Moscow/Grozny, 11 January 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia's acting president, Vladimir Putin, today approved a series of new measures designed to prevent counterattacks by Chechen fighters. Putin met in Moscow with armed forces and intelligence chiefs to discuss the situation in Chechnya. Following the meeting, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said the measures approved by Putin aimed to stabilize the Chechen situation, particularly in the areas around the towns of Argun and Shali.
Fighting around those towns led to a considerable increase in Russian casualties, officially said to have reached at least 37 dead soldiers in three days of battle with Chechen forces.
Meanwhile, Russian news agencies said Russians today continued air and artillery attacks against Argun, Gudermes, Shali, and the capital Grozny, undermining Russian commanders' claims that their troops controlled those localities.
The agencies said Russian warplanes also bombed roads leading south into the mountains.
In a related development, UN refugee agency spokesman Chris Janowski said in Geneva that an estimated 70,000 Chechen refugees had returned to Russian-controlled parts of Chechnya, easing somewhat the situation on the ground in neighboring Ingushetia.
Janowski said the agency estimated that about 150,000 or more Chechen refugees are still in Ingushetia.