Russia acts to avoid isolation over Chechnya

WHILE RUSSIAN forces squeezed Grozny ever tighter and gas-bombed Chechen rebels in the mountains, Moscow moved on the diplomatic front yesterday to head off tension with the West, which might complicate the climax of its "anti-terrorist" operation. The Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, said President Boris Yeltsin had told him to make it his priority to avert Russia's international isolation over Chechnya.

In his first foreign policy remarks since this month's parliamentary elections, when Russian politicians adopted nationalist postures, Mr Ivanov said Moscow's contacts with the West were being maintained "at rather a high level". Recent disagreements did not mean Russia's relations with the West were heading for the deep freeze. At the same time, he warned: "The language of sanctions is not the language to use when speaking to Russia."

The West has yet to react to the Russian ground operation in Grozny that began on Christmas Day. Earlier it warned that Moscow might forfeit economic aid if it did not take better care to protect civilians. Alone in commenting, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the Nato secretary general, spoke of Chechnya more in sorrow than in anger, acknowledging Russia had real problems with terrorism but saying military methods were not the solution. "I feel disappointed that the Russians have taken this course of action to deal with a very serious, severe problem that they clearly had in Chechnya, a collapse of law, a collapse of the machinery of government there and a spillover of terrorism inside Russia itself," he said. Moscow would have been reassured by his further comment that Chechnya was an internal affair for Russia.

On the ground yesterday, federal forces said they had taken control of the north-eastern quarter of Grozny and were pressing on into the city centre. Beslan Gantimirev, a pardoned convict heading a vanguard of pro-Moscow Chechens, was reported to be close to the city centre and was quoted as saying he was meeting "desperate resistance" from the separatists. Fighting continued in the Staropromyslovsky suburb where, the Russians said, 50 Chechens had been killed compared with three on the federal side.

Everything was "going to plan", according to the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin. "The action in Chechnya will be carried through to its conclusion. We will do what we have said we will do," he said.

The Russians are hoping to control Grozny by Saturday. Given the fierce resistance, that is optimistic, but it can only be a matter of time before they take the city, as they outnumber and outgun the Chechens. Holding it will be another matter, as they will be vulnerable to guerrilla raids from the Caucasus mountains. That was why yesterday the Russians also turned their war machine on the mountain strongholds of Islamic fighters, such as Shamil Basayev. "Grozny will soon be mopped up but it is not the matter of primary concern to us now," said Sergei Zhuk. a defence ministry spokes-man, "The most important thing for the federal forces is the southern direction, as the majority of the rebels went there."

Interfax news agency said that in the south the air force was dropping 500kg "aerosol bombs" that released clouds of inflammable gas before explo- ding. Such bombs were not being used over Grozny or other populated areas but only over the mountains, where they could reach the guerrillas in their bunkers and caves, it said.

Parallel to the fighting and little noticed by the media, Russia's Emergencies Minister, Sergei Shoigu, was holding talks in Ingushetia with Khozhahmed Yarikhanov, a representative of the Chechen President, Aslan Maskhadov, about ways of releasing the estimated 50,000 civilians trapped in Grozny. Also without much fanfare, the Russians published figures showing that 397 federal troops had been killed and 917 injured in Chechnya since October.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?