Losses, Friendly Fire Underline Chaos Among Russian Forces

As Russian forces battled in the heart of Grozny, more evidence surfaced of disarray in the military. Returning soldiers said the chaos was leading to friendly fire and unnecessary losses.

One officer told of a Russian tank regiment that got into a six-hour firefight with a Russian motorized division, saying it took six hours for the generals to realize what was happening.

"I never saw anything like that, even in Afghanistan,'' the officer, identified only as D. Borovko, said in an interview aired on Russian television Wednesday.

Itar-Tass on Wednesday described heavy losses suffered by the 81st Motorized Rifle Regiment since its arrival in Chechnya a month ago: 22 soldiers killed, about 200 wounded and 150 officers and men reported missing.

Lieutenant Alexander Labazenko told Izvestia his artillery unit received orders they could not carry out when they attacked Grozny on New Year's Eve.

They were delayed by Chechen fire, redeployed by commanding officers and sent into narrow city streets, only to be stranded when one of their vehicles was hit with a grenade.

"'Ask for help,' I shouted to the company commander. 'There'll be no help -- I've asked them,' he answered,'' Labazenko was reported as saying.

Labazenko, with several others, finally broke through Chechen lines that had closed around them. His brigade commander and almost all senior officers were killed in that desperate fight.

Some soldiers have no idea where they have been sent. Chechen defenders of the Presidential Palace told a reporter that a Russian tank rolled up to their positions and a young soldier popped out and asked where he could get cigarettes. They shot down the soldier and burned the tank, the journalist wrote in Wednesday's issue of Moskovsky Komsomolets.

"Obviously it is the commanders' fault: Their mistakes come on top of each other," said Interior Ministry spokesman Mikhail Doronin, "and soldiers die as a result.''