"We have bombed, are bombing and will bomb again," said an air force spokesman after four SU-25s attacked a district of the Chechen capital, Grozny. The Russians claimed they had destroyed a fuel depot that could have been used by Islamic militants. The Chech-ens said some bombs fell on a road and killed eight civilians.
Similarly conflicting reports followed a Russian air raid on Grozny airport on Thursday. Chechnya lost its only plane, which the Russians said extremists were using but which the Chechens described as a crop-duster.
The Russian raids, the first since Moscow ended its two-year war with Chechnya in 1996, follow incursions by Chechen fighters into neighbouring Dagestan and a campaign of terrorist bombs in Moscow and other cities.
The Russian authorities say they are trying to do as Nato did in Yugoslavia, pinpointing targets that could be of use to the enemy without hurting civilians. The Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has said there will be no repeat of what happened in December 1994, when Russian tanks rolled into Chechnya and thousands of civilians were killed. But suspicious Russian citizens, afraid their sons may again be drafted into a bloody war, say the statement can be interpreted in two ways. It can be read as a pledge that there will be no new war with Chechnya. Or, it can be taken to mean a new war will be better run.
Some 13,000 Russian troops are in Russian regions bordering Chechnya and could be used if a ground operation started. But for the time being, they are digging trenches, laying mines and staking in barbed wire entanglements in an attempt to prevent further incursions by the militants. The invasion of Dagestan and the bombs that have destroyed Russian apartment houses, killing nearly 300 people this month, have prompted a debate in Russia about policy towards Chechnya.
Some politicians, such as Ruslan Aushev, President of neighbouring Ingushetia, say Moscow should enhance the power of Chechnya's moderate leaders by talking to them and even considering granting full independence. But Russian hawks say the Chechen moderates are irrelevant, because they have been unable to control the rise of bandits, and the only thing now is to crush what has become a rogue state.
The man credited with bringing the last Chechen war to an end three years ago, the former Russian Army General Aleksandr Lebed, has called for "emergency rule" in the whole Caucasus region.Reuse content