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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Predicts Grozny's Surrender

Russia's military said Monday its troops would surround Grozny by mid-December, and its top army officer insisted the Chechen capital would give up without a fight like other towns in the rebel region.

A major offensive was planned for Urus-Martan, a rebel stronghold south of Grozny, which is expected to become the first large town to offer significant resistance to Russia's advance into the breakaway region, the military said.

Interfax reported from Russia's main base in Mozdok, outside Chechnya, that Russian forces would encircle Grozny by the first half of December and that this task had already been 80 percent completed.

Routes to the city from the west and north as well as some from the east were under Moscow's control, although bad weather on Monday grounded warplanes and halted the advance.

Anatoly Kvashnin, armed forces chief of staff, said he believed Grozny would fall into Russian hands without a fight as happened in Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest city, and Achkhoi-Martan, a strategic town west of Grozny.

The towns were brought under Russian control after negotiations with local elders, who persuaded the rebels to withdraw and allow Moscow's forces to walk in.

"The people themselves will sort things out with the bandits from the inside, and we will help them," Kvashnin said on NTV television.

Interfax said Russian forces planned their next major offensive on Urus-Martan, which the military said was defended by more than 3,000 Chechen guerrillas with anti-aircraft guns, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, grenade launchers and light arms.

An eyewitness in Urus-Martan, contacted by telephone, said he saw Ramzan Akhmadov, a commander of Chechen forces, ask residents over the weekend to leave the town, which he promised to defend against advancing Russian forces.

"We will not give up Urus-Martan without a fight. There will be a battle. We ask all to leave Urus-Martan," he said through a loudspeaker mounted on a police car driving through the streets.

In Grozny, about 5,000 rebels were beefing up city defenses, Interfax said. In one of the city's districts they were burying large vats of oil to set ablaze and form a wall of fire and thick black smoke if the Russians entered the city.

The rebels were also burying railway carriages and covering them with concrete blocks as shelters against heavy aircraft and artillery fire, RIA news agency quoted the military as saying.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, a former Soviet army colonel and the commander of the Chechen forces during the last war, is believed to be overseeing the defense of Grozny.

RIA also quoted the military as saying the rebels had been successfully infiltrating Russian positions to attack troops from the rear and stage acts of sabotage.

Such acts seemed to be taking place in settlements already under Russian control. An eyewitness said Russian artillery had been forced to shell the town of Achkhoi-Martan, seized by Moscow's forces last week, after a rebel sniper fired on troops.

Nobel prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn backed the Russian military's drive in Chechnya, saying the country had to defend itself after many years of admitting defeat.

Solzhenitsyn said extremists had been staging attacks and kidnappings throughout southern Russia since Moscow withdrew from Chechnya in 1996.

"We need to stop somewhere as we have been retreating for 15 years," he said in an interview on NTV's "Itogi" program Sunday night.

"We have capitulated everywhere. We capitulated in 1996 [in Chechnya]. Our country cannot abandon the right to defend itself and defense means completing the operation in some way."

Solzhenitsyn, who returned to post-Soviet Russia in 1994, 20 years after being expelled by communist authorities, said there was no point in negotiating with Chechnya's separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov as he had achieved no peace since 1996.

Solzhenitsyn, 80, is well known for his conservative, Slavophile views. Once hailed by the West for his stand against totalitarian communism, he has become a fierce critic of Western materialism and liberal ideology.