Chechens braced for renewed onslaught

RUSSIAN PLANES and helicopter gunships pounded the outskirts of Grozny yesterday and seemed poised to enter the Chechen capital as the attention of the Western world was diverted for Christmas. The air force mounted bombing raids while, on the ground, Russian troops clashed with the separatist Chechens at Serzhen-Yurt, just south of Grozny, according to Russia's independent NTV channel.

Some 3,500 civilians had managed to escape along the army's "humanitarian corridors" in the past 24 hours and others had fled over the past few days, NTV said. However, if its earlier estimate that 40,000 civilians were trapped in the city was correct, that left thousands to face an imminent Russian onslaught.

The Interfax news agency said on Tuesday that Russian forces had received orders to move into Grozny. Quoting "anonymous military sources", it said that all the "necessary forces and means" were concentrated around the city and commanders had received "orders to begin the liberation". The Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, said the end of the drive to clear "terrorists" from Chechnya was "close" but he declined to be more specific. "I will not give a date, set a time frame or link it to any anniversary or holiday."

The world has been waiting for the Russians to go into Grozny since earlier this month, when the air force dropped leaflets advising civilians to leave the city by 11 December or risk being taken for guerrillas and exterminated. The West protested at this ultimatum and warned Russia that it could face sanctions if it continued to sacrifice civilians in the pursuit of terrorists.

It would be in accordance with tradition if the Russians moved around the time of the Western Christmas, which is not a holiday for them. On 25 December 1979, Soviet forces entered Kabul, starting the disastrous 10-year war in Afghanistan. In addition, from the government's point of view, the opinion of ordinary Russians matters less now that parliamentary elections are over.

However, federal forces insist they do not plan a frontal assault on the city because that would risk soldiers' lives and bring back memories of the humiliating 1994-96 Chechnya war. Rather, they are hoping that Grozny will fall, suburb by suburb, into their hands, after much shelling and aerial bombing. But they admit that at least 2,000 Chechen guerrillas will be waiting for them amid the ruins, and there will be mines and other traps.

Federal forces have advanced around the edges of the city centre for about two weeks. Interfax said that they had taken Severny airport and the suburbs of Khankala and Chernorechie. Now, special units, including snipers and chemical troops, are ready to penetrate the centre. Chemical troops are needed because the Russians fear the Chechens might detonate oil tanks or chemical stores in a city whose main industry is petrochemicals.

Hundreds of civilians have managed to escape along the "humanitarian corridors", although Interfax made no mention of the civilians still trapped inside the city. Earlier this week, NTV showed pathetically disoriented senior citizens from an old people's home being brought out by bus. But more have stayed, lacking transport to the corridors or, in the case of men, fearing that at the Russian checkpoints they would automatically be arrested as "terrorists". The Russians say that the Chechen guerrillas are using the civilians as "human shields".

In this war, information is as powerful as the guns. The Russians were still denying yesterday that their forces had been responsible for atrocities against Chechen civilians in Alkhan-Yurt, despite evidence from an amateur video that showed Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Nikolai Koshman, upbraiding federal officers for the slaughter of 41 civilians. But yesterday, Mr Koshman told NTV only that there was "damage" in Alkhan-Yurt and that there would be an official investigation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
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
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?