As of this writing, Russian forces have surrounded the Chechen capital of Djohar (Grozny) and the republic’s second city, Gudermes. Djohar is under bombardment and appears deserted. Federal forces kept Chechnya’s border with Ingushetia, toward which most refugees have fled, closed on Friday and Saturday, despite promises that an “escape corridor” would remain open for civilians. A Russian air force spokesman said that on Friday Su-25 aircraft attacked a column of military vehicles on the road from Djohar to Nazran in Ingushetia, and “two trucks with fighters were destroyed.” The Red Cross confirmed from Geneva on Saturday that the column, returning eastward into Chechnya after finding the border closed, was civilian and included five vehicles clearly marked with the Red Cross symbol. One Chechen account places the death toll at forty. Very little information is available on the situation in Chechnya that has not been filtered through Russian officials.

Western reaction remains muted. European Union officials meeting last week with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Brussels deplored Russian attacks. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, after meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington, said she expressed misgivings about Chechnya but “still regards Russia as a friendly state and that heartens us.” Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the West’s “disinformation” campaign would not affect Russian policy.