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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
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
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
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
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones