Moscow poised to squash the 'banana republic'

This time the Russian army will not skulk away in battered buses. That was what happened in November 1991 when Boris Yeltsin made his first attempt to halt secession on Russia's southern flank.

The omens now are far more menacing: the din of a nighttime airlift into the military airstrip here, the clank of treaded tracks from armoured vehicles on muddy concrete, a convoy of GRAD rocket launchers and artillery on a dark country road, and the hissing frustrations of Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir Muzhaev.

''This is a banana republic,'' said the commander of the Mozdok Interior Ministry detachment. ''A banana republic that feeds off the Russian people.'' He stabbed a map hanging on his office wall, jabbing the place names that prove, he says, that Chechnya is part of Russia, not an independent country: Bratskoe, Alpatovo, Ishersaya. ''These are not Chechen but Russian, they are ours.''

President Yeltsin, nearly 1,000 miles away to the north in Moscow, has vowed to deploy ''all forces and means'' to end Chechnya's three years of self-declared statehood. A small but forbidding part of these forces was on display last night on the road leading to and from Mozdok airfield: armoured personnel carriers, military earth-moving equipment and long lines of troop-carrying trucks.

It is only 10 kilometres from here to the border with Chechnya and a straight run on down to the capital, Grozny, and the presidential palace of Dzhokar Dudayev.

Inside the base shine the red landing lights of the airfield in neat ordered rows, an order that Russia has spent some 200 years trying to impose on the more than 30 nationalities of the Caucasus.

President Yeltsin tried to set an equally rigid boundary on Tuesday morning with an ultimatum giving Mr Dudayev 48 hours to disband his army and free all prisoners, including as many as 70 Russians captured in fighting last weekend - though there was some confusion over Moscow's intentions yesterday when Mr Yeltsin's original ultimatum was reissued without a key phrase threatening to declare a state of emergency.

Pavel Grachev, the Russian Defence Minister, has boasted that it will only take two hours for Russian paratroopers to defeat Mr Dudayev.

Lieutenant-Colonel Muzaev thinks it will take even less, but, as a 40-year-old veteran of Afghanistan, he predicts that Chechnya will be defeated but not pacified. ''In Afghanistan it was easy at first but then they taught us.''

Russia is amassing troops along the two main roads into Chechnya, one at Mozdok, the other at Vladikavkaz. Mr Yeltsin's 48-hour deadline passed yesterday morning at 6am with no immediate response from the Russian military, though unidentified planes again attacked Grozny, hitting both civilian and military airports. A wall of Russian military hardware was also reported as being erected on the eastern border of Chechnya on the road to Makhachkala on the Caspian.

Lieutenant-Colonel Muzhaev, dressed in jungle fatigues and surrounded by cheery acolytes in similar attire, said the struggle to bring Chechnya to heel would continue for years: ''You British were in Afghanistan for nearly a hundred years and you still couldn't control it. We were there for 10 years and nor could we.''

Russia's forces are clearly planning more than a brief surgical strike. Among the armoured convoys gathering along the border last night were camp kitchens that suggest a full-scale military campaign could soon be under way.

(Map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
people
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us