Russian forces shelled Chechen positions southeast of Grozny on Thursday, hours before the expiration of Moscow’s unilateral truce in the separatist region.
Both sides are braced for an increase in the fighting once the cease-fire ends at midnight.
Heavy artillery rained down on the village of Serzhen-Yurt, 25 miles southeast of the capital of Grozny, and explosions flashed across the foothills of the North Caucasus Mountains.
As many as seven Russian servicemen and 12 rebels were killed in fighting around Serzhen-Yurt, the Interfax news agency reported.
President Boris Yeltsin had called a two-week halt to fighting for this week’s World War II Victory Day celebrations and the summit with President Clinton. Chechen leaders were not a party to the truce, and sporadic fighting continued.
The Russian military command said they were still observing the cease-fire Thursday, and only attacking in response to rebel fire, Interfax said.
Convoys of Russian army trucks hauled fuel and ammunition to new positions in preparation for resumed combat. Russian jet fighters flew in the direction of the mountain village of Shatoy, where fighting had been reported earlier Thursday.
Clinton had urged Yeltsin to extend the truce, but Yeltsin dismissed the call, justifying the Chechen campaign as a police action to disarm criminal gangs.
The Russian commander in Chechnya, Lt. Gen. Mikhail Yegorov, said Thursday he had received no orders to continue the cease-fire.
He said his forces “will start measures aimed … at continuation of the disarmament and destruction of the illegal armed formations” once the truce expires, Interfax reported.
Russian forces poured into Chechnya in December to end its self-proclaimed independence.