Alu Alkhanov, elected president of the southern province in August, said on Friday that foreign spies aiming to weaken Russia had sucked the Kremlin into the attack, which only served to strengthen anti-Moscow rebels.
   
Russian forces poured into Chechnya in early December 1994, but did not meet tough resistance until they entered the capital Grozny on New Year's Eve. Lightly armed rebels destroyed tank columns and killed scores of soldiers.
   
Alkhanov said Chechnya's separatist government led by Dzhokhar Dudayev, who was elected amid the Soviet collapse, had been weak but the attack united Chechens behind him. 
   
'Uniting figure'

"This December military operation was a mistake. Thanks to it Dudayev once again became a uniting figure for the Chechens," he said in an interview with the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily coinciding with the war's 10-year anniversary. 

The 1994 Russian invasion failed
to put down the separatist revolt

Although Russian forces killed Dudayev in 1996, Chechen rebels have kept fighting under successor Aslan Maskhadov.   

Rebels in turn denounce Alkhanov as a Kremlin stooge, and pledge to keep fighting until Russia concedes defeat. Their regular offers of peace talks are rejected by the Kremlin.
   
Alkhanov said foreign fighters who had come to Chechnya had driven out the workers needed to rebuild the region.
   
"Instead of oil workers, farm directors and builders came Arab mercenaries, explosive specialists and foreign spies. And with their help, we have totally destroyed our scientific, industrial and cultural base."
   
Kremlin spared

Although weakened, the rebels
have struck back time and again

These spies were to blame for the war in the first place, Alkhanov said, refusing to point the finger at Kremlin officials who analysts see as having blundered into the war without realising its consequences.
   
"The same forces that destroyed the Soviet Union did all they could to ensure there wouldn't be sanity on Chechen soil as well ... . Our opponents didn't need a strong Russia, like they didn't need a strong Soviet Union," he said.
   
Russia's military in Chechnya said on Friday it had strengthened security to protect New Year celebrations.

Rebels have in the past marked the war's anniversaries with attacks, and one serviceman was injured by a bomb on Friday, Interfax news agency reported.