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Russia: Defense Minister Says Troops May Not Enter Grozny

Grozny, 21 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said today Russian troops would enter the Chechen capital Grozny only if that would help eliminate Islamic rebels. Sergeyev's comments to the Interfax news agency followed a statement earlier today from his deputy minister, Vladimir Toporov, saying Russian troops would enter Grozny "sooner or later." The question of whether Moscow will seize Grozny has become relevant as soldiers are reportedly only 12 kms from the Chechen capital. Russian tanks and artillery continue to bomb the suburbs of Grozny, as well as the city of Sernovodsk, where Moscow says Chechen separatists are based. In Vienna, Knut Vollebaek, the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said he's willing to mediate a solution to the conflict if there's an opportunity to do so. Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is due to arrive in Helsinki to attend a summit of European Union leaders. Many EU heads say Putin should unveil a plan for a political solution to the crisis, but Moscow has said it will not negotiate until Chechnya hands over guerrilla leaders.