In March a guerrilla attack killed several Russian police in Grozny itself, supposedly a “clean” area. A much bloodier assault near the southern mountains killed eighty-four of ninety Russian paratroops in a three-day battle. In western Chechnya a field commander withstood an attack and escaped an encirclement by federal troops. In the east, thirty Russian Interior Ministry troops were killed in an ambush. Forty-seven Russians were killed just twenty miles from Grozny ten days ago. Five days ago, Chechen artillery shelled the main Russian base just outside Grozny.

The future seems as bleak as the present. The guerrillas will fight on; they have no alternative. The Russian army today is far better prepared than in 1994-1996, and far more professional. But it is also far more expensive. A soldier in Chechnya receives 830 rubles (about $30) a day, about nine times the average wage. The Kremlin over time may chafe at that expenditure, especially if the war goes badly. Russia may never be willing or able to furnish enough force to pacify the region. The Chechen civilians may have lost their sense of commitment to the guerrillas, but they have no impulse of loyalty to Russia. In any case, cooperation with the authorities risks retribution.

The Kremlin says normal life will return to Chechnya in a year, or two, or three. Maybe. But those who hung the sign that reads “Welcome to Hell” on the Grozny road have abandoned all hope.