Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tired Russians Begin Grozny Retreat

GROZNY -- All over Grozny, Russian troops were packing up and pulling out with the air of an army in defeat Monday, taking their armor and weapons with them and leaving their posts and command headquarters to triumphant separatist fighters.


Some of the Russian servicemen were clearly unhappy about their sudden exit under the latest peace treaty. Most just seemed to want to get home and many were skeptical about the peace plan's proposal for joint patrols of the city.


"We should beat them to the end," said Sergei, a sergeant who survived the battle in the central government compound.


Only 50 of his unit of 160 were left but he said he was ready to pull out, re-group and storm the city again. "It will be easier, our soldiers will not be standing in the way," he said.


As Interior Ministry troops at the post on the Grozny's central bridge were packing up, armed Chechen fighters perched on the walls watching.


More fighters raced over the bridge in a jeep, flying the green flag of Chechen independence and shouting "Allah-U-Akbar" (God is Great), with ter fighting in Grozny were leaving Sunday. In this case a fresh shift was arriving to take over.


Thin and dirty, the soldiers looked dog-tired and demoralized, embracing and giving each other slaps on the back. "See you sometime, be sure it is soon," one said to Sasha, a tall thin soldier who was staying on for one more day.


But he would not take part in any joint post with the Chechens he said. "It is difficult to do something new when old memories remain," he said.


He glanced at the Chechens sitting on the walls above him. Thick-set and tall, they had shaved heads and thick beards, and were all dressed in a uniform of the traditional Chechen tunic buttoned at the neck, and colored Muslim prayer hats.


"We are the bosses in this house," said the commander of the Chechens, Abdul Salakh. "It is possible to do joint control. Look what we have done so far. Anyway, it is better than shooting at each other. I think they have understood we will have peace this time."


The exit Sunday of some Russian units from the Minutka roundabout, two kilometers south of the center, certainly looked like an army in defeat. A Russian jeep flying a white flag led a sorry convoy away from the roundabout at noon.


Four military trucks followed, each carrying a broken-down Russian armored personnel carrier, bumping along on flat tires. Chechen fighters armed with Kalashnikovs, grenades strapped to their chests, sat in the cabs alongside the Russian soldiers who were driving.


"The 101st brigade was surrounded here," said Khunkar Pasha Israpilov, a young Chechen commander whose men now control the area.


"In principle they could not leave, they had no way out. Now I have an order to let them go back to their base in Khankala," he said.


Beside them stood Russian Lieutenant Colonel Igor Rudnyov, a red and silver medal for excellent service in Russia's interior ministry troops on his chest.


"This is the first stage in play," Rudnyov said. "I think our commanders understand the situation. There is already an agreement and we have mutual trust," he said.


The two sides started talking four days before, Israpilov said, when Russian and Chechen leaders agreed to a cease-fire.


Saturday, the Chechens accompanied a Russian convoy bringing water, food and medicine to isolated Russian block posts and evacuated the wounded. The Russian soldiers, unarmed, drove through the market, looking stony-faced, the Chechens in euphoric mood sitting beside them.


By midweek, the Russians should have left the city completely, moving into the two large Russian bases just outside the city, said the Chechen chief of staff of the operation in Grozny, Isa Astamirov said.


Joint command headquarters, one Russian and one Chechen, would be set up alongside each other, each containing 270 men he said.


"We have been ordered to let them go, with their armor and weapons. We do not need their APCs or their Kalashnikovs," Israpilov said.


"[Security chief Alexander] Lebed said it can be over and done with in 10 days," Rudnyov said.


Asked if he felt the Russian withdrawal meant a defeat, he said: " No one won, there were losses on both sides. You cannot talk of winning and losing, we came a to an agreement."


But while the Russian troops were gathering to leave, the Chechen fighters were settled in everywhere among the ruins of the city in freshly dug trenches and bunkers.


There was no ultimatum for the Chechen fighters to leave the city, Rudnyov said. But Sultan Minayev, a senior Chechen commander accompanying the Russian said: "Just those who are needed to guard the city will stay. The rest will go back to their bases."


"That's good," the Russian said. Unarmed, he then stepped with Minayev and several Chechen fighters into a white Volvo to continue his tour of Russian positions.


Israpilov, the 26-year-old Chechen commander whose men have 12 Russian units surrounded in the area, jumped into a small white Lada car, its side pock-marked with shrapnel holes, its windows and windshield blown-out.


Smiling and apologizing for his battered car, he drove off too, waving his walkie-talkie.


Not far away, dead bodies of Russian soldiers still lay in the streets Sunday from the latest fighting.


One blackened corpse was sprawled on the curb meters from his burnt-out truck, his forearms stripped clean of all flesh.


The street behind him was covered in the debris of battle, a huge self-propelled gun blown-up, the charred body of a tank, the great metal treads of the machine strewn like ribbons on the road.


Black stains and the stench of rotting bodies showed where other corpses had just been cleared away. A lone green helmet sat in the middle of the street amid blasted bricks, shrapnel and torn metal.