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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army Will Struggle To Occupy Grozny

Taking total control of Grozny is likely to prove a mission impossible for Russian troops, but they will at least have to go in and push out most of the rebels if they hope to keep advancing south in the separatist republic, experts said Friday.

The 90,000-strong federal force cannot afford to just encircle the city and continue its advance as it has done to avoid smaller pockets of resistance in northern Chechnya, said Makhmut Gareyev, head of the Military Academy of Sciences.

Russian troops are reported to have almost entirely surrounded the Chechen capital, with some units positioned only six kilometers away.

Taking Grozny would give Russia a political as well as a military victory, since it would allow a pro-Moscow Chechen administration to be installed, Gareev said.

"A government would be treated seriously only if it sits in the capital," the general said.

Control of Grozny would also give federal authorities a major bargaining chip in negotiations, which Moscow will have to start with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov sooner or later, Gareev said.

Alexander Iskandryan, head of the Center for Caucasian Studies, said he expects federal forces to carry on with their slow offensive.

"The conquering of Grozny might be needed for political reasons that lie outside Chechnya and close to the Kremlin," he said.

The Chechnya operation has been seen by many as part of campaign to strengthen the hand of the Kremlin and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin going into the election campaign.

Gareev said Russian troops should not rush into Grozny, but keep pounding the city from the air to weaken the resistance. Throughout the campaign, federal commanders have preceded any ground offensive with days of air raids and heavy artillery fire.

On Friday, Russia unleashed a new wave of air and artillery strikes. Jets continued bombing Grozny and Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest city, as well as several villages.

However, Interfax cited sources in the Defense Ministry's central staff as saying this week that the military plans to wipe out large pockets of resistance and assume all of the strategic points in Chechnya by the end of November.

Russia's 21-month military campaign in Chechnya in 1994-96 proved that any quick deadlines can be met only through heavy casualties, especially when troops are engaged in urban warfare.

But even if federal troops avoid heavy losses and move into Grozny after weeks of bombing and air raids, they will still not be able to mop up Grozny the way they did villages and small towns in northern Chechnya, according to Iskandryan.

"They will never be able to prevent Chechen rebels from popping up in windows and firing at them," Iskandryan said.

He pointed to the last war, when Russian troops repeatedly conquered most of Grozny only either to retreat or to be ousted by Chechen rebels.

"Back then federal troops never controlled the entire city and they will not be able to do it this time either," Iskandryan said.

Chechen rebels are reported to have heavily fortified Grozny, which is divided into four sectors of defense. According to some recent reports, however, the rebels have already started to move their heavy weaponry and armored vehicles out of Grozny to avoid their loss in the pending battle for the city.

Iskandryan said that although Russian troops may be able to move into the mountains of southern Chechnya, they will never be able to establish full control of either Grozny or the rest of Chechen territory.

He said Chechen rebels, which total some 40,000, prefer guerrilla tactics and avoid large-scale direct confrontations, often operating in small, mobile units to "sting" both advancing federal units and their rear guard.