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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens Prepare to Defend Grozny

GROZNY -- As Russian forces shelled Chechen positions Monday, militants in Grozny were building fortifications with blocks of concrete and digging trenches to rebuff a possible Russian assault. Russia's forward troops are well entrenched to the north and the west of the Chechen capital and are close enough to shell the city. But the Russians have not yet launched a ground attack on the city, and say their main aims are to build a security zone around Chechnya and then root out Islamic militants.

Under a cold drizzle that fell Monday night from low gray skies, Grozny was beginning to look like a frontline city. More people in military uniform were on the city streets than a week ago. Artillery barrages were audible most of the time. Some fighters blackened their faces with dirt as a kind of improvised camouflage.

In the northern districts of Grozny, the part of the city closest to the Russians' positions, militants dug trenches. Apartment buildings still in ruins from the 1994-96 war were being turned into strong points. Russian troops methodically shelled several Chechen positions overnight, but the fighting eased during the day. Russian troops are located along a mountain ridge north of Grozny, only about 15 kilometers from the city.

Russian and Chechen forces clashed Monday at two villages along the Terek River, according to Chechen commander Isa Munayev, Interfax reported. One Chechen fighter was killed and two wounded in the clashes at Shchedrinsky and Chervlyonnaya-Uzlovaya, he said.

Russia wants to seal Chechnya off to block the militants from infiltrating neighboring regions and to cut off rebel supply routes, Itar-Tass quoted Russian deputy chief of general staff, Valery Manilov, as saying. Then, federal forces will try to crush the militants, he said.

Russian troops are stationed along Chechnya's borders in the east and west, and control the northern third of the republic, above the Terek River. In the south, where Chechnya borders the ex-Soviet state of Georgia, Russians have reached an "understanding" with the Georgian military to seal off the border with Chechnya, Manilov said.

Meanwhile, the Russian military said troops were going through 40 villages in western Chechnya to ensure that no militants remained. Despite the steady Russian advances, Chechnya's military leaders continued to express confidence, and said the Russians would suffer heavy casualties if they try to take Grozny.

Mumadi Saidayev, chief of Chechnya's military headquarters, said the Russians were currently trying to take control of an oil pipeline running across Chechnya, as well as a strategic railway.

The Russians have moved more cautiously than in the 1994-96 war, but Saidayev said the Russian army was being led by many of the same generals applying many of the same tactics. "It's really weird that, having a choice of several hundred generals, the Russians always pick the worst ones to lead the operation in Chechnya," he said.