President Boris Yeltsin gave an ominous signal yesterday that, with the operation to clear Pervomayskoye of Chechen rebels more or less over, Russia would now step up the war in Chechnya itself with a direct attack on the rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.
"We taught a good lesson to Dudayev," the President said, briefing reporters on the four-day battle on the Dagestan border. "Now we have to deal a blow to Dudayev's strongholds where there is no civilian population in order to put an end to terrorism on Russian soil."
On the ferry seizure by pro-Chechen gunmen in Turkey, he added: "Terrorism has spread to Turkey, which means one can wait no longer. This is already international terrorism."
Evidently Mr Yeltsin has it in mind to strike at the villages in the mountains of southern Chechnya where the Muslim militants have been based since being pushed out of their capital, Grozny, last year. From here, they carried out a terrorist raid on the southern Russian town of Budyennovsk last June as well as the latest attack, which began in the Dagestani town of Kizlyar last week and ended with 100 hostages being dragged to Pervomayskoye.
It is perhaps too early to draw conclusions as to how Russians will now view their President.
He is more hawkish, not only in response to the hostage crisis but also as a result of the victory of his Communist and nationalist opponents in December's elections. When he launched the assault on Pervomayskoye, a poll showed Muscovites almost equally divided on the wisdom of being tougher with the Chechens.
The new parliament, which on Wednesday elected the Communist Gennady Seleznyov as Speaker, is to spare the government a vote of no-confidence, restricting itself to issuing a statement urging an "adequate response" to the Chechen rebellion.Reuse content