The end of last week and the beginning of this one were marked by: replacement of the commander of Russia's Interior Ministry troops, a key Russian commander officially responsible for storming of Grazny, the Chechen capital (1); heavy house-to-house fighting in Grozny (2) and the death of Maj. Gen. Mikhail Malofeyev, the deputy leader of Russia’s northern army group (3).
1. The commander of Russia's Interior Ministry troops, which have the main responsibility for clearing Grozny of rebel fighters, was replaced on 23 January as Russian forces continued to encounter stiff resistance in the Chechen capital. Acting President Vladimir V. Putin signed the order removing Col. Gen. Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov as commander of the Interior Ministry forces. He was replaced by Col. Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, who commanded Russian troops in Chechnya toward the end of the 1994-96 war, which left the nominally Russian republic a de facto independent territory. Aleksei Gromov, the Kremlin press secretary, said the command shift was intended to improve co-ordination between the Interior Ministry forces and the army. According to the military's battle plan, Interior Ministry troops are doing most of the fighting inside the city. That is in keeping with the government's contention that it is establishing order on Russian territory and not waging a war against its own citizens.
2. The Russian advance has gone slowly as the troops have been engaged in costly house-to-house fighting in Grozny. The Russians still had control of a strategic bridge over the Sunzha River as street fighting raged around both Minutka Square in the city center and a railway crossing over the Sunzha. The embattled bridge has been a major transit route for the militants, and leads to Minutka Square, which remains in the hands of some 2,500 rebels still entrenched in Grozny. On 23 January the Russian military said that it controlled about one-third of the Chechen capital. While the fighting in Grozny was fierce, the Russians did better in the southern mountains. They repelled an effort by the rebels to break through the Russian lines at Duba-Yurt. Russian forces have blocked the rebel forces in the Chechen highlands, but the militants are trying to break out and link up with their comrades in Grozny. And the Russians finally captured the village of Vedeno, the hometown of Shamil Basayev, the Chechen rebel leader. The village had been surrounded for some time, and the rebels recently said they were withdrawing. Nonetheless, the military trumpeted the capture as a breakthrough. "Vedeno is fully under the control of federal troops," a spokesman said.
3. Russia also experienced a setback this week when one of the army commanders of its Grozny operation, Maj. Gen. Mikhail Malofeyev, was declared missing in the city. Russian officers believe that he was killed in the fighting. The presidential aide, Sergei Yastrzhembsky announced on 23 January that the body of a general was discovered at the site of a battle. According to one account, he was with the 245th Motorised Infantry Regiment in the Zavodskoi neighbourhood in the western outskirts of Grozny. He hid in a building with some soldiers when the unit was attacked and was killed. The rebels claim to have taken General Malofeyev prisoner. Either way, his disappearance raised questions about Russian tactics and co-ordination among its forces.
In the period from 16/01 to 22/01/2000, DRC conducted distributions of DRC and NRC winter clothing for IDPs of all age groups living in spontaneous settlements and with host families in Voznesenovskaya, Dolakovo and Kantishevo villages (Ingushetia). The distributions were held on the basis of the following pre-distribution registration data:
Winter coats: 28,069 (17,118 of which provided by UNHCR)
Winter boots: 39,750 (11,878 of which provided by UNHCR) The consolidated cumulative table on DRC distribution is attached.
DRC continues registration of the total IDP population in Ingushetia in co-operation with UNHCR as well as the Ingush Migration Service and Local Ingushetia Administrations. By 22 January as many as 68,838 IDPs were registered. DRC include registration entries on addresses of IDPs in order to allow for subsequent registration of host families.
Inter Agency Issues
On 20 January DRC Country Program Manager, Tom Trier, had a meeting with representatives of the Hungarian Inter-Church Aid (HIA), Laszlo Lehel and Laszlo Czimre. HIA has established an office in Stavropol City and plans to carry out a humanitarian aid program in Stavropol Krai, North Ossetia and Ingushetia. Dr. Laszlo Czimre will be a Project Co-ordinator in Stavropol assisted by Oleg Kalimoullin, representative of the Russian Orthodox Church Mission in the North Caucasus.
On 21 January DRC FO Nazran was visited by the ICRC North Caucasus Co-ordinator, Mr. Andrea Mermillo who expressed interest in the character of assistance providing by DRC and the system of registration and distribution utilised by the Danish Refugee Council in Ingushetia. Mr. Mermillo highlighted the importance of Inter-Agency meetings organised by DRC in Ingushetia and reassured that the ICRC representatives will continue participating in the above.
On 22 January Brian Graham, DRC Senior Logistics Officer, and Kharon Deniev, DRC Emergency Relief Program Coordinator in Ingushetia, met with the Mayor of the city of Nazran, Mr. Ozdoev Bai-Ali. They discussed the issue of the IDP registration currently run by DRC and the Ingush Migration Service, and shared the views concerning the scheme of distributions of UNHCR food/non-food items carrying out by DRC in Ingushetia. The Mayor presented the total Nazran City IDP population figure of 58,394. He also informed that the previous day he had a meeting with the Heads of all six Municipalities and had given instructions that all possible assistance should be given to facilitate the registration of IDPs in the territory of his authority.
Stavropol, 24 January 2000.
For further information, please contact:
Tom Trier (8) 901 498 08 25
Zelim Yandarov (8) 901 498 08 24