the lost american EVACUATION PLAN FOR CHECHNYA

EDITOR'S NOTE: (  This plan for evacuating 30,000 civilians trapped in
Grozny, Chechnya  was written by Fred Cuny in late February '95.  Among many
other documents, it was found in the laptop computer he left behind in his
hotel room in Ingushetia just before he disappeared. Despite  his efforts, the
plan was never implemented.)

I. PROBLEM

There are reportedly 30,000 civilians trapped in the Chechen-held areas of Grozny. They live underground in civil defense shelters, the basements of bombed out buildings, or in destroyed factories. Almost all the people are elderly pensioners. Food is scarce. They are without heat, light, water or sanitation and the harsh winter conditions have been particularly hard on them. They are overwhelmingly ethnic Russians or other slavs, almost all Chechen civilians have left the city since the war began. Most stayed because they were long-term residents of the city and expected the troubles to end quickly. In recent interviews, virtually all have said they want to leave -- most have families or friends in Russia where they believe they could find refuge. There situation is now critical because food is running out; the Chechen authorities are no longer able to bring in food supplies. The Chechen leadership has said they will support the evacuation as long as it is done safely.

II. CONCEPT

An informal working group will be formed to (1) establish a general cease-fire in Grozny and along designated evacuation routes and (2) organize the evacuation of those civilians who want to leave. Once the people have been safely evacuated from the city, they will be registered and placed into the existing evacuation and relocation system operated by the Federal Migration Service in cooperation with the Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM).

If the working group is unable to bring about a Moscow mandated cease-fire within the limited time that is available, a civil action to force the issue in the field should be organized. That approach is described in detail in section VII of this paper.

Technically, an alternate arrangement might be to negotiate a localized cease-fire around an evacuation corridor and move the people out through that route to villages south of the city, then from there to areas in Ossetia where they could be transferred to other points in Russia. However, this approach is inherrently more dangerous for the people since they would have to move to the assembly points under the risk of stray firing and possible breakdowns in security along the evacuation route. Therefore, a general cease-fire is preferable -- and is more important to the long range political objectives of this operation.

III. RELATED ISSUES

1. Importance of the cease-fire:

While the primary purpose is to evacuate the people, a second, but equally important objective, is to use the evacuation as a means of stopping the fighting for the duration of the evacuation and using that lull to push for political negotiations to establish a durable and permanent cease-fire.

2. Importance of the evacuation time frame:

The break-down of the last cease-fire, which had been worked out by the on-site military commanders of the two sides1, occurred largely because there were no "working reasons" to prolong it -- i.e., military considerations were not enough. They also say that the short duration of the cease-fire, five days, was not sufficient for the politicians to engage nor for the international community to apply pressure on the two governments to halt the fighting. Many of the officers believe that if a cease-fire of ten days to two weeks would allow time for political pressures to build that could lead to a permanent solution.

3. How the two sides view the evacuation:

The Chechen authorities have said that they will support the evacuation and will honor the proposed cease-fire. They say they are concerned about the people's plight and are fearful that they (the Chechens) will be blamed for the people's deaths. There is little military advantage to the Chechens one way or the other. However, the sight of thousands of Russians leaving the city will surely drive home the point that it the majority of the people killed by Russian bombing have been Russians, not Chechens and widespread recognition of that fact will undoubtedly put a great deal of pressure on the Yeltsin administration.

Some human rights observers have said that they are worried that local Chechen commanders might be afraid that if the people leave, that the Russian bombardment will become even more fierce and therefore, they may try to prevent all the people from leaving so that were be some disincentive to intensifying the attacks on the areas they hold.

The Russians publicly do not admit that the civilians remaining in the Chechen-held areas are ethnic Russians. Russian officials -- military and humanitarian alike -- claim that the only civilians left are a hard core group of pro-Dudayev Chechens. They apparently maintain that fiction in order to divert criticism of the indiscriminate Russian bombing and shelling of the city.

