Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Russia Takes Grozny, but the War Isn't over ; Russia's Picture of Pushing out Rebels May Bump Putin's Falling

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Russia Takes Grozny, but the War Isn't over ; Russia's Picture of Pushing out Rebels May Bump Putin's Falling

Article excerpt

Russian forces appear poised to seize Chechnya's capital city after inflicting severe losses on its rebel defenders. But few political analysts in Moscow believe that planting the Russian flag over Grozny's ruins will bring an end to the war.

"The taking of Grozny has been expected for some time, and it is the signal for the beginning of a full-scale guerrilla war," says independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. "The Chechens are leaving Grozny because it has served its purpose for them as a useful battlefield for inflicting casualties on the Russians. Now they will head for the mountains to regroup and plan a new offensive."

Though the Russians will claim victory, the battle of Grozny exacted a very high price from them. Even by their own account, the Russian military has lost hundreds of men in the savage street-by- street fighting over the past month.

Some 2,000 Chechen fighters had been holding Grozny's heavily fortified city center against a fierce Russian infantry assault. That latest bombardment on Grozny, which began Christmas day, was backed up by almost constant air and artillery support.

Reports from Chechnya and official Russian military sources agree that the rebels began pulling out of the doomed city on Jan. 31, while Russian troops reported advancing through the city center.

"The withdrawal was carried out in an orderly fashion," Chechen government spokesman Movladi Udugov said. "There is not a single fighter left in Grozny."

A rebel Web site (www.kavkaz.org), run by loyalists of Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev, also reported the pull out Feb. 1. It said that two Chechen generals, Aslambek Ismailov and Khunkarpasha Israpilov, were killed in the final stage of the city's defense. Grozny's rebel mayor, Lecha Dudayev, died in combat over the weekend, it said.

Other sources said Mr. Basayev himself was seriously wounded when the car he was riding in struck a land mine in the outskirts of Grozny.

But there was no sign that any of the estimated 15,000 to 40,000 civilians trapped in Grozny had been able to flee.

State TV showed footage of the Russian tricolor flying over Minutka Square, the fiercely contested gateway to central Grozny.

"There is a great psychological breakthrough," the Kremlin's new press spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhemsky, told a press conference Feb. 1. He said there was still intense fighting in the city, but that some rebels had tried to escape over the previous day and had been driven into mine fields and bottled up by federal forces.

"We expect further attempts by those who are on the small patch of Grozny still controlled by the militants to break out every day and night," he added.

Russia has many reasons to put the best face on a Grozny victory. Foreign ministers of several Western nations were in Moscow for a Middle East peace conference Feb. …

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