Fire in the Caucasus

Yeltsin's ultimatum to breakaway Chechnya prompts fears of a homegrown Afghanistan war

Boris Yeltsin may be slow to make decisions, but when he does, watch out. For three years, he has tolerated a secessionist movement in Chechnya, an oil- rich, predominantly Muslim enclave of 1.1 million people in Russia's North Caucasus region. Rather than take direct steps to resolve the impasse with Chechen president Jokhar Dudayev, who champions breaking away, the Kremlin has waged a proxy war against him by giving covert military and financial support to Dudayev's pro-Moscow opponents.

Yeltsin's fiction of noninvolvement vanished last week. The causes: a botched coup and POWS in danger. A coalition of anti-Dudayev forces had rolled...

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