Russia may be planning yet another campaign against the insurgents in Chechnya. In early May the “power ministers”–the ones with guns–held a strategy session in the Cossack town of Stavropol, not far from the Chechen border. In press interviews after the meeting, the interior minister mind-bogglingly called for legislation to give the government new powers to fight “extremism.” The defense minister said that troop withdrawals announced last year have been suspended. And President Putin, speaking in Moscow, warned the rebels (whose defeat he has several times announced) to stop fighting or face a new offensive.
A group led by General Aleksandr Lebed, who as Boris Yeltsin’s security advisor negotiated a truce with Chechnya in 1996, says that rebels are grouping near the capital. Lebed also says that federal troop withdrawals took only about 5,000 men out Chechnya, leaving 75,000 Russian forces still in the province.
On the ground in Chechnya, Russian troops and tanks, and finally helicopter gunships and artillery, fought to dislodge a rebel band from the top floor of a five-story building in Argun. In the ensuing battle, one of the largest in years, the rebels claimed fifty Russians killed and seven armored vehicles destroyed. The Russian side, however, said only two of its men were killed in action, against sixteen rebels, including the field commander known as Abubakar.