Contrary to yesterday’s premature reports, Russia’s chief security official and presidential plenipotentiary for Chechnya, Aleksandr Lebed, is not yet in Chechnya and may fly there today at the earliest. Lebed’s spokesmen yesterday reaffirmed that he opposed the planned military storming of Grozny as militarily unsound, politically counterproductive, and bound to result in mass casualties and the final destruction of the city.
Russian forces yesterday began closing in on the Chechen capital held by the insurgents since August 6, engaging Chechen forces in heavy fighting on the city’s outskirts. Lt. General Konstantin Pulikovsky, acting commander of combined Russian forces in Chechnya, in an interview yesterday confirmed his intention to begin the general assault on Grozny tomorrow morning, and predicted that it would take at least one month of fighting to recapture the city. He refused to resume negotiations with Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov on the grounds that Maskhadov "regards Russia as an enemy of Chechnya."
Maskhadov for his part ordered his forces to stop allowing food deliveries to the few remaining Russian positions in Grozny, but otherwise to refrain from attacking Russian units except in self-defense. In the last two days Chechen forces have allowed several Russian units, including one of the Federal Security Service, to vacate their besieged positions and withdraw unmolested from Grozny. Correspondents at the scene report that fresh Chechen recruits are rushing in from the countryside to defend the city. (Russian and Western agencies, August 20)
Chechen Civilians Are not Pulikovsky’s Problem.