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06.03.2000 15:00      ON THE SITUATION IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS

     SERGEI V. YASTRZHEMBSKY - presidential adviser for the information analytical work of the federal bodies of executive authority involved in the counter-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus
         


    

YASTRZHEMBSKY: The main events are taking place in the Argun Gorge, and the situation there has not changed since last Thursday in terms of the site of the main battles. Consequently, all Saturday and Sunday reports about the encirclement and liquidation of a large group of paratroopers surprised us. You have been told since Thursday that the main events were taking place in two sites of the Argun Gorge, where large groups of fighters were encircled. One of the encirclement zones at the settlement of Selmentauzen is roughly four by two kilometres. The fighters are rather actively moving about in this area, manoeuvring in an attempt to avoid the fire strikes of the federal forces.

The second zone is situated outside the settlement of Komsomolskoye, where a smaller group of fighters was encircled. In both zones fighting has been going on, with the federal forces using [artillery and aviation] fire to liquidate the bandits. The weather conditions deteriorated outside Selmentauzen and hence helicopter gunships have been less active there. The tape you saw yesterday shows the surrender of a large group of bandits as a result of the fire strikes in the settlement zone.

As for the situation at Komsomolskoye, it is being mopped up now and the civilian population has left this settlement. The units involved in mopping it up encountered resistance on the part of the fighters. Fire strikes are being used now against the points from which the bandits shot at the federal forces. As soon as these fire emplacements are liquidated, the federal units will continue the mopping up of Komsomolskoye.

Fourteen fighters were found in a cave outside Shatoi; all of them were liquidated. Federal helicopters detected a minivan and a KamAZ lorry with fighters, as well as a fuel truck on the road at the settlement of Vysogornoye. They were all destroyed from the air. A smartly established fortification zone was found close to the settlement of Kharsenoi on the Razdolnoye Range. It was prepared for a long siege, with 115 dugouts, able to house 30-40 men each. The federal forces found up to 60 bodies of fighters in these dugouts, mostly the wounded who had been left to die there; many of them were killed by their comrades.

Large munitions, medicines and food depots were found at the settlement of Dachu-Borzoi. The foods were enough to feed 1,200 for a long time.

Several interesting radio intercepts, as well as the testimony of captured fighters, show that the fighters are still planning subversion terrorist acts and attacks on commandants' offices. For example, a conversation between certain Abdullah and Omegov: "The Jaguar reached the target without problems. Yes, they are where we want them. We'll see who's the boss there. You are at the turn? Roger. What's the distance to the cinema house? Yes. The commandant's office will come next."

Many radio intercepts show that the residents of several mountain settlements in Chechnya are resisting the bandits, hindering their entry into their villages. For example: "The locals are ousting us from the village, don't let us enter. Threaten them with weapons. Roger." Or another intercept: "What's up? The locals are ousting us; they don't even give us food."

Here is the radio intercept of a conversation between Khattab, who used the call sign Tadj, and his comrade-in-arms Abu Idris. It was reported that other day that Abu Idris died in a battle. "We should send a group to bury the shakhids [the dead]. And let them take Ilyas down. In short, we have many killed and two are under anaesthetic." One more radio intercept, a conversation between the Angel (Gelayev) and Aisidullah (Barayev): ""The variant you suggested will not do. They all died there. When you were going down, they all died there." Another radio intercept shows that the mopping up of settlements - at least some of them - is rather effective. Hussein and Makhmad: "Did you report on the situation here? - I couldn't. - Did something happen to the boys? - They took 40 men. - In the village or outside it? - Both."

We can conclude from these radio intercepts that the task of the group commanded by Khattab (according to our information, Shamil Basayev is in that group) is to lead the group from the zone of hostilities into DagHestan or Azerbaijan.

Information of the Interior Ministry: Operational and prevention operations are underway. The ministry departments and the SOBR and OMON units have stepped up their efforts. In particular, in the past 24 hours they checked over 2,500 people and 2,300 cars, detained three members of bandit groups and confiscated a large amount of firearms. They also rendered harmless a live anti-tank mine in the office of the administration head in Chiri-Yurt.

Information of the Ministry of Emergencies: The number of people to which hot meals are provided in Grozny is growing with every passing day. It was 10,000-12,000 a week ago and nearly 17,000 yesterday. The Federal Migration Service is working to poll the population about their desire to leave Grozny for other regions of Russia. As of now, 250 people expressed such desire.

Information of the Ministry of Justice: 88 people are held in Chernokozovo now, and 287 have been deported from Chechnya. In all, there were 827 people in the Chernokozovo detainment wards, but 452 have been released after a check-up.

