Russians advance in Chechnya
Russian troops are sweeping through the Chechen republic while others are closing the circle around the capital, Grozny. Moscow has cut-off the entire mobile phone network in the north Caucasus — a move aimed at disrupting Chechen field command communications — and a sign that a major offensive is under way. The would-be breakaway republic is backed by the US through Pakistan and Afghan Islamic fundamentalist forces. It is the key to US and European imperialist plans to sever Russia's energy supplies — Chechnya straddles major oil pipelines — and to begin the process of "Balkanising" Russia, breaking it up into small segments easily dominated and exploited. Federal Russian units are advancing south, mopping up guerrilla bases while the Russian airforce pounds remaining Chechen strongholds. Many guerrillas are heading for the mountains, where they hope to regroup and counter-attack when winter sets in. Several thousand heavily-armed militiamen are holding out in Grozny. Chechen leaders have belatedly called for talks, but the Russians are mindful of the way the 1996 agreement that ended the previous war in Chechnya was treated with contempt by the Chechens. While Russia withdrew all its troops, giving the republic autonomy, Chechnya became a safe base for the Chechen criminal gangs that terrorise the whole of Russia. Chechen guerrilla bands also tried to foment an Islamic fundamentalist uprising in the strategic neighbouring republic of Daghestan, but were repulsed by the local people and the Russian army. Chechen "volunteers" fought in the KLA against the Yugoslav Government while the Chechen army includes Taliban militia from Afghanistan. For their part, the Russian forces are trying to avoid becoming embroiled in a bloody frontal assault on Grozny. General Vitali Pavlov, commander of the Russian army air-force, says two helicopter gunships have already been shot down and scores more damaged in the campaign. In Afghanistan, Russian losses of helicopter gunships were recently revealed to be the result of US special forces establishing a base in a mountain cave from which, with the aid of satellite global positioning data, they provided targeting directions for Stinger missiles fired by Afghan "freedom fighters". It is not yet known how Chechen missiles are being directed to their targets. Russian troops are trying to totally cut-off Grozny but they've made no attempt to probe its defences. Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev ruled out a full-frontal assault on Grozny on Russian television. The number of Chechen refugees who have sought shelter in neighbouring Ingushetia is put at over 215,000.