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Friday, October 29, 1999 Published at 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK

World: Europe

Q&A: Russia closes in

Russia had admitted its forces carried out Thusday's attack on a market in Grozny, in which Chechen officials say more than 100 people were killed.

BBC Moscow correspondent Angus Roxburgh was one of the first foreign journalists to visit Russian-controlled northern Chechnya earlier this week. Here he gives his analysis of Russia's latest moves in the breakaway republic.

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What does the attack tell us about Russia's tactics in Chechnya?

This seems to have been the first direct attack by Russian forces on the Chechen capital since the campaign began. So far the Russians have been massing closer and closer to the city, perhaps in preparation for a ground invasion, although that is not at all clear yet.

But on Thursday evening a series of explosions in the centre of Grozny hit the city's central market place and a maternity hospital near the presidential palace killing dozens of people.

The attack was a major development in the conflict and tends to belie the words of the Russian Prime Minister.

He has been insisting that avoiding civilian casualties was important to him in this campaign and that he would do everything to make sure that civilians were not harmed.

Does this attack suggest the Russians are softening up the capital before sending troops in on foot?

Battle for the Caucasus
I think they are at least softening it up. This has often been the tactic, both in the previous war from 1994-96 and so far in this campaign.

The Russians have softened up villages and towns by bombarding them with rockets either fired from the air or from tanks or artillery before going in on foot.

That could well be the case here in Grozny although there are other possibilities too.

Some people have suggested that ground forces may not go in, that they simply might try to flatten the city and bomb the Chechen terrorists - as the Russians call them - out of the city.

There are varying reports of the casualties each side has suffered in the conflict; is there any independent way of confirming these figures?

That's very difficult at the moment. Both the Chechens and the Russians give similar figures about the other side's casualties.

The Russians have just admitted that up to 200 of their troops have been killed - until recently they were only saying little more than 40 had been killed.

As for the thousands of Chechen fighters that they say they have killed, I think the likelihood is that in fact many hundreds or possibly thousands of Chechen civilians have actually been killed.

But until now the Russians have refused to admit that civilians have been targeted or killed. They say that they only attack areas where it is known that Chechen terrorists, as they put it, are based.

Is there any sense that the Russian offensive is weakening the Chechens' will?

Absolutely not.

I think the more the Russians attack, the more the Russians make it plain that they want to basically do away with Chechen independence, the more the Chechens will dig in and defend their independence.

They have already vowed to defend every last inch of their territory and I think that is what they will do.

They see this not just as an attempt to get rid of terrorists based in Chechnya but as a sort of final solution - an attempt by Moscow to reintegrate Chechnya into the Russian Federation.

On Thursday the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, made it clear that he doesn't recognise as legitimate the 1997 elections which brought the present Chechen government to power.

He wants to change that and install what will basically be a puppet government run by Moscow.

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