Russia issues arrest warrants for rebel warlords

RUSSIA'S CONFLICT with rebel Chechnya spread further yesterday as its bombers hit important targets for the sixth day running and arrest warrants were issued for 17 Chechen warlords in connection with the recent apartment explosions in Moscow and two provincial cities.

According to a Defence Ministry spokesman, Russian warplanes in "Operation Whirlwind" were attacking "precise sites" allegedly being used by Islamic insurgents behind the bombings. But the Interfax news agency said that the strikes were hitting oil and power installations, while some 70,000 Chechen civilians have fled to neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Last night President Boris Yeltsin met Igor Sergeyev, the Defence Minister, fuelling renewed speculation that the aerial assault was part of a softening- up process before a land invasion, carried out by the 13,000-odd Russian troops currently stationed around Chechnya's borders. In recent days both Marshal Sergeyev and the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, have pointedly not ruled out a ground war, despite the disastrous precedent of the 1994- 1996 conflict, which humiliated the Russian armed forces and ended in de facto independence for the North Caucasus republic.

Vladimir Rushailo, the Interior Minister, also announced that police had "identified the terrorists" responsible for the apartment bombings. Though he gave no names, Mr Rushailo said that 17 Chechen warlords, whom Moscow believes may have links with Islamic radicals abroad, were being sought by the authorities. Officials quoted by Interfax said Russian jets flew 15 sorties during the night between Monday and Tuesday, hitting an oil refinery, oil storage tanks and an electricity relay station near the Chechen capital Grozny - all intended to deprive the insurgent leaders of revenue from oil and petrol, which they use to purchase weapons to fight the Russians, the officials insist.

Such charges are hotly denied by Aslan Maskhadov, Chechnya's elected president who has vainly attempted to seek a dialogue with Moscow. But in many parts of the lawless republic Mr Maskhadov's writ simply does not run, while in Russia the air war has wide support among a public outraged by the apartment bombings, which killed more than 300. Overwhelmed by up to 60,000 refugees, Chechnya's neighbour Ingushetia has appealed for United Nations aid in coping with the humanitarian crisis thrust upon it. Although that plea was dismissed by Russia, which has sovereign control of Ingushetia, Western anxiety is for the first time becoming visible.

A spokesman for the European Union said the Commission in Brussels was "very worried" about the mounting tension. Indicating the war would be a main topic at forthcoming EU-Russia meetings, he appealed to Russia not to allow the fighting to spread out of control. For its part, Moscow is stepping up pressure to counter the flow of weapons and money from abroad to the Chechen insurgents who are apparently bent on setting up an Islamic state in neighbouring Dagestan, and perhaps even in Chechnya. After Mr Yeltsin demanded "100 per cent guarantees" that men, arms and money would not filter into Chechnya from abroad, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Azerbaijan's ambassador to protest alleged Azeri support for the insurgency in the Caucasus. Earlier, a top Russian defence official claimed that mercenaries from Georgia and Azerbaijan were crossing into Chechnya to aid the rebels.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference