- MOSCOW - With the Russian
military encountering tougher resistance as it closes in on the Chechen
capital, Grozny, it is becoming murkier just how many Russian soldiers
have been killed.
- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says a prime concern in
not hurrying to storm Grozny is the desire to minimize casualties.
- It's difficult to say how well he's doing, since military
authorities are not rushing to provide complete and updated figures.
- The Defense Ministry reports 404 servicemen killed between
Aug. 2, when Russia attacked Islamic militants who had invaded Dagestan
from Chechnya, and Dec. 16, the latest date for which figures are available,
spokesman Igor Kostyshin said.
- The ministry also reported 1,033 men wounded between
Aug. 2 and Dec. 9.
- However, soldiers in Chechnya come not only from Defense
Ministry units, but also from the Interior Ministry's troops.
- The Interior Ministry reported 44 killed and 116 wounded
between Oct. 1 and Dec. 22, spokeswoman Galina Gordeyeva said. The ministry
did not provide figures for the period between Aug. 2. and Oct. 1.
- The official numbers seemed to be supported by the main
forensic laboratory that certifies the deaths of servicemen - but it is
unlikely to process every single casualty.
- Alexander Tikhonov, deputy head of the Rostov forensic
lab, which is handling most of the bodies of servicemen killed in Chechnya,
said that so far his lab has received about 340 bodies of troops serving
with the Defense Ministry.
- "And so far, we've only had no more than 10 or 12
bodies of Interior Ministry servicemen," Tikhonov said.
- But the Union of Soldiers' Mothers' Committees, a grass-roots
parents network that looks for soldiers who have been captured or killed,
says the military's figures are too low.
- The truth, said Valentina Melnikova, a spokeswoman for
the group, is that the official figures should be multiplied by three.
- "Our estimate of 1,000 already dead and 3,000 wounded
is a bare minimum," said Melnikova, whose organization has frequent
contact with the parents of killed or missing soldiers.
- "They are lying like mad."