Latvia and Estonia, Georgia and Armenia - the republics on the fringes of the old Soviet Union defied Moscow and escaped with their freedom. Now the Chechens have become the first nation from within Russia to rebel, and the first to fire back (lik e thisChechen artillery battery) when the tanks arrived to restore Russian hegemony.

President Yeltsin, moving late in the day to quell Chechnya's upstart revolt, must contend with the potential cost of a protracted war and the opposition of many of his own ministers. By trying to shore up the integrity of the Russian federation, the president may have jeopardised its future.