Senior Chechen officers (Masakhdov, Boudy) and the Ingush observers at the peace talks (Aushev and Agapov) claim that the Russians do not want to evacuate any civilians because it will undercut their argument that it is necessary to keep Russian troops in the area to protect the people.

There may also be another element. The Russians may want to prevent anymore of the Russian population from leaving because they know that few will ever return. The evacuation of this group, along with those who have already left, will ultimately reduce Moscow's influence in the republic.

How the two sides view a cease-fire:

At the battlefield level, the commanders of both sides would like to see the cease-fire reinstated. The Chechen leadership believes that a cease-fire works in their favor for it allows time for the international community to build pressure on the Russians. However, they also realize that it gives the Russians time to establish civil administration in the city which ultimately works against the rebel cause; thus they will have to see substantial progress before they will be willing to prolong the cease-fire for more than the duration of the evacuation.

Russian senior officers (Grachev, Kulikov and Babichev) say they believe that cease-fires enable the Chechens to reinforce their positions and therefore, they oppose the concept. They also are under intense pressure to end the war and thus do not want anything slowing the momentum that they have developed.

[Generally, cease-fires favor the stronger military side for it allows them to consolidate the territory that they hold. F.C.]

IV. KEY STEPS

1. Mobilize public opinion in favor of the evacuation. It is important that pressures be generated from all quarters, all elements of the political spectrum. This will require:

a. Increasing the public's awareness of the people's plight and the fact that they are ethnic Russians.

b. Making it clear that the people can be saved and what could happen if they are not.

c. Galvanizing public pressure in favor of a cease-fire to allow the evacuation to occur. Media must be briefed. The general concept of the plan -- a ten-day cease-fire, mobilization of a fleet of 100 buses, using the existing system of relocation, etc. -- must be advocated as a package. Human rights groups must be mobilized. And army groups such as veterans' organizations and pensioners' unions should be enlisted in the effort.

2. Parliamentarians must be organized. Parliament must propose a specific course of action and direct the president and the military to take that action. A resolution should be passed:

a. mandating the military to negotiate a ten-day general cease-fire;

b. mandating EMERCOM organize the evacuation of the people by making all its resources available;

c. requesting that international humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees participate as monitors and accompany the evacuation convoys to help guarantee their protection;

d. mandating the Federal Migration Service prepare to receive the refugees and swiftly move them to the locations the people choose for resettlement; and

e. requesting international financial assistance to help permanently resettle the refugees.

The resolution should designate a coordinator on behalf of the parliament to see that the administration carries out the proposal. [It should also designate EMERCOM as the lead government agency for this action.]

3. International pressure must be mobilized in support of the evacuation and cease-fire, and ultimately key governments should be prepared for pressuring Yeltsin administration to use the cease-fire period for getting peace talks under way.

V. MODALITIES:

1. Obtaining the Cease-fire:

The cease-fire should be a general truce. It does not require a pull-back of forces, though the two sides should set up some means for monitoring violations and stopping them from spreading. It must be city-wide and throughout the zones where people will be traveling by convoy. This is needed to permit convoys of buses to assemble, cross the confrontation lines, and go to various points in the city to pick up the people. The people themselves need a general cease-fire so that they can go to their apartments and collect what little they have left to take with them. The cease-fire should be continuous, not just for certain hours each day.

2. Evacuation Routes: Attempts should be made to open two routes:

Route 1: Grozny north to Tolstoy Yurt to Zamenskya to Mozdok. This route will be used to take the ethnic Russians and Slavs to the relocation center in Mozdok. From there they will be given train tickets to their final destinations.

Route 2: Grozny south to Shali. This route will serve the Chechens who want to leave. From Shali, the local Chechen authorities would help the people get to villages where they have family or friends to shelter them.

