Up Against The Wall

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TRABZON, TURKEY: Chechen rebels widened their war for independence, hijacking a Turkish ferry loaded with Russians in the Turkish Black Sea port of Trabzon and taking 30 Russians hostage in their capital, Grozny, even as hostage-takers under withering Russian assault in Pervomayskaya, Dagestan, vowed to fight to the death. Chechens escalated the conflict as Russian President Boris Yeltsin shook up his cabinet, replacing Presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Filatov, one of the last remaining liberals in his administration, with hawk Nikolai Yegorov. The developments limn the increasingly desperate straits of both the Chechen separatists and Russian president Boris Yeltsin. For Yeltsin, says TIME's J.F.O. McAllister, "Chechnya has been a disaster since it began. With the recent victories of the Communists and nationalists in national elections, the people of political saliency, the ones who really matter, have changed, and Yeltsin is forced to move to a more hard-line position to help his re-election chances." Yeltsin's best hope, adds TIME's Bruce Nelan, is that the kind of hard-line Russians who have been turning out at the polls will reward him in June for a forceful action now: "The Russians who will be voting are those who want to see all Chechens killed, and Yeltsin wants to show them he is in control of the situation." For their part, Chechens see in Moscow's current unsettled political climate their last, best chance for independence. In the face of calls by ultranationalist presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky for the immediate napalm bombing of all Chechen bases, the Chechens seem to have concluded that their only chance is to go all out for independence now.