Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

DEFENSE DOSSIER: Potemkin 'Anti-Terrorism'




Just a week ago the military commander in the North Caucasus, General Gennady Troshev, announced that the war in Chechnya was practically over. Today, after a series of spectacular Chechen attacks that left more than 100 servicemen dead or wounded, Troshev's "end of war" declaration has been exposed as a gross delusion.


Actually, the day Troshev made his statement it seemed to be only somewhat exaggerated. Russian control of Chechnya appeared all but complete. The newly appointed head of the pro-Moscow administration, Akhmed Kadyrov, announced that "important" Chechen warlords were ready to lay down arms. The resistance in turn looked inept, fractured and unable to fight back effectively. But when the rebels did hit back, it turned out that Russian forces were not ready to defend their own barracks against a suicide terrorist driving a truckload of explosives.


The authorities have been saying for months that the war in Chechnya is an "anti-terrorist operation," that Chechnya has become a haven for international terrorism and that Chechen rebels are supported by radical Moslem terrorist groups. But in their field operations in Chechnya, Russian forces have acted as if they did not believe their own government's statements.


Suicide truck bomb attacks have been for years a trademark of radical Moslem terrorists. In 1983, 63 U.S. Marines were killed by a truck bomb in Lebanon. Israeli military headquarters in southern Lebanon were later also destroyed by a suicide bomber. In 1996, a U.S. military residence complex in Saudi Arabia was demolished by a truck bomb, killing 19 servicemen. After a series of small car bomb attacks in Chechnya last month, Russian troops should have been ready to meet the suicide truck bomb threat. But they were not.


Up to now, the Chechen rebels have in fact mostly refrained from using genuine terrorist tactics. Unruly Chechen warlords in the past have been involved in kidnapping and smuggling, in extortion and in selling illegally produced gasoline. But at the same time they have pretended to run an "independent" Chechen state, equal to any other UN member nation, with a regular army, a police force and so on. Chechen warlords promoted themselves to be divisional or brigade generals and would call their guerrilla posses "regiments" and "brigades." When the Russians invaded last September, the Chechen warlords tried to fight as a regular army, not as a clandestine terrorist cabal.


The ruthlessness of the Russian offensive broke the conventional Chechen defense. Without tanks, guns and war planes the rebels did not have a chance to win a regular battlefield victory. But the Russian conquest of Chechen territory turned out to be self-defeating.


Russian troops call the Chechen fighters "Czechs" in the same fashion as U.S. soldiers nicknamed the enemy "Charlie" during the Vietnam War. But if the real Czechs refrained from violence for more than 20 years, waiting for the Soviet proxy regime to collapse before they staged their 1989 "Velvet Revolution," the Chechens will not bide their time under an occupation. Too many civilians have been killed; too many homes destroyed; too many war crimes committed; there is too much hatred today in Chechnya f enough to recruit scores of suicide bombers.


Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev has already dismissed the latest Chechen attack as an act of desperation. But the truck bomb explosions were well coordinated. Wounded Russian soldiers say that in Argun their wrecked barracks came under Chechen mortar and sniper fire for more than an hour immediately after the truck bomb exploded. Such a combined attack was obviously not an act committed by some small fringe group. The Chechen resistance seems to be an organized, motivated force that in the future can be expected to use a combination of terrorist and "conventional" guerrilla tactics against Russian forces.


Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov claims that there are today 500 dedicated suicide bombers ready to deliver death and destruction all over Russia. Udugov's numbers are most likely exaggerated, but the threat is real. Russian forces in Chechnya are today fortifying themselves against truck bombs, but in Moscow alone there are hundreds of military and governmental targets almost fully open to possible future terrorist bomb attacks, while the highly undisciplined, rampantly corrupt Russian police and security forces are not ready at all to deal with a real f as opposed to a propaganda-invoked f terrorist threat.


Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent, Moscow-based defense analyst.