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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grozny Bombed, Yeltsin Issues Ultimatum

Three Chechen opposition jets bombed the center of the Chechen capital Grozny on Tuesday, only hours after President Boris Yeltsin gave the warring sides in the breakaway republic a 48-hour ultimatum to cease fire or face a full-scale Russian intervention.

Yeltsin's ultimatum, issued at 6 A.M. Tuesday and carried on Itar-Tass, called on both sides in the conflict to "cease fire, lay down their arms, dissolve all armed formations, free all citizens who have been seized or violently detained."

Failing this, Yeltsin said he would impose a state of emergency in Chechnya and "restore constitutional legality, order and peace in the Chechen republic and all the forces and means at the disposal of the state will be used to put an end to the bloodshed."

The president's announcement suggested that for the first time since an abortive attempt soon after Chechnya proclaimed independence in 1991, Russian troops could be sent in to the tiny republic to reimpose Moscow's authority.

Reuters later reported that three aircraft attacked Grozny in mid-afternoon. One was reportedly shot down, trailing a plume of black smoke and causing citizens to flee the immediate area.

Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev, who was giving a press conference at the time, called the Russian government "satanists," The Associated Press reported, and said the raid was proof of his allegations that Russia is arming opposition fighters trying to topple him.

"Here you see the situation with your own eyes," Dudayev said. "You hear and have seen the plane go down."

A Defense Ministry spokesman denied to Interfax that the planes were Russian. But Moscow has done to little to conceal that it has been supplying the opposition with heavy weapons, and it is unclear where else the aircraft could have come from.

Interfax, quoting the head of the airport in Grozny, said that "all civil airplanes have been destroyed" and 10 people were killed in the bombing raid.

Dudayev interpreted Yeltsin's statement as a declaration of war. Itar-Tass reported him as saying his government had "the right to take adequate measures for the defense of the independence and territorial integrity of our state."

Ruslan Martagov, a spokesman for the main opposition group, the Provisional Council, told Itar-Tass that his forces were halting their assault on Grozny because of Yeltsin's statement. He made no mention of the bombing raid.

However, the president's statement suggested the Kremlin has begun to lose faith in the disorganized Chechen opposition, which has been trying without success to overthrow Dudayev since August. The text blamed the opposition as much as Dudayev for the bloodshed.

A similar operation in 1991 ended in ignominy. Russian soldiers got no further than Grozny airport, where they were disarmed by Chechen fighters and shipped out of the republic in buses.

This time, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said Monday, "It would be possible to resolve all questions with one parachute regiment."

The picture is complicated by up to 70 captive Russian soldiers, who were taken by the Chechen authorities over the weekend. Moscow has denied they are regular soldiers. The Chechen authorities first threatened to execute the men as mercenaries, but later said they were being treated as prisoners of war.

The head of Russian Interior Ministry troops said Tuesday that he had not received any orders to intervene, but his men were on battle readiness.

Colonel General Anatoly Kulikov said his troops were ready to carry out any military operation they were commanded to. "We are servicemen. If the commander in chief passes a decision we will fulfill it," he said, referring to imposing a state of emergency in Chechnya. "Until now there is not a single Interior Ministry serviceman participating in the conflict itself, but there is a big military group on the republic's border."

Interfax reported that a group of special Interior Ministry units from all over Russia were concentrated near the town of Mozdok, across the border from Chechnya, in North Ossetia.

Kulikov also said extra security measures were being taken at nuclear power plants and other strategic installations to prevent terrorist attacks. "It's not nuts and bolts we're guarding but the nuclear power potential of the country," he said.

The Moscow-based former Chechen prime minister, Yaragi Mamodayev, who backs neither side, accused Russia of seizing its chance in Chechnya to impose its own order.

He said Yeltsin's ultimatum was unfulfillable and that it would take "decades" to collect all the arms in the republic, which has a population of approximately 1.2 million.

Mamodayev also predicted that if Russia did intervene there might be a wave of terrorist acts by extremists in the 300,000-strong Chechen diaspora in Russia. Terrorist incidents have been predicted since the summer but nothing has happened so far.

"These terrorist acts could happen spontaneously and have nothing to do with Dudayev," he said. "One hundred people, 300 people will see their relatives being killed and declare a blood feud. A terrible scenario is unfolding."