Russia pulls back troops, averting threatened clash with Chechen forces

November 12, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- The little Chechen Republic won't have to go to war against Russia after all.

The Chechen strongman, Jokhar Dudayev, had rattled his saber over the deployment of Russian troops along his border, and yesterday the Russians obliged by pulling back a few miles so as to avoid provocations.

They're not there to fight the Chechens anyway, but to try to keep peace between the Ingush and the Ossetians, two other fierce ethnic groups, who have been battling over land along the northern slope of the Caucasus Mountains.

The ethnic flare-up, the first within Russian territory since the end of the Soviet Union, has left more than 200 dead.

The Russians sent in 3,000 troops last week to put down the fighting, and so far they are succeeding in their mission.

But Tuesday they took up positions along the nebulous border separating Ingushetia from the Chechen Republic -- a determined breakaway rogue state that the Russians have mostly tried to ignore.

General Dudayev went on television to prepare his people for war, and announced that Russian troops must be gone by yesterday.

It would be a lopsided battle if it should come, but the Russian leaders seem determined not to let General Dudayev become any more of a problem and they ordered a token pullback.

Yesterday, Russia's Acting Prime Minister Yegor T. Gaidar visited Ingushetia and met with leaders there. He said that Russian troops would remain there, and he called on the Ossetians to allow Ingush refugees to return to their homes.

On Tuesday, General Dudayev had been defying the Russians and egging on the Ingush fighters to battle against both Russian regulars and Ossetians.

But yesterday Mr. Gaidar met in Nazran, the capital of Ingushetia, with Chechen Vice Prime Minister Yaragi Mamedov, who came away satisfied with the efforts to avoid more fighting, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

In Moscow, Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi praised his sometime opponent, President Boris N. Yeltsin, for imposing a state of emergency in Ossetia and Ingushetia and sending troops in.

So far, the show of force by the Russian government has done just what it was supposed to do in a region beset by feuds and the intermingling of bitterly opposed ethnic groups.

But before flying back to Moscow last night, Mr. Gaidar sounded a warning.

If the thousands of refugees in the area are not allowed to return to their homes, he said, the ethnic war will inevitably resume.

"And we can't keep Russian troops here forever," he said.

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