Information related to preparations for the presidential elections in Chechnya: As of today, there are 12 territorial election commissions in the republican regions, including the territorial election commission of the Oktyabrsky district of Grozny. There are 320 polling stations and work is underway to form district election commissions. The main task now is the compilation of the lists of voters by the territorial election commissions. Another major task is to issue passports and temporary Ids, which the citizens would present at the polling stations on March 26. Over 20% of the 100,000 blank passports delivered to the republic have been issued to the people, mostly to the young people who get passports for the first time, together with the right to take part in the election procedure. On the whole, there are some 400,000 people who have the right to vote in the republic now. This week we will begin the financing of the territorial and district election commissions. The money from the Central Election Commission has been transferred to the account of the bank of North Ossetia.

Information of the military commandants' offices, which is directly connected with the tragedy involving the group of the Moscow Region OMON in a Grozny suburb: The military commandants of the liberated Chechen regions point out that the bandits' resistance has entered a new phase. The number and intensity of their night attacks increased with the coming of spring. In particular, two roadblocks in Grozny were attacked on the night of Saturday/Sunday and shooting was registered in the outskirts of Gudermes. The bandits who have become legalised as peaceful civilians stepped up their reconnaissance operations. They use women and children to observe the buildings of local administrations and military commandants' offices and try to photograph the heads of civilian and military administrations and the local residents who visit these establishments. Trying to prevent possible attacks on the car convoys in the spring and summer period, the chief military commandant of the security zone, Lieutenant General Ivan Babichev, ordered the cutting of the road shelter-belts, together with bushes, the removal of the trunks of the fallen trees, and the cutting of glades in the dense forests. Meeting the wishes of the peaceful population halfway, he reduced the curfew by two hours as of March 4. Now the people can freely move about the republic from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Back to the Hoefling affair. We draw your attention to the fact that many German mass media still carry on the propaganda campaign designed to discredit the actions of the federal forces in Chechnya and accuse, without good reason, Russian servicemen of military crimes. The scenario of the campaign, the style and methods used to present this information is largely similar to those that German and other Western mass media had used against Yugoslavia and its armed forces. The leitmotif of some publications is the allegation that Hoefling at long last acquired proof of Russia's military crimes in Chechnya.

The fact that Hoefling was dismissed by his agency and the refutations issued by Russia are disregarded. Some mass media present Hoefling as a hero. It is also reported that Hoefling and his family allegedly have to hide in the German Embassy in Moscow, fearing possible persecution by the Russian secret services. This is why, it is alleged, Hoefling cannot make a public appearance and explain his actions. I can tell you that, according to our information, Hoefling and his family are not in the German Embassy or on the territory of Russia today. And the Russian secret services are not interested in him.

OMAN TV: Will the Russian troops change their tactics in view of the recent attack of the Chechen fighters? What is the situation in Alkhan-Kala?

YASTRZHEMBSKY: The situation in Alkhan-Kala is normal. If you have information about fighting there, or that Alkhan-Kala has been proclaimed the separatist capital, you must know that this is not true. As for the tactics, it will remain the same: To stop the infiltration of fighters and their breakout from the foothills and the mountain regions of Chechnya to the flatlands, and to disperse and actively liquidate the bandits in the two encirclement zones.

GERMAN TV: We were surprised to learn that the battle with the OMON group lasted four hours. The Americans can see such battles from their satellites, but you didn't notice it? I am surprised that you don't value the life of your servicemen.

YASTRZHEMBSKY: I did not understand everything of what you said. But I understood that you are concerned for the safety of Russian servicemen - and I am deeply grateful to you for that. You mentioned that the USA uses, if I understood you correctly, satellites for radio intercepts, right? Observations? You know, about satellites, we should wait until Manilov gets better. He will competently tell you what modern technology we are using in the Chechen campaign, and how. Including about satellites.

I know that many of you want to know how it could happen that the battle lasted four hours yet nobody hurried to the rescue of the OMON group. We are investigating this case. Vladimir Rushailo and the leaders of the Interior Ministry visited the site of the tragedy on the weekend, where they studied the situation and inspected the operational-investigation efforts of the Interior Ministry agencies in Grozny. This work entered the final stage now, and they are drafting the document that would answer all questions, including this one. It will also answer questions about personal responsibility for what happened there. But since this work has not been completed yet, I think it would be improper to try to make conclusions now.

NTV: What about the latest information on the casualties near the village of Selmentauzen? Yesterday Gennady Troshev said that the 6th airborne infantry company alone lost 31 men in killed. Do you have any updated information on the casualties?

YASTRZHEMBSKY: It is NTV television company that interprets rather freely this information. I watched a footage with Troshev. However, you company's emphasis was that a particular company had lost 31 servicemen in killed. I must say that these are the total losses of that company for several days. I spoke both on Thursday and Friday in this hall about the fact that paratroopers were sustaining losses. On Saturday I don't have briefings. So, we have been telling you about what is happening near Selmentauzen for the fourth day running and I said at all the briefings that there are losses among the paratroopers. I did not have full information, which general Troshev has. That is why he gave this information to you. However, we speak not just about one attack by the militants, but about the total losses for several days since, indeed, the militants carried out one attack after another on the positions of that airborne infantry company trying to make a breakthrough in that direction.

