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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Headed for Another Afghanistan

After the hostage crisis ended in bloodshed in Moscow, the Kremlin announced there will be no peace talks with rebels under any conditions. Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's chief spokesman on Chechnya, said last week that "there is no one to negotiate with in Chechnya."

President Vladimir Putin had publicly acknowledged several times before that military force alone cannot solve the Chechen problem, that "wiping out the terrorists and bandits" is only a prerequisite to a peaceful solution. Last week, Putin spelled out what the Kremlin means by "political solution" -- holding a local referendum that will approve a new constitution that will turn Chechnya into one more regular Russian province with no special autonomy rights. After the referendum, local elections are scheduled to elect a "legitimate" pro-Moscow Chechen leadership.

In 1996, during the previous Russian military occupation of Chechnya, there were also elections that produced a loyal pro-Moscow leadership and parliament, but this did not help stabilize the situation. The rebels continued to fight, the population did not consider the pro-Moscow Chechens to be their true leaders, while the Russian military continued to perform deadly sweeps on towns and villages, totally disregarding the new "elected" authorities and their meek protests.

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Elections results in Russia are often crudely falsified, with the North Caucasus republics being cited as the worst offenders. The "political solution" Putin has chosen in Chechnya will surely not work, so there seems to be no alternative to a continuation of an increasingly deadly armed conflict.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced this week that suicide fighters were being recruited in Chechnya and new "terrorist" attacks were being planned there and elsewhere. He added that Russia was temporarily suspending previous plans for a partial withdrawal of some of its military units and that "broad-scale, tough and targeted special operations are being launched in all Chechnya's regions," aimed at "nipping the threat in the bud."

Today there are some 80,000 servicemen in Chechnya (of them approximately 40,000 from the Defense Ministry). The troops are spread out all over the region, there are hundreds of checkpoints, but they still cannot control the situation even with the help of several thousand local pro-Moscow Chechen militia.

The new security sweeps, Ivanov has announced, will surely lead to hundreds of Chechens arrested as rebel suspects or "rebel sympathizers." Some will be killed on the spot for "resisting arrest," some will "confess their crimes" during investigation, some will be released after their relatives pay the military hefty bribes. (Arrested genuine rebels are often the first to be released -- the resistance movement can gather ransom money more efficiently than ordinary Chechen civilians.)

Ivanov's crackdown will not defeat the rebellion: Such sweeps have been carried out once and again during the last three years and their only end result has been an increased determination of the majority of Chechens to support the rebels. Many ordinary Chechens told Russian journalists in recent days on camera that, in principle, they support the hostage-taking in Moscow inasmuch as it was aimed at ending the war.

There seems to be no shortage of young Chechen boys and girls who are eager to take up arms -- to join the rebellion to kill Russians. The contingent that performed the hostage-taking in Moscow is typical of the present-day Chechen resistance: teen-age fighters, their leader Movsar Barayev in his early 20s.

This increasingly young rebel movement that is driven by national pride and radical Islamic fever is also technically more sophisticated today than ever before. In the last two months the rebels have shot down six Russian helicopters using Russian-made shoulder-launched heat-seeker anti-aircraft missiles. Some 140 Russian solders were killed in these attacks and some 30 wounded.

The Mi-8 chopper that was downed (with all on board killed) near the main military base in Khankala in the suburbs of Grozny on Sunday was carrying the chief of staff of the 58th army, Colonel Gennady Chepik, and other top military officials. The command of the 58th army that was specially formed in 1995 to fight the Chechen rebellion has been decimated by this attack.

In the mid 1980s the deployment of U.S.-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan was a turning point of the war. Not only the losses inflicted by the Stingers per se, but also the inability of the Russians to use freely their helicopters and fixed-wing planes to rapidly move forces by air and provide them with constant close air support, forced a negotiated settlement and a full withdrawal in the end.

Today Russian forces use essentially the same weapons and methods as in the 1980s, but their overall strength and capabilities have drastically diminished after the demise of the Soviet Union. Under a sophisticated rebel attack in Chechnya, combined with deadly mega-terrorist assaults in Moscow and other cities, the Russians may flee from Chechnya, as from Afghanistan, while the rebel republic may be taken over (as Afghanistan was) by Taliban-style extremists.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.