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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Public Gives Green Light to Chechen War

Riding the wave of anti-Chechen sentiment, the government is likely to continue airstrikes against the breakaway republic, and a ground invasion seems imminent.

The explosions in Russia that have killed nearly 300 people and are blamed on Chechen terrorists have tipped the scales of public opinion in favor of destruction and revenge.

The two-year war in Chechnya that ended in 1996 was widely unpopular, and Russian media were staunch critics of policies that led to the deaths of teenage draftees and civilians.

All that has changed in the wake of the bombings.

"Before, public opinion saw it as a war that the government was waging and it wasn't clear on whose behalf," said Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies. "Now people see it as Russia fighting against an aggressive enemy."

According to a poll released by the Regional Political Research Agency on Thursday, the bombings enjoyed widespread approval even before they began.

The poll of 3,000 Russians conducted last week found that 49 percent would approve of airstrikes against Chechnya, while 36 percent opposed them. Fifteen percent said they were unsure, Interfax reported.

The day after the explosion on Kashirskoye Shosse, the popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets ran a front-page story calling for drastic measures against Chechnya.

The author called for the "physical destruction of the entire republic," using such methods as germ warfare and Napalm.

"When in the '70s, the Palestinians blew up Jews, Israeli commanders retaliated by bombing a camp for Palestinian refugees," the newspaper said. "Alas, even in the end of the third millennium, representatives of small nations bear responsibility for their uncivilized countrymen."

Russian officials have also made ominous comments in the run-up to what appears to be the resumption of full-scale war in Chechnya.

"There should be a final solution of the problem of Chechnya," Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the international relations department of the Defense Ministry, said at a news conference last week. While the phrase does not carry the same Hitler-esque overtones in Russian that it does in English, it still seems to indicate drastic measures.

Analysts said the Russian military would continue to pursue an intensive bombing campaign like NATO's in Yugoslavia, but that a ground invasion would follow sooner or later.

Many observers have expressed doubts about Russia's ability to subdue aggressive forces in Chechnya given the army's bungled performance earlier this decade.

Nevertheless, war seems to be the only action Moscow is capable of taking in the region.

The cease-fire that ended the war in 1996 postponed a decision on Chechnya's status, but officials in Moscow have not made any efforts to resolve that question since then, nor have they supported Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, with whom they might have negotiated.

"Today they are bombing Grozny and that completely rules out negotiations with Maskhadov," said Andrei Piontkovsky, head of the Center for Strategic Studies.