Although the advancing Russians had by Wednesday captured the northern third of the rebel republic, they had done so for the most part without much of a fight. "Chechen forces were biding their time," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. The Chechens, whose president, Aslan Mashkadov, called Wednesday for a "holy war" to repel the Russian invaders, are likely to meet any Russian attempt to cross the Terek River in the mountainous south of Chechnya with fierce resistance. Meanwhile, Moscow rejected European Union offers to mediate in the crisis, insisting that Chechnya is a domestic matter. A domestic matter with a rapidly rising body count.
Boris Yeltsin clearly isnít expecting a quick victory in Chechnya. The Russian president plans to take a vacation later this month, his spokesman announced Friday, explaining that Yeltsin needed "a breather." Meanwhile, down in Chechnya his army was beginning to suffer severe casualties at the hands Chechen forces. And the Russian forces appeared to be racking up the collateral damage, too Ė- 40 refugees fleeing the fighting were killed Tuesday when a bus was struck by an artillery shell, reportedly fired by a Russian tank. Moscow has dismissed the report as disinformation, but a New York Times reporter interviewed survivors and heard tales of indiscriminate Russian bombing.