The Russian Army began its big push to take the Chechen capital, Grozny, on the day after Christmas, directing artillery and air power at concentrations of Chechen fighters near the center of “Dzhokhar.” (The rebels have renamed the city in honor of the first president of independent “Ichkeriya,” Dzhokhar Dudayev.) Thousands of civilians remain, cowering in the dank cellars of Dzhokhar/Grozny, either frightened by reports that the Russians are strafing refugee columns along the “secure corridor” leading south or intimidated by the Islamist warlords, who may calculate, as the Great Teacher of the Peoples himself did during the horrific siege of Stalingrad, that the troops will defend a live city better than a dead one.
By mid-January, however, Moscow could no longer pretend that all was going according to plan (assuming there is one). Army General Mikhail Malofeyev, deputy commander of the Russian forces in northern Grozny, was shot through the head by a Chechen sniper, his forward HQ contingent all but wiped out by Chechen rocket-propelled grenades during a firefight in his sector. Following Malofeyev’s embarrassing death, Moscow began a shake-up of the military command structure, and official sources, after claiming fantastically low casualty rates for months, admitted losses of around 1,200 men in the North Caucasus since last fall. (Those figures are probably still low.) Moscow now appears to be planning to declare victory (assuming Grozny eventually falls) and get out, the war having served its purpose by boosting Acting President Vladimir Putin’s popularity.
As of this writing, Putin’s poll numbers remain high, and he will likely win the early election scheduled for March 26 (although Chechen President Asian Maskhadov has reportedly called on his “field commanders” to redouble their efforts in order to hurt Putin’s campaign; some reports claim the Chechens will hang on in Grozny until after February 23, the date Stalin deported the entire Chechen nation during World War II, then melt into the hills to fight a guerrilla campaign). Putin’s endorsement secured victory for the Kremlin-backed Unity movement in December’s parliamentary elections. Unity garnered over 23 percent of the vote, finishing just behind the pathetic “opposition” Communists (CPRF), now totally intimidated by Putin’s support in the “power ministries.” The Kremlin has the votes to block any moves by either the CPRF or the anti-Kremlin Fatherland-All Russia faction, headed by Yevgeni Primakov.
The West has given its halfhearted endorsement to the election results, calling Unity’s performance a victory for “reform” (whatever that might be), but the real story is the West’s bizarre belief that the campaign in Chechnya, the increasingly anti-Western rhetoric of Putin, and the general mood of belligerence in the Land of the Firebird are merely the products of a few xenophobic “elements” in the military and security organs or, alternatively, that the Kremlin manufactured Russia’s surly nationalistic mood to boost Putin prior to Yeltsin’s New Year’s Eve resignation. Meanwhile, the Council of Europe and the European Union are threatening sanctions against Russia over the Chechnya operation as professional Russophobes call for a renewal of the Cold War. Strobe Talbott and company are as clueless as ever, finding the sharpening worldwide resistance to globalism as incomprehensible as the modest aspirations of people who did not attend Harvard or Yale.
The truth is that something like the present Russian distrust of the West would have come about regardless of who was at the helm in the Kremlin, that Putin had long been associated with the “Westernizers” in Yeltsin’s entourage, that both “democrats” and “patriots” have come to distrust—if not hate—the West equally, and that most Russians now appear to believe that the West is merely looking for an excuse to continue the dismemberment of the Russian state. The 21st century will likely be a tale of the West’s continuing clash with those who do not see the surrender of their identity as a fair price for joining the Club of Smug and Soulless States.