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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defiant Tank Commander Promoted

SAMASHKI, Chechnya -- Russia has promoted General Ivan Babichev who initially refused to use his tanks "against the people" in Chechnya -- but then played a key role in seizing the devastated capital Grozny.


Itar-Tass reported he had been given a wider command.


Millions of television viewers saw Babichev embraced by weeping women as he halted his armored columns in the early stage of the Kremlin's assault.


His defiance sparked headlines around the world and fueled reports of a rebellion in the army. His announcement was followed days later by reported disciplinary action against other commanders, apparently confirming unhappiness within the armed forces over the conflict on Russian soil.


Five days after the mid-December incursion began, Babichev made a dramatic declaration in the village of Novo-Shurvoi, where he stopped his troops about 35 kilometers from Grozny.


His defiance threw the Russian push into confusion.


"It is not our fault that we are here. We did not want this," the general, in fur hat and combat uniform, told a crowd of Chechen civilians.


"This [operation] contradicted the constitution. It is forbidden to use the army against peaceful civilians. It is forbidden to shoot at the people."


Babichev, whose declaration was filmed by Reuters Television, was hugged by tearful villagers as he spoke. He said he had seen many Chechens crying since he crossed into the rebel region earlier this week -- "I had tears in my eyes too."


But a month later he turned up in Grozny.


Russian news accounts did not reconcile Babichev's now apparently total involvement in the fighting with his earlier announcement that he was halting his advance.


Babichev, formerly commander of the army's Pskov division, has now been appointed head of an army corps -- a larger group which comprises several divisions, Itar-Tass said.


More than 1,000 Russian soldiers -- and, according to some sources, up to 25,000 civilians -- have died in the battle for Grozny, the regional capital that became headquarters for secessionist rebels.


Russian commanders and Chechen elders agreed a local truce in western Chechnya but rebels said Friday they did not believe it would last long.


In the capital Grozny, Russian Interior Ministry troops took control of the Aldyr district, leaving rebel fighters blockaded in one remaining stronghold, Itar-Tass said, quoting a source at Russian military headquarters.


Earlier, an Interior Ministry officer, who did not wish to be named, said military commanders met with Chechen elders Thursday in the village of Samashki, 40 kilometers west of Grozny. "We exchanged two prisoners, one from each side, and we agreed not to shoot at each other for the time being," he said.


But rebels said Russian forces violated the truce almost immediately Thursday with a mortar attack. With Russian forces in control of Aldyr, the rebels were confined to the southwestern district of Chernorechiye, Russian military headquarters was quoted as saying. The rebels were blocked in by federal troops.


Itar-Tass also quoted Russian military officials as saying Chechen rebels were massing on the borders of Ingushetia to the west and Dagestan in the east, where it accused them of trying to whip up anti-Russian sentiment.