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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Criticizes Army Role in 'Russian Territory'

NAZRAN, Ingushetia -- A senior government official on Monday criticized Russia's operation to bring down the rebel Chechen government, saying the army had no business dealing with problems on its own territory.

The comments, by Lieutenant-General Valery Vostrokin, a deputy minister at the Emergency Situations Ministry, underscored disenchantment among Russian officials with President Boris Yeltsin's handling of the rebellion.

"Chechnya is our territory. I don't think anyone considers Chechnya to be a foreign state. To be the aggressor, a policeman on our own territory is not a good job for the military," Vostrokin told reporters in Ingushetia, another ethnic republic within Russia, to the west of Chechnya.

Last week, General Ivan Babichev, an officer leading one of three columns advancing on the Chechen capital Grozny proclaimed the military action unconstitutional and refused to go any further. He said he would not shoot at Chechens.

Russian newspapers have printed lengthy reports about disgruntled senior officers and suggested there is confusion in defining the goals of the operation against rebel Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Vostrokin said Russia should withdraw the thousands of troops dispatched last week to Chechnya to quell a three-year revolt against Russian rule.

"I think it is possible to solve this problem by taking out the troops and letting Chechnya solve its own problems," he said. "I do not think there will be any difficulty in this."

The Emergency Situations Ministry has long been seeking to wrest control from the army of all military-related actions on Russian territory.

Vostrokin, who fought for the Soviet army for nine years in Afghanistan, predicted the Chechnya campaign would be "more complicated" than Moscow's intervention in Afghanistan. That 10-year intervention cost the lives of 13,000 Soviet servicemen.

"Afghanistan was then a foreign state and we had a powerful ideological machine which persuaded us to think we were in the right," he said.

"We do not have this any longer," he said. "If people only wish to issue ultimatums, civilians will suffer, including those in neighboring republics."