Magazine article Newsweek

It Could Be Apocalypse Again: Russia's Beleaguered Military Lashes out in Deep Frustration

Magazine article Newsweek

It Could Be Apocalypse Again: Russia's Beleaguered Military Lashes out in Deep Frustration

Article excerpt

Two Russian fighter-bombers, flying low and tight over high mountain ridges, dropped eight cluster bombs on the village of Elistanzhi. One bomb hit the local school, killing at least nine students, and others demolished eight houses. Most of those killed were women and children, village elders said on Saturday as they mourned and began burying their dead. Men stood in a circle praying as women in nearby houses wailed. "They say they are bombing just terrorists... but there are no terrorists here," says Walid Basayev, the local magistrate, standing next to a man who cradled his brother's charred remains in a tattered bundle. "If they force us to fight, we will fight, and we will fight like animals. Now we have a blood feud to avenge against the Russians."

Moscow has a history of making enemies in Chechnya. The first time Russian tanks rumbled into the separatist republic, in 1994, they were forced to withdraw ingloriously 21 months later. As a face-saving measure, both sides agreed to defer a decision on Chechen independence for five years. But after a recent uprising in neighboring Dagestan, as well as four mysterious bombings of Russian apartment buildings, Moscow's frustrated leaders lashed out. In recent weeks, Russian troops bent on restoring their tattered reputation have captured roughly a third of Chechnya. Even as President Boris Yeltsin was hospitalized last week--this time with a fever and flu, the Kremlin said--Chechen rebels were striking back.

That's scary, and not just for the Chechen civilians who are sure to suffer most from another prolonged conflict. During the last Chechen campaign, Russian soldiers who weren't cut down in battle were often felled by sickness. Hepatitis was rampant because of poor sanitation and bad food. …

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