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Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 17:44 GMT
Russian TV cooler on Chechnya

Media reports have begun to focus on casualties


The Russian broadcast media is still giving prominence to statements by the Russian military that the situation in Chechnya is under control, and victory imminent.

However, television stations are also beginning to report on the harsh conditions, heavy casualties and admitted tactical mistakes of the campaign.

Battle for the Caucasus
The commander of Russian forces in the North Caucasus said on Monday that "mistakes" had been made in the conduct of military operations against Chechen rebels.

But Colonel-General Viktor Kazantsev remained optimistic about the prospects of a Russian victory in the breakaway republic.

"We are now controlling not only the lowlands, as a whole, but also a major part of the mountainous area," he said in an interview on Russian state-run television.


Shali: "Under control", say federal troops

"Some time later - and you will hear about this and you will see it - we will actually take the entire territory of Chechnya under our control."

General Kazantsev said he was confident his forces would complete their military operations in the breakaway republic within two months.

"One and a half to two months have been given to complete the final stage of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya.

"On the basis of the situation we intend to fulfil tasks in various districts. No quarter will be given," he said.

General Kazantsev said the situation in areas of Chechnya hit by the latest outbreak of fighting was now under control.

"The situation is now under control in Shali and Argun and near Mesker-Yurt. All key installations are under control in Argun. In Shali, it's the same," he said.

'Not understating casualties'

Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev meanwhile rejected allegations that Russia was deliberately understating its casualty figures in the conflict.


Igor Sergeyev denies playing down Russian casualties

"No matter how heavy the losses may have been, they have never been concealed and never will be," he told the Russian Interfax news agency.

He added that data on losses among federal troops in Chechnya were being published regularly.

Mr Sergeyev said reports that losses were being concealed were circulated in Western media "in order at all costs to thwart the operation and prevent the accomplishment of the mission to destroy the terrorists".

Russian military spokesman Valentin Astafyev said Chechen fighters were on their last legs and "going through their death throes" in the face of the Russian campaign.

He accused them of using civilians as human shields in a desperate attempt to thwart the Russian offensive.

Darker side of the war

But reports from Russia's main independent television station NTV have revealed the darker side facing Russian troops on combat duty in Chechnya.


The outskirts of Grozny are dangerous, said a TV crew

A TV crew, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Grozny, said even walking in the street was dangerous, with many streets and houses possibly still mined.

One commander of a tank platoon, Andrey Dvornik, said he was attacked by rebel forces - and showed the TV crew a hole in the turret, burnt out by a grenade.

"I was fired at from both sides. The turret was fired at from behind, there were two grenades from the front. It was frightening.

"I was sitting in the mechanic's seat. To put it in simple terms, I dragged my crew out of it. Later, my mates thanked me for it. But I had terrible shivers in my knees and back," he said.


Grozny: Some troops say the rebels are not really fighting
A special purpose medical unit is working in Grozny itself.

Private Kolesnikov, shot in the hip by a stray bullet, came to the field hospital from the front line. He refused to be evacuated, saying he believed the rebels' defence line had already been broken.

"Their defence is not so strong. They are just not letting anyone come closer. There are snipers all around. They are not fighting. They are just trying to intimidate us," he told reporters.

Southern special-purpose units - who have claimed to have liberated Alkhan-Kala from Chechen field commander Arbi Barayev's units - said the fighters had Russian passports with them.

They had hoped to get out of Grozny but were unable to make the journey.

"They may forget about the war altogether, which I very much doubt. Or they may start operating again tomorrow. They may have deserted or they may have turned into civilians on Barayev's command," one unidentified soldier said.


Urus-Martan: Scene of bombardments
He said the rebels were using locals as a live shield, which he said may hamper operations for a long time to come.

"The locals do not support them very much. They exploded a tank with chlorine in Grozny. People live in basements in Grozny. This cloud has not touched federal troops, fighters have poisoned their own people," he added.

Contradictory reports

The television programme moved onto the contradictory reports of the situation in Shali and Argun.

The head of the operational directorate of the Russian forces, Major-General Vadim Timchenko, said the rebels had attempted to seize buildings in these districts.

"The information is that federal troops surrendered none of the buildings they controlled...in Shali.

"Up to 80 dead militants were lying in the square. Their bodies have now been removed. The former Shali prefect was killed in the attack," he said.

However, he added that "mopping-up" operations were continuing in Shali.

"The militants have been dispersed. They are trying to escape into the mountains in small groups. There are no casualties among our troops in Shali," he said.

General Timchenko said the situation was more difficult in Argun, where one serviceman had been killed and four wounded in the latest clashes.

To illustrate the latest situation, the Russian army command has taken journalists to Shali.

"The joint task force commander General Viktor Kazantsev also said last night that the situation in Shali is under control and promised to take journalists there.

"A group of reporters really flew to Shali in the morning. By the end of the day we shall know what they saw there," NTV said on Tuesday.

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:
11 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russian forces under fire
11 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's tough military lesson
10 Jan 00 |  Europe
Can Russia win the Chechen war?
24 Oct 99 |  Europe
The first bloody battle for Grozny
25 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
09 Jan 00 |  Europe
Chechen rebels hit back
06 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russian army battered in Grozny

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