Concern Mounts over Wider Cost of Russian Assault ; Andrew Higgins Reports from Moscow on the Increasingly Hostile Reaction to the Chechen Operation In
Higgins, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
As heavy fighting continued yesterday around the besieged city of Grozny and Moscow threatened sustained bombardment for "several hours", disquiet over the human cost of Russia's drive to reconquer itself was sharpened by mounting gloom over the e conomic price of the military venture.
Critics are asking whether the assault on the breakaway region might not only threaten Russia's fragile political order but also undermine further reforms and the prospects for an economic recovery promised by the government next year.
The Kremlin, however, shows no sign of softening its tough policy against the Muslim republic with the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, saying Russian forces would "push deep into" into the Chechen capital.
The Chechen leader, Dzhokar Dudayev, his ragtag but ferocious army of irregulars vastly outgunned by Russian troops, was said to have agreed to talks without pre-conditions, according to Interfax news agency.
But Mr Dudayev has made similar offers before, only to stipulate later that Russian troops must pull out first.
Mr Grachev's vow to "seize weapons and liquidate armed formations" inside Grozny marks the first time an official of his rank has departed from what was previously described as an operation merely to throttle Grozny into submission through the impositionof a tight military blockade.
Mr Grachev said the conquest of Grozny would not involve storming the city "in the classical sense" but would "use all means at our disposal and launching an intitial bombardment of shells and rockets for several hours".
A rapid end to the war, however, is nowhere in sight. Chechen fighters were still fighting yesterday in Argun and around a former military airbase at Khankala, both of which Russia previously claimed to control.
Alexander Titkin, financial expert in the upper house of Russia's parliament, estimated that Russia's biggest military offensive since the war in Afghanistan would cost "several trillion roubles".
Mr Titkin described as illegal the government's financing of the campaign from an emergency fund that is supposed to be used only after the declaration of a state of emergency. …