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Russia: Military Escalates Attacks in Chechnya

Grozny, 17 December 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia today escalated its military attacks against the breakaway republic of Chechnya. Russian armored groups on the fringes of Grozny fired into the capital from three directions. And Russia's air force stepped up bombing raids on rebel strongholds in the capital. The military had scaled back air strikes in recent days, warning civilians to clear out of the city or risk being killed. Meanwhile, Russia says paratroopers dropped into rebel terrain in Chechnya's southern mountains have taken control of a key road leading into neighboring Georgia. The military says rebels have used the route to move supplies and reinforcements into Chechnya.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the military maneuver marks a turning point in Moscow's three-month military operation that he says is aimed at eliminating terrorists.

Russian generals say they will capture Grozny within days, but that they will avoid storming the city with ground troops. The Chechnya conflict has become a central issue in Russia's parliamentary election, which takes place Sunday.