While Chechen fighters have so far been unable to hold territory against Moscow's forces, they're telling journalists they're more than willing to take on Russian forces in the streets of Grozny. In addition, Russian troops remain vulnerable in the areas they've occupied. "Even the heavily controlled Russian media is now reporting that in some areas of northern Chechnya, where the Russians have been in control for weeks, Moscow's forces are facing a low-intensity guerrilla campaign, especially at night," says Quinn-Judge. So seizing Grozny after the Chechen forces have retreated to the mountains may deal a psychological blow to the rebels, but it doesn't complete the war's stated objective. As Moscow's troops were involved Monday in heavy fighting at Urus-Martan, a key rebel-held town south of the city that links it to the guerrilla strongholds in the mountains, the only certainty appears to be that Moscow will pay little heed to Western appeals to stop fighting and start talking.
Up to this point in its war against rebel forces in Chechnya, Moscow has relied on heavy artillery and air power to blast its way to occupation of most of the territory. Now it is faced with the prospect of much closer engagement with Chechen guerrillas holed up in the capital, Grozny, and must decide whether the symbolism of victory there outweighs the pitfalls of a costly street-by-street struggle. "We haven't really had any serious battles in this war as yet," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. "The Russian forces haven't gone into close combat with the Chechens, but rather have relied on bombing them from a distance until they retreat. But Moscow won't be able to claim victory in Chechnya until they've actually eliminated the Chechen guerrilla forces."