AFP: Russians take 5 villages
- Russian army invades breakaway Chechnya
GROZNY, Russia, Oct 1 (AFP) - Thousands of Russian soldiers backed by
tanks swept into Chechnya on Friday as Moscow announced it no longer
recognized the rule of President Aslan Maskhadov over the breakaway
Russian forces backed by more than 1,000 armored personnel carriers and
tanks took control of at least five villages some 15 kilometers (nine
miles) inside Chechnya, the first such drive into the republic since a
brutal 1994-1996 war that left 80,000 dead.
Chechen sources said 10 Russian soldiers were killed in the first clash
between the two sides late Friday.
A 30-minute battle erupted at around 6:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) near the
northwesternChechen town of Rubezhnoye, some 10 kilometers (six miles)
Russian-Chechen border, said Taus Bagurayev, a regional prefect in the
local Naursky district.
Chechens said they suffered no casualties in the clash, while Moscow
authorities were not immediately available to confirm the report.
While the invasion forces moved in, Russia said it no longer recognized
the breakaway Chechen presidency.
"All other organs of power in Chechnya are, to say the least, only
partially legitimate, since they were elected outside of the Russian
law," announced Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
He said Russia now only recognized the legitimacy of a little-known
group of former Chechen parliamentarians currently exiled in Moscow.
Maskhadov replied Friday by calling Putin's remarks "politically
More than 90,000 Chechens were reported by Russian authorities to have
fled their separatist state, which has been ravaged by a weeks-old
bombing campaign that has seen 1,500 sorties by Russian warplanes.
But Moscow has now fortified that assault with the first mass ground
invasion of Chechnya since the Russian army got bogged down in the
1994-1996 war that resulted in de facto independence for the mountainous
A Russian unit stretching some 80 kilometers (50 miles) across moved
into Chechnya's northern Naursky and Sholkovsky regions late Thursday,
Naursky regional prefect Taus Bagurayev told AFP.
The north of Chechnya is covered in a steppe and is sparsely populated,
in part explaining why Russian troops progressed so quickly and have met
no reported resistance.
"But an armed conflict now appears more likely because the Russians are
moving closer to the Chechen line of defense," Bagurayev added.
A separate column briefly crossed from Ingushetia to Chechnya's west and
was moving towards the town of Bamut about 30 kilometers (18 miles)
southwest of the capital Grozny before retreating back into Russia,
Grozny officials told AFP.
The defense ministry in Moscow refused all day Friday to confirm the
troop movements. But a Russian officer contacted by AFP on the ground
said the operation was well under way.
"We are going to take full control of the Naursky and Sholkovsky regions
within the next few days, but we will not hurry," the officer,
originally based in Russia's southern Stavropol region, said.
Talking tough in Moscow, Putin said that Russia refuses to recognize
Chechnya's independence and so reserves the right to station its troops
in any part of the republic as it hunts for suspected Islamic rebels.