Russia: October 17, 1999

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The US has been working on ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) defenses for decades, but is prevented from doing so by the 1972 ABM treaty with the Russians. So America is proposing the treaty be revised, in exchange the US would help beef up Russian ABM defenses. But the Russians are still smarting over the collapse of the Soviet Union, Eastern European nations joining NATO, and NATO bombing Yugoslavia. Some Russian politicians are urging that a new nuclear weapons policy be adopted, one that would allow nuking someone else before Russia itself was attacked (the current policy.) Russia still has some 20,000 nuclear weapons and, although treaties now in force call for most of them to be dismantled, and the rest safeguarded, nothing is certain in Russia these days. In Chechnya, Russian troops took the high ground overlooking the northwest approaches to Grozny, the Chechen capital. The Russian commanders say they do not have orders to go into Grozny itself, and it appears that the Russians are going to surround the city, cut off all access to it and, in effect, lay siege to it. Starvation, followed by surrender, is the classic object of a siege and it is beginning to look like that is what is in store for Grozny. After the battering the Russians took trying to take Grozny in 1994, it's no surprise that they are using a siege this time. But the siege of a city as large as Grozny, situated in hilly terrain and garrisoned by thousands of tough and determined Chechen fighters would not be a walkover. The Chechens could still get in and out at nigh by not using the roads. This would not enable them to keep the city supplied, but would keep weapons and ammunitions coming out and raiding parties going out. The Chechens would also play up the suffering of the starving civilians in the city and use media warfare as much as they could. The fall of Grozny is not a foregone conclusion. 

 

October 16; Outnumbered Chechen defenders retreated from Goragorsky, and Russian troops quickly occupied this town at the foot of the heights that overlook the main road to the Chechen capital Grozny. Nearby Russian troops battled to possession of the Tersky heights, putting Russian troops within 60 east of  kilometers of Grozny. Local Russian commanders said they had orders to move on to Grozny itself, but their first objective would be the village of Dolinsky (15 kilometers east of Grozny).. The last few days fighting may have killed a thousand or more troops, mostly Chechen. Civilian casualties have apparently been even heavier. The Russians have made extensive use of artillery, bombers and helicopter gunships. About 3,000 Russian troops are involved in the push towards Dolinsky.

October 16; Russia's invasion of Chechnya has a great deal to do with efforts by Prime Minister Putin to look tough before the next elections. A former KGB official, Putin has no military experience to speak of (his time in uniform being spent as an undercover spy in Germany looking for signs of disloyalty among Soviet troops). Defense Minister Sergeyev spent his career in the Strategic Rocket Forces and has shown zero interest in solving (or even reviewing) the serious problems among the ground forces. Russia's victory over Chechen rebels invading Dagestan was something of an aberration. The Russian troops were volunteers from elite marine, parachute, and special forces units, and they were paid $1,000 per month in hard currency. They outnumbered the Chechen invaders three-to-one, and were fighting on friendly terrain where the local population (with its well-armed militia) supported the Russians.--Stephen V Cole

October 16; The reactor that self-destructed at Chernobyl a decade ago in the world's worst nuclear disaster was one of 16 identical units in the USSR; the other 15 are still operating and are in even worse shape than Chernobyl was. (The problem at Chernobyl was caused by the crew trying an unauthorized experiment, not by equipment failure.) Reactors of this type use graphite as a coolant and when they fail they get hotter; US water-cooled reactors get cooler when they fail (a key safety advantage).--Stephen V Cole

October 15; Some 45 kilometers west of Grozny is the former missile base at Bamut. The area contains a large number of bunkers and it took the Russians 18 months to capture the area during the 1993-96 war. Russian troops are again trying to take the place, which is being stoutly defended by Chechens once more. Chechen troops have begun to withdraw Goragorsky and Pobedinskoye, towns about 15 kilometers north of Grozny. Russian troops have moved towards these two towns in an apparent push towards the Chechen capital of Grozny itself. 

 

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