A series of suicide bombings marks the resumption of Russia’s war in Chechnya. Although President Vladimir Putin declared victory in the conflict earlier this year, the battle has merely shifted fronts. Russia is now engaged in a dogged guerrilla war that bears the hallmarks of the Afghan insurgency that sapped the energy of the Soviet Union. Mr. Putin would do well to take that lesson to heart: Negotiate a peace and withdraw from a hostile environment.
In five separate attacks this week, Chechen rebels drove trucks into Russian military compounds throughout the contested republic. At least 55 Russian soldiers and civilians were killed, although the rebels claim that fatalities are 10 times that number. The attacks belied Russian claims to have broken the back of the resistance. It is proof that Moscow faces a determined foe that has few or no scruples about using every weapon at its disposal.
Although Russia controls two-thirds of the Chechen Republic, the mountains belong to the rebels and there is little hope of dislodging them from their strongholds. Moscow’s willingness to flatten Chechnya to save it from the guerrillas has only hardened feelings against the central government. The rebels can draw upon a deep reservoir of ill will in their fight against Russia. They may not be able to mount the long-promised all-out offensive that will expel the Russians, but the suicide attacks will continue.
This outcome was inevitable. Russia faces a determined foe, while Russian forces are young, undisciplined and fighting on foreign territory. The region is sympathetic to the rebels’ aims, and Russia’s fierce tactics will only alienate moderates in the area. As in 1994-96, Russia faces a war of attrition. Mr. Putin must staunch the wound before Russian mothers rise again in protest. Mr. Putin cannot win this war, he can only negotiate an honorable peace.
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