Rebel lord of Grozny revels in his triumph

The master of Grozny, Shamil Basayev, was sitting in a spartan room in a cellar in the city centre, nursing a wounded foot.

Though in pain, he seemed at ease and very much in control. Notorious for his raid on Budyonnovsk last year, when his band of fighters seized more than 1,000 hostages in the town hospital, Mr Basayev, 31, has established himself as one of the most accomplished guerrilla leaders in the world.

Ten days ago, he led 1,500 men in an audacious three-pronged attack on the garrison town of Grozny, reaching the centre within half an hour.

Since then the Chechen rebels have surrounded thousands of Russian troops in their command posts all over the city.

"[The Russians] can take the city back. It would take half a year and they would have to destroy the town. They can take it even in a month, but it would cost them 10,000 to 15,000 men," he said.

Mr Basayev, who commanded the defence of Grozny in the first three months of the 20-month-old war, has presented Moscow with a big challenge.

"The aim [of the operation] was to take the town and fight the Russian forces at close quarters," he said.

His fighters undoubtedly control most of Grozny, driving around in captured government Volga cars and police jeeps. Every district has its own headquarters with a top commander in charge.

Every approach to the Russian positions is manned by fighters, recognisable by their camouflage uniforms and berets with green Islamic headbands. The green flag of the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, with its distinctive white-red-white bands, is sewn on their uniforms or berets.

They were polite, especially to a journalist from Britain, which retains a good reputation in Chechnya from pre-revolutionary times. Any suspicion they showed was instantly dispelled by a pass bearing Mr Basayev's personal red stamp, with its emblem of the lone wolf.

Mr Basayev is a hero in Chechnya and commands the unswerving loyalty of his fighters. He sat calmly in his cellar, just off the central market, dressed in a blue-and-white-striped Russian army T-shirt, his head shaved bald, showing a deep scar on his forehead from a motorcycle accident when he was a boy. Flies landed on his foot. Blood was still seeping through a bandage. A matching gun bullet broke a bone and struck a vein when he was hit two days ago, he said.

"For me it is minor, a trifle," he said. He could run if it was essential. Meanwhile he was on crutches, he said, pointing to a pair in the corner.

Russian forces launched another attempt to break through to the city's stadium from the east on Wednesday, he said, but his fighters had held them off.

Russian infantry unsuccessfully launched another push on Thursday morning. Mr Basayev's deputy for the operation in Grozny, Aslanbek Ismailov, who also was his second-in-command at Budyonnovsk, was in charge of the latest fighting.

He said he was not interested in attacking the small Russian posts dotted around the town and on the main bridges. The Chechen side had even prepared leaflets to hand out to the Russians, suggesting they surrender. Fighters would run up to deliver them after shouting to them to hold fire, he said.

The Russian soldiers did not want to fight, Mr Basayev said, and were reluctant to leave their bases to storm the town again. Mr Basayev said the rebels' patience had run out after Moscow went back on its word to end the war peacefully when it launched bombing raids in the mountains in July.

Asked if his humiliation of Russia would bring better results than peace talks, he said: "Do you not think Russia humiliated us for 300 years? It cannot even feed its own people, that is its humiliation. It should pay its hungry miners rather than spend money on this war. Soldiers were eating dogs from the streets here in January, they were so hungry," he said.

"The mortars are landing on our land, killing our people, and ruining our mountains and villages," he said.

Despite obvious tiredness and faintly shaking hands, Mr Basayev brightened when he described his fighters' success. They had captured several tanks and armoured personnel carriers, positioning them on the edge of the market to use against attacking helicopters and planes. The Russians now feared to fly close, he said.

He claimed he had personally shot down two planes with a machine gun in the battle for the town. He had lost only 35 men, with 80 wounded, few of them seriously. His estimates of Russian casualties ranged from 2,000 to 3,000, with over 200 armoured vehicles destroyed.

He was sceptical about Alexander Lebed's efforts to end the conflict. "I do not believe a single Russian man. The Russians are not people who keep their word," he said. "But there is a hope that we can do something to resolve our fate."

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape