Russia in ruins after nuclear mayhem

07.03.03: THE WORLD remains stunned by the suddenness and savagery of the nuclear civil war that has devastated large areas of Russia. A clearer picture of the events was beginning to emerge yesterday as it appeared a ceasefire had been agreed, according to sources in Washington and Moscow.

In the wake of the first large-scale nuclear conflict, details of strike and counter-strike have been elusive, as a total news blackout dampened satellite communications.

Political and military observers believe that the main cause of the conflict is the failure of the Russian wheat and potato crops last summer. But the catalyst was Moscow's announcement that it could not pay the Volga-Ural region's armed forces for a further six months.

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Following his armed coup last week, General Anatoly Sergeyev has assumed the role of military governor in the region in central Russia. His first move was to block all tax revenue transfers to Moscow, threatening an all-out crisis in the Russian economy.

On Sunday, the president of the Russian Federation, Igor Kerensky, gave Sergeyev a 48-hour ultimatum to stand down. The general ignored the threat, and conventional bombing raids against Volga-Ural began. It was during one of these raids that a missile hit the chemical weapons store near Tyumen late on Tuesday night, releasing VX and sarin nerve gases, which killed more than 3,000 people.

Sergeyev, who had led the Russian forces in previous Chechen conflicts, immediately retaliated, using his ageing force of Backfire-C nuclear bombers for raids on Russian air bases around Moscow early Wednesday morning. Many planes were lost but five bases were destroyed with Hiroshima-sized tactical nuclear bombs, killing tens of thousands of people in and around the bases. According to Kremlin sources, President Kerensky ordered an escalation to strategic weapons. As former head of Russian strategic rocket forces, he almost certainly recognised the vulnerability of his meagre stock of missiles to further attacks.

Later on Wednesday, 14 Topol-M ICBMs were fired at air force and army bases near cities in the Volga-Ural region. Yekatarinburg suffered the greatest losses.

Early reports indicate a death toll in excess of 250,000, with more than 80,000 square kilometres of land contaminated by radioactive fallout.

An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council is tonight expected to offer a mediation team to try to stabilise the ceasefire. Even if that holds, it is already clear that the federation risks disintegration.

Kerensky agreed to the ceasefire with the Volga-Ural rebels only when threatened with a further nuclear strike on Moscow by the Far East Region military commander, Admiral Illya Kropotkin.

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