

Despite the penchant the fighters have shown for bravura, they may well have the means to carry out their threats.

In fact, Makhayev said, there will be several such "movies," and the whole of Russia and the world will sit up to watch them. Prime targets would be towns and airfields from where Russian jets and helicopters have made bombing sorties on Chechnya, he said. Volgograd and Moscow, he added, were also possibilities.

Economic sabotage was the rebels' main aim, according to Shirvani Basayev, commander of Vedeno region and the brother of Shamil, who led the June 1995 raid on Budyonnovsk in Southern Russia. Sultan Sidiyev, his former deputy, said rebels were responsible for twice blowing up the gas pipeline at Shelkovskaya in eastern Chechnya.

Meanwhile Makhayev was preparing to defend his home in Gekhi as Russian troops closed in on the area last week in their offensive to push fighters out of villages in the his fighters were in a stronger position than last year.

"Morale is much better. We have more ammunition than last May, we have transport, people are well rested, the wounded have been taken care of and good preparations have been made outside the republic, which all means we are in a better position now," Makhayev said. "Before Budyonnovsk we were in a desperate position," he said, referring to the hostage raid that proved a turning point in the war, initiating peace talks and giving the fighters a crucial breather when they had been close to defeat.

The shortage of weapons, which severely hampered the fighters last year, is no longer a problem, Makhayev said. He claimed to possess several armored vehicles, captured from the Russians, and said Basayev had two T-80 tanks, one of which he recently bought from the Russians. Shirvani Basayev in Vedeno also claimed the rebels had Grad multiple-rocket launchers.

Chechen commanders, including Salman Raduyev, leader of the Kizlyar hostage raid, have said the rebels received assistance from "friendly" countries abroad. Izvestia published an article Wednesday tracking arms routes into rebel-held Chechnya, saying cargo is arriving mostly through Azerbaijan from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey.

Makhayev claimed there were now 30,000 fighters under arms compared to 2,000 to 3,000 trained fighters at the beginning of the war. Commanders in Vedeno said young men from many of Chechnya's besieged villages had started arriving in large numbers in the mountains to fight. "We do not know what to do with them all," one said.

None of these claims could be verified, but whatever their true picture may be, the rebels' tactics have changed little.

"We will just take defensive positions and wait," Makhayev said when asked what he planned for the defense of Gekhi. "Allah helps with the fog and darkness. Soon there will be leaves on the trees," he said. All the fighters say they can survive a Russian offensive better in the summer.

Across the territory they are in high spirits after the attack on Grozny in which some 79 Russian soldiers and 14 Chechen police of the Moscow-backed Grozny government were killed. Rebel casualties, according to Makhayev, were eight dead and 32 wounded. The Russian posts on the outskirts of the city took the heaviest pounding. On the north approach to Grozny, soldiers said that out of 54 posts, only 13 of them were left. In the southwest suburb of Chernorechniye signs of a heavy battle appalled civilians driving through Friday when the road finally opened again two weeks after the attack.

Smashed trees, debris from wrecked buildings, a burned-out armored vehicle and truck were scattered across the terrain. Russian soldiers behind concrete blocks trained guns on cars as a Chechen policeman checked vehicles. Asked if any survivors of the attack were still around, he said no. The men had gone "evil," he said, from the experience.

"It was an effective way of pointing out that Dudayev's men as a military contingent are not marginalized, that they are not a tiny number of irreconciliables who can be rubbed out," said Roman Wasilewski at the mission of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Grozny.

There are tales that Basayev left Grozny in a convoy, Wasilewski said, "horns blaring, flags waving and crowds cheering, like a trip to Disney World."