Speaking on Chechen Television on 21 December, President Aslan Maskhadov announced that he had issued orders for Chechen fighters to withdraw from the lowland regions of Chechnya, with the exception of Grozny, into the southern mountains, RFE/RL correspondent Khasin Raduev reported. A second RFE/RL correspondent, Andrei Babitsky, predicted the following day that the Chechens will defend Grozny until casualty figures rise so high that it no longer makes sense to do so. At that juncture, Babitsky said, the Chechens will withdraw into the mountains and then conduct surprise attacks on the Russian troops once the latter have dug in in the capital. He anticipated that the Chechen decision to abandon the capital would come quite soon, because, he explained, there are significant Russian forces concentrated all around Grozny to "smash any resistance in their way" once they decide to take the city.
Describing conditions in the besieged capital earlier this week, Babitsky said that both armed Chechen fighters and the small group of journalists with whom he is working have experienced no difficulties in entering or leaving Grozny, crossing the front lines unharmed and passing within 500 meters of Russian armored vehicles. Asked to compare the situation in Grozny today with that during the 1994-1996 war, Babitsky said that the civilian population is in a far worse predicament now than it was during the earlier war. He said he has seen people trapping pigeons for lack of anything else to eat. On the other hand, Babitsky continued, the Chechens are using the same tactics as in 1996, and if anything even more successfully, in that they are taking greater pains not to incur unnecessary casualties. "They sense when resistance in one spot is useless, leave it, and then turn up in a completely different place where the Russians weren't expecting them."
Babitsky commented that "it doesn't even matter, in the context of guerrilla war, whether the city is "taken" or not. The Chechens can always take it back when the Russians are least expecting it." (Liz Fuller)
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