Putin honours soldiers killed in Chechnya battle

Moscow, Mar 2 (IANS/RIA Novosti) President Vladimir Putin laid flowers Friday at a memorial in western Russia to 84 soldiers who were killed in Chechnya March 1, 2000.

Just six paratroopers from the 6th Company, based in the west Russian city of Pskov, survived after being cut off by retreating Chechen separatist fighters in the North Caucasus republic’s Argun Gorge.

The human losses were the Russian military’s highest on a single day during the Second Chechen War (August 1999 to May 2000).

“These soldiers from the 6th Company showed the whole world that it is impossible to defeat Russia, that at a critical moment, its valiant sons will fight until the death for their motherland,” Putin said while meeting relatives of the deceased in Pskov.

The soldiers died just hours after the then-defence minister Igor Sergeyev had assured the government that the war in Chechnya was over.

Russian authorities stated at first that 31 soldiers had died, and the true figure was not revealed until days after the battle.

Russian media reports speculated that many of the soldiers had been killed by friendly fire.

Twenty one paratroopers posthumously received the Hero of Russia award, while another 63 received the Order of Courage.

The Kremlin said the soldiers had been attacked by a force of 2,000 Chechen insurgents and killed 700 of them, an account questioned by a number of journalists, who suggested the 6th Company had been surprised by a much smaller number of enemies.

It was not immediately clear why Putin, accompanied by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, had chosen to mark the 13th anniversary of the deaths.

Putin rose to popularity in Russia over his tough handling of the Chechen conflict as prime minister.

–IANS/RIA Novosti

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IANS