MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To Russia now, where the southern city of Nalchik has been sealed off after militants staged a number of apparently coordinated raids today. Hundreds of fighters attacked police stations and other government buildings leading to gun battles that lasted for hours. The situation is still unclear, but dozens of people are said to have been killed, including civilians, police and the militants. Alexei Arbatov studies security issues at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, and he joins us now.
What have you been able to learn about these attacks?
Mr. ALEXEI ARBATOV (Carnegie Center, Moscow): Well, it happened very early in the morning. A big group of guerrillas entered the city, more than 100. And they simultaneously attacked about a dozen various buildings and sites and took over some of those, including the headquarters of regional internal police and the Federal Security Agency and also some stores, in particular one which was selling guns and ammunition apparently in order to replenish their stock of weapons.
NORRIS: So this was a coordinated attack. What do you know about the militants?
Mr. ARBATOV: Well, they are apparently from the same big group which operates in various units, some smaller, some larger, in Chechnya and Ingushetia. You know that last year a group of that type took over the school in North Ossetia in Beslan, where this terrible tragedy which followed. More than 300 people got killed during that time.
NORRIS: Now you mentioned that the city has been sealed off. What other measures has the government taken to deal with the situation?
Mr. ARBATOV: They've blocked all the buildings which were taken over by guerrillas, by terrorists, and they were conducting assault on them one by one and apparently have already cleaned most of them. But in three or four, guerrillas are still holed, and in one of them they are having hostages there.
NORRIS: How many hostages? Do you know?
Mr. ARBATOV: Nobody knows how many.
NORRIS: Can you tell us about the region where all this is taking place?
Mr. ARBATOV: Well, this is the north Caucasus in this part here, which consists of several local republics which are governed by the presidents and their legislative bodies. This is one of the most beautiful ones, mostly populated by two ethnic groups, Balkari and Kabardin. But this particular republic, which is called Kabardino-Balkaria, up to now has been very peaceful.
NORRIS: Beyond their effort to undermine or destabilize the government, are there specific demands with today's attacks?
Mr. ARBATOV: No, they are not making any demands. They just took over the most important sites in the city, in particular, sites of the law enforcement and security agencies to show that they can attack federal government military organizations right in their headquarters.
NORRIS: And their overall goal, I guess, is freedom for Chechnya?
Mr. ARBATOV: It's--yes, it's secession of Chechnya and actually it's now larger than that. It's all of northern Caucasus. They want to make it independent from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. That's their goal.
NORRIS: To create a breakaway republic.
Mr. ARBATOV: Yeah. Well, there are several republics. They want to get all of north Caucasus away from Russia, to separate--to secede from Russia not only in Chechnya but in Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Dagere(ph), these republics which are mostly Muslim.
NORRIS: Alexei Arbatov is with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Mr. ARBATOV: You're welcome.
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