Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Russia Has 2-Pronged Strategy for Chechnya Kindler, Gentler Prong Seems to Have Won the West

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Russia Has 2-Pronged Strategy for Chechnya Kindler, Gentler Prong Seems to Have Won the West

Article excerpt

AS THE PROSPECTS for a peaceful settlement to the Chechen war recede in a new round of fighting, Russia's beleaguered and increasingly unpopular leaders are pursuing a two-track strategy aimed at slowly strangling the separatist rebellion in the breakaway republic.

On one track, the Russian armed forces are delivering fresh assaults on Chechen rebel positions in southern Grozny and a broad arc of towns to the east, south and southwest of the devastated capital.

The goal of the attacks, according to military analysts, is to force the fighters to retreat to the southern mountains, where they can be quarantined and gradually wiped out.

On the other track, the Russians and their Chechen allies have launched a political and public-relations campaign designed to isolate the leader of the rebellion, Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev, and convince the local population of the inevitability of the rebels' defeat.

In pursuit of this elusive goal, a provisional government of pro-Moscow Chechens has moved to Grozny and tried to establish its headquarters amid the rubble and deprivation that prevails there. The head of this government has spoken of conducting talks with some of Dudayev's more moderate supporters - but not Dudayev himself - and of holding elections once the war ends. And Moscow has established a high-level commission charged with rebuilding the shattered city and restoring Chechnya's economy.

This new campaign, which followed in the wake of a brief cease-fire and abortive negotiations that collapsed amid mutual recriminations Sunday, seems to have won over at least one important constituency: Western leaders.

The United States, which had grown increasingly critical of the Chechen operation as civilian casualties mounted, signaled last week that it would continue to support Russian President Boris Yeltsin despite the ongoing war. …

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