Russian forces shelled and attempted to storm the town of Novogroznensky over the weekend in an apparent effort to destroy a 400-strong Chechen detachment based there. The storming has failed thus far, but Russian forces beat back several Chechen attempts to break out of the tightening encirclement. The Russian command acknowledged losing 28 killed and 26 wounded in the fighting February 16 through 18. Some residents managed to flee the town under the shelling. The Russian command announced that the assault was in retaliation for the town’s failure to live up to obligations allegedly undertaken a few days earlier by its administration and elders to surrender locally stored arms and deny support to Chechen forces. The command also threatened to attack several villages near Novogroznensky for failing to live up to such alleged agreements. Elsewhere in Chechnya over the weekend, resistance forces captured eight OMON policemen in Grozny and seized most of a massive Russian food convoy near Achkhoy-Martan.
Novogroznensky has been the site of Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov’s headquarters and, until last week, a center of informal Russian-Chechen contacts. Maskhadov himself was the main Chechen representative at the abortive negotiations held from July through October 1995. The Russian attack on Novogroznensky deals another blow to the very idea of a negotiated solution. The operation substantiates President Boris Yeltsin’s threat last week to escalate the war through a series of local operations aimed at destroying Chechen resistance before the presidential election.
The non-governmental international tribunal on crimes against humanity and military crimes in Chechnya is holding a session this week in Moscow. Tribunal members and main witnesses include Sergei Kovalev, Galina Starovoitova, Sergei Grigoryants, Gleb Yakunin, other prominent Russian democrats, and western lawyers and human rights campaigners. Russian government and military leaders have been summoned to testify before the tribunal. (7)
Iran Protests Charge of Chechen Ties.