I do not have any additional information on the losses by this time. We usually give this information on Fridays. If the commanders consider it necessary to specify information ahead of time, they will do this precisely the way General Troshev did. I only request you to make proper accents. Otherwise, an impression is formed that one attack brings such a sad result while the fact that dozens, if not hundreds, of militants have been destroyed, is actually ignored. Hence a general impression that only the paratroopers are sustaining losses.

TVTS TELEVISION CHANNEL, BORZENKO: About the strength of the remaining groups of militants. Constantly the figures of 2,000, 3,000 or 5,000 men are cited and an impression is created that they are simply driven along the mountains. What is their actual strength, what have been their losses lately? How many of them have remained?

YASTRZHEMBSKY: This is a difficult question. I have given you today a whole number of facts showing that as soon as federal troops find some transport means, which carry militants, their dugouts or hideouts, they destroy them immediately by aviation or artillery. The structure of bandit groups has also changed. For example, whereas earlier there were independent groupings subordinate to one commander, today there is, in actual fact, a sort of a mass of bandits who move within a limited territory in search of an exit from the trap. Militants join the most organised bandit formations, which still preserve some kind of internal structure. This especially applies to the formations led by Khattab.

It is hard to count exactly the number of militants who are located within these two encirclements. First of all, the relief of the terrain is very difficult and, secondly, there is much greenery in that area. There is a sufficiently thick forest area with large trees where bandits try to hide during artillery fire. It is possible to count the exact number of rebels only after this group is fully destroyed, surrenders or after the dead militants lying on the battlefield are counted. The general assessments for the past week range from 1,500 to 2,000 killed militants. There are also certain assessments in relation to the plains of Chechnya. It is assumed that up to 1,000 gunmen mingled with the local population and wait for the outcome of the events in the Argun Gorge. Meanwhile, they engage in subversive acts, sabotage, etc.

A JAPANESE MAGAZINE: From which countries or from which side do the Chechen militants still get aid?

YASTRZHEMBSKY: This is a difficult question. They get aid, first of all, from international extremist Islamic circles. For example, there is the notorious Moslem Brothers organisation with its headquarters in Saudi Arabia. I am speaking only about that organisation and not about the state. The heads of the Chechen bandit formations are known to have had long-standing and reliable organisational and financial ties with bin Laden and the Taliban leadership.

THE SAME SOURCE: I heard the name Moslem Brothers. Could you specify who precisely finances that organisation? Do you have any information on that score?

YASTRZHEMBSKY: I have this information and I saw it this morning. But this is special information and it cannot be disclosed directly. It can be used today for the solution of some tactical tasks. There is, of course, such information. I believe that maybe we shall hold in this hall a meeting with one of the heads of the foreign intelligence service who will perhaps tell you more on this issue.

QUESTION: Today an article about an ecological disaster has been published in the Segodnya newspaper. Is the issue of the status of the capital being considered at the government level? Will Grozny remain the Chechen capital? Is it possible that Gudermes will become the new main city of Chechnya? Is Gudermes ready to accept the status of the capital?

YASTRZHEMBSKY: The answer would be premature before the end of the work of the government commission which is designed to determine the fate of Grozny, assess the degree of destructions and evaluate those investments which are needed to revive the city, if such a decision is taken. The issue of the transfer of the capital is not being discussed in the practical plane so far. Apart from Gudermes, Argun is also named, for example. But in practical terms, this issue is not being solved now.

QUESTION: What about the elections in Ingushetia in the refugee camps? Do the refugees plan to participate as electors?

YASTRZHEMBSKY: I am not ready to answer this question. Tomorrow I shall answer it - I shall get in touch with the Central Election Commission and specify about Ingushetia. Please, come tomorrow, I shall give you my answer.

QUESTION: In two weeks the Chechen landscape will begin to turn green. The main mistake of the previous war was that the militants were able actually freely to fire checkpoints and move freely along cross-country roads. During the previous campaign there were no mobile groups. Do the military envisage the creation of mobile helicopter groups to destroy small militants' formations?

YASTRZHEMBSKY: A good question. I don't know about mobile groups but the interior troops are using helicopters. For the past twenty-four hours such helicopters were fired at in two places during their raids. They launched a retaliation fire, i.e., they have the possibility to retaliate. I believe that this will be practised. This is what I have seen myself in the liberated areas of Chechnya: control has been enhanced over roads; moreover, control has been toughened not only over federal or republican roads, but also over cross-country roads. The number of entries and exits into and from every settlement has been noticeably limited compared to the previous campaign. Whereas before, let us say so conventionally, it was possible to enter a certain populated area from 5-6 directions, now these are just one or two directions; the remaining are either sealed off or mined or exploded.

The number of checkpoints on the main road running through Grozny has been increased. I believe that precisely in that direction the interior troops have significantly intensified their activity and made the necessary conclusions from the first campaign. I think you have drawn your attention to the preventive measures, which Lieutenant General Babichev is taking and which are completely necessary to narrow the field of manoeuvre for the enemy's subversion activity groups.


  

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