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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Tightens Screws on Chechnya

The Russian government tightened the screws on the breakaway republic of Chechnya on Tuesday by putting troops in border areas on increased alert, according to television reports.

Interior Ministry soldiers in the neighboring Stavropol region were placed on a state of "increased military readiness" in order to keep public order, NTV television reported.

The order was the latest ratchet in Moscow's increasingly active campaign to remove the separatist government of Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev, who has defied rule by Moscow for the past three years.

Moscow cut the region's air links with Russia on Monday, suspending all flights into and out of the Chechen capital, Grozny. Oleg Trufanov, deputy head of the Russian Air Transport Department, said there was a "security threat" to passengers travelling to Grozny, Russian Television reported.

The North Caucasian region was still calm this weekend, although tensions have increased since the opposition Provisional Council claimed it was assuming power last week. The Russian government has said it is ready to "defend" ethnic Russians in the region but has not specified how.

Dudayev is firmly in control of the main city, Grozny. Movlen Salamov, one of Dudayev's chief aides, told Itar-Tass on Tuesday that a "congress of the Chechen nation" would be held in Grozny on Wednesday to "discuss the situation" in the republic. Salamov said delegates were coming from all over the republic, including the Nadterechny Region, the power base of Provisional Council leader Umar Avturkhanov.

Dudayev has accused Avturkhanov of being the pawn of Moscow and paving the way for a Russian military intervention. Russian officials deny having any plans to invade Chechnya.

Avturkhanov says he wants to see Dudayev replaced "by peaceful means" and has called for elections in the republic for May or June of next year. The Provisional Council leader, who freely admits he is receiving help from Moscow, has been given 150 million rubles by the Russian government to pay the wages of local teachers, Itar-Tass reported.

Avturkhanov is the best organized of several opposition leaders in Chechnya, but the anti-Dudayev forces have not as yet formed an alliance.

Ruslan Khasbulatov, the former speaker of the Russian parliament and a native Chechen, appealed for the opposition to unite behind the provisional council.

"I will call on democratic forces in the republic to give their trust to the Provisional Council," Wednesday's Izvestia quoted Khasbulatov as saying.

Khasbulatov said he was in Chechnya for a peacekeeping mission with the aim of persuading Dudayev to step down peacefully.

However Khasbulatov's chances of finding negotiating partners look slim. The Chechen authorities have stripped him of his citizenship and condemned him as a traitor. In Moscow the ex-speaker remains the sworn enemy of President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian government after the bitter power struggle which ended with the storming of the parliament and Khasbulatov's imprisonment last year.