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A No-Win Situation

THE battle for control of the capital of Chechnya, the secessionist Russian republic, isn't over, but whatever the outcome, losses to both sides will be monumental. Neither Chechnya nor the Russian government can truly win this war, and with every hour of fighting the list of victims grows.

The first victim, of course, is the civilian population. Russian forces opened an all-out assault on Grozny on New Year's Eve. Casualties were reportedly heavy, hundreds of residents have been wounded, and food is scarce.

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Russian troops are also victims. With little support, the first group of Russians sent to the center of Grozny ran out of ammunition when fighting grew fierce. The death toll among the soldiers - many of whom didn't want any part in this battle to begin with - was high. The Kremlin acknowledged that several dozen armored vehicles were lost in the offensive.

While individual Russian soldiers have suffered (as well as ``volunteer'' Chechen soldiers), so too has the reputation of the Russian Army. It is generally agreed that the campaign against Chechnya has been disorganized and poorly planned. Many Russians are shocked at the condition of the Army.

After Chechen soldiers pushed Russian troops back to the edge of Grozny on Jan. 2, Russia insisted it was regrouping and readying its soldiers for a fresh assault on the capital. But as Army expenditures grow, so does the likelihood that the Russian economy will be one of the battle's biggest victims.

The Russian government has spent an estimated 1 trillion rubles ($290 million) on tanks, planes, and troops since the offensive began early last month. According to a source quoted in the Monitor, prospects for higher inflation, a ruined budget, and a decline in Western aid and investment have increased dramatically. Russia is also faced with the economically daunting task of rebuilding a devastated Chechnya, yet another victim.

Not to be left off this list is the man at the center of the conflict. The war against Chechnya has further scarred President Boris Yeltsin's already-damaged reputation. Even those who supported Mr. Yeltsin in the past have fallen away. Speculation is growing that should he run for reelection in June 1996, he will not win.

The real danger, however, is that Yeltsin will cancel elections altogether. If this happens, the biggest and most tragic victim of all will be democracy. It arguably already is.

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