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Russia: Fighting in Chechnya Continues

Grozny/Moscow, 23 December 1999 (RFE/RL) - Chechen fighters were resisting Russian forces encroaching on the capital Grozny today. Battles were raging elsewhere in the breakaway republic as Russian forces tried to seize control of rebel supply routes and the approaches to their mountain strongholds. Senior Russian commanders said their troops were poised to take the Chechen capital, Grozny, in what they described as a "special operation." However, they repeated there would be no all-out frontal assault that would be costly in casualties.

A senior commander in the North Caucasus, General Viktor Kazantsev, said all of Chechnya could be in Russian hands within three weeks or even by the end of the year.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin yesterday said that the war was nearly over but today said that the fighting was far from finished.

Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov has ordered all fighters to move to mountain strongholds, with the exception of the estimated 2,000 defending Grozny, which was again pounded by Russian planes and artillery.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said in Moscow that Russia had overstepped international standards in Chechnya.

French President Jacques Chirac telephoned Russian President Boris Yeltsin urging Russia to respect humanitarian rules in Chechnya. Yeltsin complained about some western countries' criticism of Russia's operations in Chechnya.