While Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen official spokesmen were predicting a speedy end to the present conflict, events in the town of Argun suggested that the separatists still had considerable fight left in them. According to the online daily Gazeta.ru: “After several days of fierce clashes between federal forces and rebel groups in the town of Argun on [December 13], the military were forced to admit that they had failed to track down the militants who on [December 11] opened fire at a police patrol and later at reinforcements sent by the military commandant’s office to help the policemen. On [December 13] Argun, the third largest town in Chechnya, was completely blocked off by federal forces…. A full scale military operation was launched…. All roads leading out of Argun were closed, classes in all schools were cancelled, town dwellers were forced to hide in their apartments, many taking refuge in basements…. The acting military commandant of Chechnya, Aleksandr Tretyakov, urged journalists not to overdramatize the events in Argun and recommended that they refer to the ongoing operation in the town as ‘an address check-up'” (Gazeta.ru, December 14).
The Agence France Presse news service reported on December 9 that leading Chechen separatist commanders had called upon Russia to negotiate an end to the conflict in the breakaway republic and had reaffirmed the legitimacy of separatist president Aslan Maskhadov. The document was signed by the Chechen Armed Forces Commanders’ Council consisting of seven top commanders and separatist Vice President Vakha Arsanov. “Today,” they declared, “Russia and Chechnya have a unique chance to put an end to this war, and all that is possible must be done to end this carnage and bloodshed by sitting down at the negotiation table.” “Whatever Russian politicians and generals may say,” the commanders wrote, “only one man can speak for the whole of the Chechen people; this is President Maskhadov, who controls 90 percent of Chechen fighting units, which obey any order he gives.”