Now We Know — Russia Set to Chop Up Chechnya

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OK, then, so it's a war. Russia has for 10 days camouflaged its objectives in Chechnya, but now it's given the game away. Initially Moscow said it had 30,000 men around Chechnya to beef up border security while bombing suspected terrorist bases; then it crossed those borders saying it wanted a 10-mile security zone inside Chechnya. But Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that his forces now occupy the northern third of the breakaway republic along the east-west line of the River Terek — a fact borne out by reports of fierce fighting from villages deep inside Chechnya. And that suggests that Moscow is trying to partition the territory, taking control of its northern plains and forcing separatist forces back into the mountainous south.

Wars, of course, carry a political cost, and although Russian generals like to compare their operation to NATO's Kosovo campaign, it's proving a lot more expensive. Moscow has already acknowledged losing four soldiers and two planes in the campaign, while Chechen authorities claim their forces have killed upwards of 100 Russian men. Heavy losses in the Caucasus could prompt a backlash from Russian voters; meanwhile, the campaign has already drawn criticism from the U.S. and the European Union. That's likely to grow amid a burgeoning humanitarian crisis. More than 100,000 refugees have fled Chechnya since Russia began bombing and cut off gas supplies, and that number will grow if Moscow goes ahead with plans to cut Chechnya's electricity supply. More alarming, perhaps, is Putin's announcement on Monday that the refugees will be resettled in those parts of Chechnya now under Russian control. After all, the last Russian leader to move whole populations around the Caucasus like chess pieces was Stalin.