Amid an information blackout, Russian forces continued yesterday to airbomb and shell Sernovodsk and Bamut. Thousands of residents fled into neighboring Ingushetia while many others remained trapped in the two villages, now ablaze. Dozens of refugees were killed yesterday during their flight, and hundreds more civilians were presumed dead under the rubble of their homes. The Russian military banned humanitarian and rescue groups from the area and also kept silent about its own casualties. Elsewhere in Chechnya, at least seven Russian soldiers were officially reported killed and at least six wounded in the preceding 24 hours in clashes with Chechen resistance, mostly in Grozny.
Russia’s defense minister Pavel Grachev arrived for a lightning visit and conference with the commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, Lt. General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, near Grozny yesterday. Grachev insisted to media correspondents that "no large-scale military actions" were being planned and confirmed earlier plans to station two army brigades near Grozny permanently after the war’s end. Departing from a long-held position, however, Grachev offered to meet with Djohar Dudaev in order to negotiate an armistice if Dudaev requests such a meeting.
Chechen collaborationist deputy prime minister Abdulla Bugayev dared to criticize the Russian military for having unnecessarily initiated the hostilities in Sernovodsk and for excessive use of force against its population. From the Council of Europe and the OSCE there was still no known response to Sernovodsk mayor’s March 2 appeal to help stop the carnage. (2)
Second Stage of Russian Presidential Election Begins.