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
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all