GROZNY , Russia, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Fighting in Grozny, the capital of Russia's Chechnya republic, erupted immediately before Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech to Parliament in Moscow.
The largely Muslim area in Russia North Caucasus region has been relatively stable since a struggle for independence in the 1990s, although tensions have simmered for years. An attack in 2010 killed 18 people and eight more were killed in fighting in October. Thursday is the 20th anniversary of the start of the conflict.
Gunfire was reported Wednesday throughout the city, and Russian media said militants seized a school and an office building.
"This could be a symbolic attack to show they can still organize something significant," analyst Varvara Pakhomenko told the New York Times.
Grigory Shvedov, of the Moscow-based news center Caucasian Knot, said Thursday, "Last night's attack in Grozny was very large scale and is an indication that Kadyrov is losing control of Chechnya. The timing may have been connected with Putin's speech, and also the 20th anniversary of the start of the first Chechen war."
Putin mentioned the attack in his speech, which was concentrated on topics including Ukraine and the national economy. He referred the attackers as "rebels," and insisted they had foreign backing. He added he was confident local law enforcement officials could handle the incident.