Even though there are only a few Chechens who will evacuate, from an operational and safety view, it is important that the southern route be established and kept open throughout the evacuation. This will extend the area covered by the cease-fire southward and thereby restrict bombing in that area which is important in guarding the broader political objective of the cease-fire. [Two routes will also reduce criticism that the evacuation is only for Russians.]

3. The buses:

The buses chosen should be large (such as the TAM buses built in Yugoslavia) which have enclosed cargo space underneath because the people will want to bring some of their belongings. [But more important, larger buses are more intimidating than the smaller metro buses and a long line of big buses is much harder to stop than one of small micros when the press is watching.] The larger buses could carry some 30 people and their belongings; thus 100 buses should be chartered for the ten day operation. Assuming this number is used for planning purposes, 100 buses x 30 people per day equals 3,000 people per day; thus in ten days 30,000 people could be evacuated.

4. Crossing the confrontation line:

When the evacuation begins, the buses should either be escorted across the confrontation lines by observers from international humanitarian agencies such as the ICRC or UNHCR or driven by international drivers. The buses should cross the lines before the people are assembled; it will give them added protection against a resumption of firing.

5. Assembling the people: The Chechen authorities will need to organize the evacuation on their side. They must be prepared to go from building to building to notify the people of the evacuation, give them time and help in gathering their belongings, and escort them to the places where the buses will be waiting.

6. Escorting them to safety: When the buses return, they must be escorted across the confrontation lines. Two-way radio contact between the drivers, the escorts, and the authorities on both sides at the designated crossing points is essential.

7. Medical screening and preparations for the journey: The buses should proceed out to the city as quickly as possible to a point several miles out of the immediate conflict zone, then stop at a temporary medical facility where the people can be given a quick health check and some food and water. Tolstoy Yurt might be an good stopping point for the Mozdok-bound convoys.

8. Registration and placing the refugees into the FMS system:

Once the people are in Mozdok, the normal, existing system takes over. FMS should register the people, provide them with tickets to their destination, and give them a cash stipend to help defray expenses enroute and at their destination.

9. Assisting those with no place to go:

Some people will have no place to go. FMS has set up temporary settlements and receiving facilities in cities south of Moscow. To the extent possible those facilities can be used. It may be necessary however, to help FMS find other locations to relieve temporary overcrowding that this evacuation might create.

10. Monitoring the conditions in the refugee settlements in central Russia:

In the past, there have been reports that the refugee settlements set up by FMS are poorly maintained and staffed. Because the majority of the people being evacuated are elderly, they will be less able to adapt to poor conditions than younger families. The parliament and the working group should ensure that the facilities are properly monitored and that special arrangements are made for elderly evacuees.

VI. TIMING

Evacuation should begin no later than 15 March.

VII. ALTERNATE ACTION PLAN

If the government or the military doesn't respond to parliament's call for a cease-fire, the working group should proceed to organize the evacuation and force the issue in the field. A large convoy of buses should be assembled in the vicinity of the region, the press should be notified of the action, and then the convoy should set off for Grozny accompanied by the media. Outstanding public figures including members of parliament, retired military officers, human rights groups, soldiers mothers and others should ride on the buses. (It may be possible to enlist distinguished international personalities as well.) Any time the buses are stopped, the media should be mobilized to cover the incident. Leaders of the working group should also accompany the buses and handle negotiations with the authorities as the convoy proceeds. Once the convoy is in the vicinity of Grozny, it should extremely difficult for local commanders to refuse it permission to carry out the evacuation.

Several on-site Russian generals have privately said that if such a convoy were to arrive at the outskirts of Grozny, that they would be able to arrange the cease-fire regardless of their orders from Moscow. These are the same generals who prolonged the last cease-fire on their own authority in defiance of instructions from their superiors (hoping that the politicians could be forced to continue the negotiations.)

The general officers involved in the fighting are all former colleagues who know and respect each other. Some of the Russian officers were deputies to Dudayev or General Aslan Masakhdov or to Ingush political leaders President Auchev and Vice President Agapov -- who are themselves serving major and leutenant generals themselves.



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