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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soldiers Dread Invasion Order

MAKHACHKALA, Southern Russia -- Beads of sweat ran down the young soldier's forehead as he toyed with his rifle, glanced down the road leading to Chechnya and thought about going there to fight.

"We shall lose a lot of people. Our commanders know that too,'' said the soldier, who gave his name only as Nikolai. Asked if he was ready for war, he said, "No, I am not.''

Like other servicemen, the soldier was torn between fear and the desire to defeat the Chechens. Still haunted by the shocking defeat they suffered in the 1994-96 Chechen war, Russian commanders want to restore the military's pride and end Chechnya's effective independence from Russia.

The Russian military suffered huge losses in the last war when young, virtually untrained conscript soldiers were sent in against skilled, motivated Chechen guerrillas fighting to make their homeland independent.

Clad in a baggy, gray uniform and an iron-plated flak jacket, Nikolai was on guard duty in Dagestan, the Russian region next to Chechnya. A huge knife dangling from his belt looked far too big for his small hands.

"If I am sent into combat, I will do my best. Of course, I don't wish to risk my life,'' he said.

His friend Sergei stood next to him, also cradling a Kalashnikov assault rifle. He too did not want to be sent to Chechnya. Instead, he said, Russia should copy the air tactics that NATO used during in Kosovo. "I hope there will be no ground operation. Clinton managed to solve the Yugoslavia problem without it,'' he said.

Ordinary Russians, who opposed the first war in Chechnya, tend to support the government's tough line now. Public opinion has been influenced strongly by four recent apartment bombings, which claimed some 300 lives and were blamed on the militants.

Russian soldiers based in Dagestan say the problem will never end until the rebel republic is defeated - although achieving that, they admit, is the problem. "I understand that a ground operation is necessary,'' said Yury, a 26-year-old lieutenant. "I also know that we won't win if we occupy Chechnya. The Chechens will launch a guerrilla war, and we will lose a lot of people in vain.''

Russia needs help to win, Yury said. Perhaps, he suggested, the United Nations or other countries might assist. "I am not happy about going to Chechnya. But I will go. We are trapped here and we must obey orders,'' he added.

The apprehension of ethnic Russian soldiers is not shared by Dagestani servicemen. They fear the Chechens want to take their homes and say Russia must invade Chechnya. "I will fight with bare hands. Anytime. We are sick of the Chechens," said Magomed Ramazanov, a Dagestani volunteer with the Russian forces. "For years they have kept us in terror.''