Russians press advance in the face of diplomatic opposition
November 3, 1999
From staff and wire reports
SLEPTSOVSKAYA, Russia (CNN) -- Thousands of refugees fleeing Russia's fierce assault on Chechnya are caught up in another conflict -- one between Western diplomatic pressure and Russian pride, political analysts said Wednesday.
The Russian government has repeatedly refused to act on pleas from U.S. President Bill Clinton and others for an easing of its military onslaught in the breakaway republic.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insists Moscow has the right to deploy its forces in Chechnya.
But political analysts say there is more at stake for Russian leaders than victory in a bitter conflict with the Chechens - - who gained de facto independence after inflicting heavy losses on Russian forces in a bloody 1996 war.
"Chechnya became a symbol, It's the symbol of recovery of the military power. It's a symbol of recovery of an efficient Russian army," analyst Alexander Bevz said.
And the Russians point to the West's bombing campaign during the Kosovo crisis as justification for ignoring any pleas for an easing of its onslaught in Chechnya.
"The West doesn't have any moral or political right to do that after what it did to Yugoslavia," political analyst Alexei Arbatov said.
That leaves thousands of Chechen refugees stranded as the ferocious winter weather begins to grip their country and the region teeters on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.
The United Nations has sent a mission to inspect conditions in refugee camps in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan, but for many Chechens the crisis already has arrived.
"A real genocide is occurring," said Masina Maliyeva, who got across the border. "There are old people, children standing there. They're dying from hunger and cold."
Many Chechen refugees remained jammed at a key crossing on the border with Ingushetia on Wednesday -- even after guards allowed the flow to increase.
In recent days, border guards had let only a trickle of people cross into Ingushetia, but on Wednesday a paramilitary officer said about 1,300 people were allowed to come in.
As refugees in cars and on foot flooded the road leading to Ingushetia, Russian troops advanced six miles into Chechnya. Chechen officials said their fighters were unable to stop the Russian advance for fear of harming the refugees.
Since ground troops entered the republic on September 30 after weeks of airstrikes, Russian forces have advanced far into Chechnya from the north and east, but have made less progress from Ingushetia in the west. Warplanes and heavy artillery have pounded the southwest part of Chechnya for weeks, trying to soften rebel positions.
On Wednesday, Russian warplanes bombarded targets in Stariye Atagi and Chiri-Yurt, south of the Chechen capital, Grozny, according to Chechen officials.
Russian forces also have taken positions on two ridges north of Grozny and have launched heavy artillery barrages on the capital.
Of the estimated 200,000 people who have fled Chechnya this fall, about 170,000 have gone to Ingushetia. Although the influx has strained Ingushetia's meager resources, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev has sharply criticized Russia for not letting more people cross.
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said his forces would take entire control of Chechnya. He said the Russian army "is planning to free not only the city of Grozny from terrorists, but all of Chechnya," the Interfax news agency reported.
Russian leaders blame militants based in Chechnya for a series of apartment explosions that killed some 300 people in Russia in September.
Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.
Clinton to press Putin for restraint in Chechnya
Russian Government Internet Network
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