Russian troops struggled to retake the Chechen capital Sunday as their prime minister promised reinforcements to end the confrontation in Grozny that has embarrassed President Boris Yeltsin.
At an emergency session of the government’s Chechnya commission in Moscow, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said “radical measures” are needed to resolve the situation in the secessionist republic.
The commission said 169 Russian soldiers have been killed and 618 wounded since rebels overran Grozny last Tuesday. But military officials gave higher figures of as many as 200 dead and up to 800 wounded.
In Grozny, rebel guerrillas showed off the dog tags of soldiers they’ve killed.
But they appeared to be on the defensive Sunday and, apart from occasional shelling, ceased their attacks on the besieged government compound downtown.
Several apartment complexes were on fire, and the separatists could not move freely under Russian mortar shelling that sent shrapnel flying across the deserted streets.
Early in the day, a Russian armored column that made it to Minutka Square 1-1/2 miles from the city center encountered heavy rebel fire and lost several trucks and armored personnel carriers.
One Russian carrier was hit by an anti-tank grenade as the vehicle crossed Grozny’s central market, and about a dozen soldiers were killed. Ammunition they were carrying exploded into their torsos, and some of their feet were blown off. Their bodies also caught fire.
Meanwhile, Yeltsin’s national security chief, Alexander Lebed, left Moscow for the Chechen border, where he might meet with separatist leaders, Russian media reported.
And Yeltsin, meeting with Chernomyrdin, “strongly demanded” that the situation in Grozny be normalized. Chernomyrdin said military reinforcements would be sent to the Chechen capital, but he gave no details.