Yeltsin urged to halt `crazy massacre'

ANDREW HIGGINS A Kremlin-appointed human rights commissioner yesterday appealed to President Boris Yeltsin to stop the "crazy massacre" of civilians in Chechnya, warning that what is probably the biggest offensive military operation on Russian soil sincethe Second World War could soon topple the president.

But the Russian government, maintaining its silence on reports of horrendous civilian casualties from refugees, members of parliament and western journalists, said only that its troops had killed up to 1,000 Chechen fighters in battles since Saturday around Argun, a settlement controlling the eastern approach to the capital of Grozny.

Moscow has lied repeatedly about events in Chechnya, describing savage air attacks on apartment buildings as "pinpoint" bombings or self-inflicted acts of terrorism engineered for propaganda purposes by the regime of President Dzhokhar Dudayev. In anoth

e r far-fetched claim reminiscent of the crudest Soviet tactics, the Russian government press service yesterday quoted "army intelligence" as saying Chechen soldiers were dressing up in Russian uniforms carrying out " hostile operations with regard to the local population".

With President Yeltsin silent aside for statements issued in his name, the Russian military high command in turmoil and troops still stalled outside the Chechen capital after two weeks of combat, a war to enforce Russian sovereignty over the north Caucasus has degenerated into what refugees and other witnesses describe as a chaotic campaign of random terror spearheaded by the Russian air force.

Adding to a drum-roll of threats from Moscow, Nikolai Yegorov, a vice-prime minister and consistent public advocate of a forceful military solution, threatened late on Saturday that Russian troops would storm Grozny in "coming days" if Chechnya, which d

e clared its independence in 1991, did not surrender its arms and "restore constitutional legality on the territory of the Chechen republic". Moscow also moved to sabotage a peace effort by the deputy head of the upper house of Russia's parliament, Ramaza

n Abdulatipov. A curt report by Tass news agency said Mr Abdulatipov had no mandate to enter into any talks with the Chechen parliament.

Interfax news agency reported yesterday afternoon that bombardment of Grozny had resumed. Old and poor ethnic Russians are specially vulnerable to the bombs; unlike many Chechens, who can take shelter in the villages, Russian settlers often have nowhere to go.

Russia's so-called "power ministries" and other officials discussed the crisis yesterday in Moscow, according to Tass, at a meeting chaired by Oleg Soskovets, first deputy prime minister. But it was unclear whether Mr Yeltsin himself attended. The Kreml

i n Security Council, an unelected inner cabinet similar to the Soviet-era politburo, is due to meet in full session later today. Even Mr Yeltsin's exact whereabouts are unknown.

Moscow's claim yesterday of 1,000 dead among Chechen combatants at Argun is impossible to confirm but fits a pattern of old-style disinformation aimed at portraying the war as a simple struggle between the Russian military on one side and Chechen "bandits" and Islamic mercenaries on the other. A journalist from Reuter news agency who visited Argun reported the area quiet and quoted a Chechen commander as saying only two civilians had been wounded.

Russian liberals cling to the hope that Mr Yeltsin is being manipulated and might soon shake himself free of what they call the "party of war". "Boris Nikolayevich, you must understand that you are losing time. Those who started this war will very soon not need you," said Sergei Kovalyov, a former dissident appointed Human Rights Commissioner by Mr Yeltsin last year and now in Grozny along with three members of the Russian parliament.

In a telegram sent to the Kremlin, he begged the seemingly inert Mr Yeltsin to shake himself out of his torpor: "Only you are capable of stopping this crazy massacre and of pulling the nation out of this vicious circle of despair and blood-stained lies."

Instead of a sign of disengagment from decision-making, however, Mr Yeltsin's silence may be no more than the traditional reflex of a man who is steeped in the responsibility-shirking tactics of the Soviet Communist Party.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Sports Simulator / Home Cinema Installation Technician

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Simulation Tec...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Consultants - OTE up to £35,000

£15000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Franchise Operations Manager - Midlands or North West

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The position will be home based...

Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue