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In the largest Russian military offensive since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks pour into the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya. Encountering only light resistance, Russian forces had by evening pushed to the outskirts of the Chechen capital of Grozny, where several thousand Chechen volunteers vowed a bitter fight against the Russians.
With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Chechnya, like many of the other republics encompassed by the former Soviet Union, declared its independence. However, unlike Georgia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and the other former Soviet states, Chechnya held only the barest autonomy under Soviet rule and was not considered one of the 15 official Soviet republics. Instead, Chechnya is regarded as one of many republics within the Russian Federation. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who permitted the dissolution of the Soviet Union, would not tolerate the secession of a state within territorial Russia.
About the size of Connecticut and located in southeastern Russia on the Caspian Sea, Chechnya was conquered by the Russians in the 1850s as the Russian empire pushed south toward the Middle East. Its people are largely Muslim and fiercely independent, and the region has been a constant irritant to its Russian and Soviet rulers.
In August 1991, Dzhozkhar Dudayev, a Chechen politician and former Soviet air force general, toppled Chechnya’s local communist government and established an anti-Russian autocratic state. President Yeltsin feared the secession of Chechnya would prompt a domino effect of independence movements within the vast Russian Federation. He also hoped to recover Chechnya’s valuable oil resources. After ineffective attempts at funding Chechen opposition groups, a Russian invasion began on December 11, 1994.
After the initial gains of the Russian army, the Chechen rebels demonstrated a fierce resistance in Grozny, and thousands of Russian troops died and many more Chechen civilians were killed during almost two years of heavy fighting. In August 1996, Grozny was retaken by the Chechen rebels after a year of Russian occupation, and a cease-fire was declared. In 1997, the last humiliated Russian troops left Chechnya. Despite a peace agreement that left Chechnya a de facto independent state, Chechnya remained officially part of Russia.
In 1999, Yeltsin’s government ordered a second invasion of Chechnya after bombings in Moscow and other cities were linked to Chechen militants. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s handpicked successor as Russian leader, said of the Chechen terrorists, “we will rub them out, even in the toilet.” In 2000, President Putin escalated Russian military involvement in Chechnya after terrorist bombings in Russian cities continued. In this second round of post-Soviet fighting in Chechnya, the Russian army has been accused of many atrocities in its efforts to suppress Chechen militancy. A peace agreement remains elusive.
Wounded Bear: The Ongoing Russian Military Operation in Chechnya
When people are entering upon a war they do things the wrong way round. Action comes first, and it is only when they have already suffered that they begin to think. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
October 1991 - Dzhokhar Dudayev becomes President of Chechnya in a coup d'etat.
December 1991 - First armed clashes between followers of Dudayev and opposition forces.
August 1994 - Moscow-backed Chechen forces announce the "dismissal" of Dudayev.
September 1994 - Fighting breaks out between Chechen factions.
November 1994 - Opposition forces (clandestinely reinforced with Russian soldiers) attempt an armed overthrow of Dudayev. Dudayev's forces rout the opposition.
December 1, 1994 - Russian President Boris Yeltsin declares "State of Emergency"
December 6-8, 1994 - Chechen President Dudayev and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev meet to discuss terms to reduce tension and secure release of hostages captured during November fighting.
December 11, 1994 - Russian forces enter Chechnya.
CONDUCT OF THE OPERATION
In the initial organization for the operation, the assault units were divided along separate axes which complicated unity of command (See Figure 1). The overall headquarters did not have an on-going staff-planning relationship with these separate units. 8 Command and control of the operation was spread among several different ministers. A direct chain of command did not exist. The North Caucasus Military District Command Structure(the district which included Chechnya) was by-passed and decisions for the operation were made by the Russian Defense Minister, General Grachev.
As originally planned, the Chechnya operation had four phases:
Phase I: (28 November - 6 December 1994) Create four task forces from the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) forces.
The Chechens continued to separate Russian units into small components which could be effectively ambushed. They would then leave before the Russians could send reinforcements and organize support. Poor communications between Russian units facilitated the Chechens' use of this tactic.
After several setbacks the Russians began to use massed artillery routinely as a substitute for maneuver combat. Previous Russian concerns about civilian casualties vanished in the face of the limited success from massed artillery strikes against the Chechens.
On 1 March, Russian Minister of Defense General Pavel Grachev boasted that the army would easily capture the remaining Chechen strongholds of Argun, Shali, Gudermes and Samashki. Russian forces surrounded the village of Samashki, notified the Chechens of their intent to storm the village, and then launched a heavy artillery attack on the village. Following the artillery barrage, a Russian column of armored personnel carriers and tanks isolated the village and then cut the road linking the Chechen towns of Samashki and Achkoi-Martan. Russian forces continued this tactic throughout March on other villages and towns throughout Chechnya.
When Russian forces captured Samashki on 8 April 1995, the International Red Cross announced that approximately 250 civilians were killed during the assault on the town. 23 By this time, Russian Armed Forces were showing little concern for collateral casualties and damage while tracking down Chechen forces. This resulted in a noticeable "stiffening" of the Chechens' resolve not to surrender. Combat in April around the village of Bamut 24 demonstrated that the Chechens would fight for every village. The Russian military hoped to temporarily halt their operation by 9 May, to observe the 50th Anniversary of the defeat of Germany in World War II. Chechen forces, however, did not allow the Russian forces their reprieve and attacked Russian positions in Grozny. This was by now a Chechen pattern. Whenever international interest in the conflict waned, the Chechens would stage new assaults in Grozny - preferably on a holiday or significant anniversary. These counter blows gained international attention and embarrassed the Russian government, but did not stop the Russian advance into Chechnya.
By May 1995, the Russians controlled the main Chechen cities and towns and pushed the fight into the mountain villages of Chechnya. The fatalistic feeling among the Chechen forces was summed up in the comments of the deputy commander of the Chechen battle group deployed outside of Grozny, "There is no winning. We know that. If we are fighting, we are winning. If we are not, we have lost. The Russians can kill us and destroy this land. Then they will win. But we will make it very painful for them." 25 Combat during this period resembled a large scale chess match, with neither side able to check the other decisively. Russian forces deployed to surround villages. Chechen fighters inflicted damage on the Russian columns as they moved into position. The Russians would shell the village until return fire ceased and then move in. The Chechens would redeploy to another village and wait for the next column of Russian vehicles. This type of fighting has been interrupted by several cease-fires and the hostage dramas at Budyonnovsk and Pervomayskaya.
On 14 June 1995, a group of approximately 100 Chechens attacked the Russian town of Budyonnovsk, located 70 kilometers north of the Chechen border. The purpose of their raid was to seize hostages to force the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. The Chechens seized the town hospital and held the civilians hostage. Russian Interior Ministry and Special Forces troops botched the raid on the hospital, killing numerous civilians in the process. The drama ended when the Russians allowed the Chechens to leave the town in a convoy of buses and return to Chechnya, where they were hailed as heroes. Once again, a poorly coordinated military action and political pressure to "do something" led to disaster.
The raid on Budyonnovsk did not significantly change the political situation in Chechnya. Cease-fire talks between the Russians and Chechens continued throughout June and July. Both sides signed an agreement on 30 July ending combat and reducing the number of deployed Russian forces. The Russians conducted small-scale withdrawals in September. Chechen fighters continued the selective use of small-scale attacks throughout the rest of the year. These included the attempted assassination of General Romanov, the MVD General charged with negotiations. The frequency of their attacks increased as the Moscow-sponsored December elections neared. Grozny remained a center for Chechen resistance throughout the year with monthly grenade and sniper attacks on Russian forces.
On 9 January 1996, Chechen fighters, led by the son-in-law of Chechen President Dzokhar Dudaev, seized a hospital and maternity home in the town of Kizlar, Daghestan. As in Budyonnovsk, they demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. The events were played out in a similar fashion as in Budyonnovsk. The Chechens and their hostages were allowed to move and then were blocked at the Chechen border and were forced to retreat into the village of Pervomayskaya, where Russian forces attacked them. The Russian assault caused numerous civilian casualties and the village suffered heavy damage, but the leader of the Chechen group escaped. The Chechens did not conduct any major combat, after this operation, until March 1996, when they launched coordinated surprise attacks against Russian forces in Grozny. On April 17, 1996 Chechen forces ambushed a Russian armored convoy approximately 50 kilometers south of Grozny. Russian losses from this ambush were estimated to be 53 soldiers killed, making this one of the worst single incident death totals in a year. These events indicate that the Chechen fighters still have not given up their goal of using military force to seek independence.
Following Desert Storm, Russian officers evaluated the use of precision guided munitions in modern warfare and concluded that these weapons would play a major role in future conflicts. However, during the assault on Grozny the Russian Ground Forces used less-effective "dumb" munitions to pound the Chechens. Several theories, from a lack of trained personnel to insufficient stocks and the costs of such weapons, have been offered to explain why the Russians choose not to use the equipment that they had in their inventory during the fighting in Chechnya.
The lack of trained personnel and the absence of a clear plan for defeating insurgents in an urban environment left the military with few options for a speedy victory. Domestic considerations excluded a negotiated political solution. This left the costly (in terms of manpower) method of clearing cities building by building. Another method was to reduce cities and villages to rubble through aviation, artillery and rocket attacks. While politically distasteful, this option did have military merit because it accomplished two goals: it eliminated potential fighting positions for the Chechen fighters and it drove most of the civilian population out of the combat zone, thereby reducing the opportunity for the combatants to hide among the civilians.
The Russians had the necessary equipment to carry out precise, surgical artillery strikes, however there has been no evidence that shows that the Russians employed their precision-guided munitions in this operation. 30 The use of these weapons would not have necessarily changed the outcome of the battle but they could have reduced the number of Russian casualties from Chechen artillery and strong points. The weapons systems which can fire precision artillery warheads like the Krasnapol 31 are deployed in Chechnya, but these warheads were not available. Two other precision artillery munitions, the Smelchak mortar round and the Santimetr artillery round were also available but not used in Chechnya.
International Defense Digest reported that "the word in the higher command is that these highly advanced armaments were too expensive to be wasted' in Chechnya and needed to be kept for more serious contingencies." 32 The Russians have also developed a version of the American Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM) for their Smerch 300mm Multiple Rocket Launchers. This munition would have been highly effective in denying avenues of approach to the Chechens, however the Russians never employed it. 33
There is no evidence that the Russians employed counter-battery radar to locate Chechen artillery. Considering the lack of coordination among the MVD and Federal Troops(and the fact that MVD units do not have organic artillery assets), the use of radar may have been counterproductive since there would be no way to verify friendly firing locations. For counter-battery radar to be effective, the exact location of friendly artillery must be known to avoid erroneous targeting.
In the early 1990s the Soviets proposed the creation of combat groups of two tanks and a BMP or two BMPs and a tank. 36 The Russians utilized this concept only after the initial disastrous attempt to use tank-pure forces to seize Grozny. This change in the employment of forces in and around the city center helped the Russians eliminate Chechen pockets of resistance around the train station during the battle for Grozny by providing infantry support for the tanks.
Large armored formations proved impossible to control in the streets of Grozny. The initial disastrous assault on the city of Grozny on New Year's Day, 1995, was blamed on the decision to send armored columns into the city without adequate fire preparation or infantry support. After the first month of combat the Russians modified their tactics to reduce casualties.
The assault task forces that the Russians formed to fight in the city had large quantities of artillery attached to them for the battle. Each battalion-sized task force had a battery of self-propelled howitzers, one-two batteries of mortars and one- two batteries of divisional artillery. As mentioned earlier these units were broken down into smaller detachments to fight in the city. The Russians felt that this amount of artillery was necessary to combat the fortifications that the Chechens built in the city.
During the initial assault into Chechnya in December 1994, the Russian Air Force destroyed the few Chechen aircraft and airbases that existed. The lack of an organized Chechen air force or air defense system allowed the Russian Air Force to fly at will. In eighteen months of fighting only three fixed-wing airplanes were shot down by the Chechens. Employment of aviation during the Chechen operation, however, was as problematic as other aspects of the fighting. Many of the same problems that plagued the ground forces, such as insufficient fuel, ammunition and spare parts, and the lack of trained personnel, stymied the air force.
Communications problems between the ground forces and aircrews led to numerous cases of fratricide. On several occasions the Chechens entered the Russian air control radio net and targeted the Russian's air assets against their own troops. 41 The Russians' use of conventional "dumb" munitions and the high altitude from which they dropped their ordinance exacerbated the situation. Problems with the forward air controllers (FAC) caused the ground forces to stop employing aviation assets close to their forward forces. Apparently much of the radio traffic was in the clear since, on several occasions, FACs broadcast their own coordinates only to have Chechen artillery hit them shortly thereafter.
The military operation in Chechnya has suffered from a variety of problems over the past eighteen months. Several lessons in particular, however, should be highlighted.
The Russians were not prepared.
The Russian military press has been full of articles about the failure of the Russian forces in Chechnya. Most of the articles acknowledge that the Russians were not prepared for the assault and subsequent military operation in Chechnya.
The Russians failed to anticipate the type of combat that they would fight in Chechnya.
After the initial assault into Grozny was repulsed on 1 January 1995, Russian soldiers who were taken prisoner did not even know where they were. Some had been told that their mission would be to "protect roads," while others asked the reporters, "Can you please tell me who is fighting whom?" 44 Lieutenant-Colonel Yuri Klaptsov, Deputy Commander of the 131st Motorized Rifle Brigade, was told to expect little resistance when his troops advanced on Grozny on 31 December 1994. The outcome of their battle with the Chechens turned out to be a different matter. The Brigade Commander was killed in the fighting, 12 out of 20 armored vehicles were destroyed and most of the crew members were killed. 45
Russian planners should have known that the Chechens were well equipped with tanks, multiple rocket launchers and anti-aircraft weapons. Most of this equipment came from Soviet Army stockpiles in Chechnya and was transferred with the approval of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Lack of training.
"Ad-hoc" nature of Russian units.
The units that were thrown into Chechnya had not worked together prior to the invasion. Many of them came from different military districts if not different services. Several of the units had to be "fleshed" out before they could deploy and some commanders even refused to deploy due to the poor shape of their units. Peacetime under-staffing of units led to several "composite" units being formed so that they could be deployed. This led to units working together for the first time after they were deployed to Chechnya.
Most of the units did not conduct rehearsals for the deployment and, in many cases, the chain of command (particularly field-grade officers and below) did not know the combat mission prior to arriving in Chechnya.
High number of casualties from "friendly fire."
Poorly trained soldiers were blamed for the accidental detonation of an explosive device in February 1995, in which 25 Russian soldiers were killed. The Russian military has even openly commented on the high number of casualties from "friendly fire" and the misuse and abuse of weapons by poorly trained and unskilled troops. 48 The lack of qualified personnel combined with insufficient coordination between units led to an incident in January 1995, in which a six hour battle took place between a Russian tank unit and a Russian motorized rifle unit before each could identify the other. 49
The Russian experience in Chechnya demonstrates the folly of committing poorly trained and equipped forces to combat. Budget constraints, lack of support and squabbles among the various ministries in the Russian government led to disaster on the battlefield. The Russian government never established a clear chain of command for the Russian combatants in Chechnya. Since the fighting began in December, 1994, Russian forces have had over eight major changes of senior command. There was no clear consensus between the MOD and the MVD over who should control the operation.
Despite the time available to plan the operation prior to the main assault in December 1994, the Russian military failed to adequately prepare their units for the rigors of combat. Logistics support for the operation was not developed for sustained combat operations in Chechnya. A thorough Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield does not appear to have been conducted (if it had, the Russian units would have known about the Chechen forces waiting for them in Grozny).
Some of the problems experienced by the army in Chechnya are indicative of the breakdown of the conscription system. The whole process has been disrupted with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Now less than 50% of the conscripts who are supposed to report for the annual call up ever make it to the armed forces. 50 The number of deferrals has been steadily rising over the past few years. This problem is compounded by the lack of a professional Non-Commissioned Officer Corps in the Russian Army. The present system takes soldiers and gives them several months of training before promoting them to the rank of sergeant. With little experience, these NCOs are not only ineffective but they also must compete with the system of dedovshchina (hazing of young soldiers by senior soldiers) which pervades the armed forces. A report by the Russian Academy of Sciences stated that there was an 80% probability of a young man entering the Armed Forces being physically assaulted (30% of this number in a "particularly savage or humiliating form) and a 5% chance of his being the victim of homosexual rape. 51
The Russian Armed Forces performed poorly during this conflict. Political considerations aside, the military leadership sent inadequately trained and equipped forces into a conflict with ambiguous guidance. Morale among the soldiers deployed to Chechnya was extremely low and the situation will probably not improve in the near future.
On 31 March 1996, President Yeltsin stated that he had a plan for ending the conflict. His plan included a halt to military operations and a partial withdrawal of troops. The plan did, however, allow "special operations against terrorists." Combat operations continue despite the proposals. As of April 1996, Russian forces control the major roads in Chechnya, but are fighting Chechen forces to regain control of major cities and towns. Despite the reported death of Chechen President Dudaev on 24 April 1996, neither side in this conflict shows signs of giving in.
The Russian armed forces are a shell of their former selves. They are under funded, undermanned and poorly led. Their ability to conduct combined arms operations against a major power is questionable and only military tradition seems to hold them together as a "coherent" force. Despite the best efforts of Russia's career leaders, the continual government neglect of their armed forces has caused the deterioration of the former superpower's military to a point of ineffectiveness.
1.In a recent article in Parameters, author Ralph Peters describes how most military organizations are ill-equipped to fight in cities and villages:"The US military, otherwise magnificently capable, is an extremely inefficient tool for combat in urban environments. We are not doctrinally, organizationally, or psychologically prepared, nor are we properly trained or equipped, for a serious urban battle, and we must task organize radically even to conduct peacekeeping operations in cities." Ralph Peters, "Our Soldiers, Their Cities," Parameters, Spring 1996, p. 43.BACK
2.In Military Misfortunes, authors Eliot Cohen and John Gooch discuss the types of failures that can overcome a military organization. They conclude that catastrophic failures occur when a military organization experiences three kinds of failure simultaneously (failure to learn, anticipate or adapt). The Russian military experience in Chechnya initially demonstrated two of the three characteristics. As the authors explain, if all three types of failure occur simultaneously, total defeat and political collapse are likely. Eliot A. Cohen, John Gooch, Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War, The Free Press: New York, 1990.BACK
3.See Dr. Robert F. Baumann, Russian-Soviet Unconventional Wars in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Afghanistan, Leavenworth Papers Number 20, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, 1993.BACK
4.For a political-military analysis of the Chechen conflict see Timothy L. Thomas, The Caucasus Conflict and Russian Security: The Russian Armed Forces Confront Chechnya, Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1995.BACK
5.Stephen Kiselyov & Azer Mursaliyev, "Who Stands to Gain From the Invasion?", Moscow News, December 23-29, 1994, p.2.BACK
6.Dzhokhar Dudayev was a former Major General of the Soviet Air Force. He commanded a division in Estonia in 1990 and retired from the service in 1990, when he became Chairman of the Executive Committee - All National Chechen People's Congress. He was killed by a Russian air strike in April 1996.BACK
7.Natalya Pachegina, "Kreml' gotovitsya k vvedeniyu chrezvychaynogo polojeniya v chechne" [Kremlin Prepares to Declare State of Emergency in Chechnya], Nezavisimaya Gazetta (Independent Newspaper), November 30, 1994, p.1.BACK
8.The operational plan was prepared by the General Staff, the staff of the North Caucasus Military District and a combined staff in Mozdok. No one was clearly in charge and no one wanted to take responsibility for the outcome of the decisions. "Russian Military Assesses Errors of Chechnya Campaign," International Defense Review, No. 4/1995, p.6.BACK
9. Description of the phases of the operation taken from Novichkov, N., Snegovskii, V., Sokolov, A., Shvarev, V.,Rossiyskie Voorujennye Sily v chechenskom konflikte: analiz, itogi, vivogi [Russian Armed Forces in the Chechen Conflict: Analysis, Results, Conclusions]. (Holveg-Infoglov: Moscow, 1995), pp. 28 - 29.BACK
10. Igor Korotchenko, "Initsiativa - v rukakh rossiyskikh voysk" [Initiative in the Hands of Russian Troops], Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independent Newspaper), 31 December 1994, p. 1.BACK
11.Colonel-General Leontiy Shevtsov, "Polgoda boev v chechne" [Six Months of Fighting in Chechnya], Kraznaya Zvezda (Red Star), 8 June 1995, p. 3.BACK
12.Jay Willis, MEVATEC Corp., CIS News Item, 1221B, 21 December 1994. All CIS News Item footnotes refer to this online computer news service.BACK
13.Anatoly S. Kulikov (Translated by R. Love), "Russian Internal Troops and Security Challenges in the 1990s," Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, Volume 3, Autumn 1994, Number 2, p. 209. "For all practical purposes, the Internal Troops have no heavy weapons or military hardware, and they are not capable of carrying out large-scale combat actions."BACK
14.Dr. Jacob Kipp, a Senior Analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office, commented that President Yeltsin faced a constitutional/legal dilemma here. Law and doctrine said that Armed Forces could only be used inside the Russian Federation if an extraordinary situation was proclaimed. Without this proclamation, internal order belonged to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In an attempt to maintain surprise, Yeltsin did not proclaim an extraordinary situation, thus limiting legal basis for MOD - Federal Counter-Intelligence Service (FSK) - MVD cooperation and coordination.BACK
15.Baku Radio Turan, 12 December 1994, as reported in FBIS-SOV-94-239, 13 December 1994, p. 26.BACK
16.The Sunzha River runs through the center of Grozny.BACK
17.One estimate lists 20,000 Chechen combatants of which approximately 3,000 were mercenaries. Shevtsov, p. 3. General Pavel Grachev, Russian Defense Minister estimates that Chechen forces numbered approximately 30,000 before the fighting started (plus 6,000 mercenaries). Mikhail Shevtsov, ITAR-TASS World Service, 28 February 1995 as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-040, 1 March 1995, p. 29.BACK
18.CIS News Item, 0102B/B1, 2 January 1995.BACK
19.Viktor Litovkin, "Rasstrel 131i maikopskoi brigadiy" [Shooting the 131st Maykop Brigade], Izvestia (News), 11 January 1995, p. 4.BACK
20. CIS News Item, 0121B, 21 January 1995.BACK
22.Dr. Elaine Holoboff, "Oil and the Burning of Groznyy," Jane's Intelligence Review, Vol. 7, No. 6, pp. 253-257.BACK
23.CIS News Item, 0412B, 12 April 1995.BACK
24.Bamut was a former strategic missile site for the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces.BACK
25.Khamzat Aslambekov as quoted in CIS News Item 0512C, 12 May 1995.BACK
27.Col.-Gen. Nikolay M. Dimidyuk, "Bog voiniy na perelome" [The God of War at the Turning Point], Armeyskiy Sbornik (Army Digest), No. 7,1995, pp. 9-12. Gen. Dimidyuk, Commander of Ground Forces Missile Troops and Artillery, explains how the Soviets used the "artillery offensive" to support the actions of the ground forces.BACK
28.Dr. Jakob Kipp, a Senior Analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office, pointed out that no military force currently has a working doctrine to fight insurgents in a modern city. The U.S. Army's doctrine on fighting in an urban environment is already seventeen years old and does not fully address the problems that would be encountered while fighting a three dimensional battle in a city. The U.S. Army's experience in Mogadishu demonstrates the difficulty of fighting in a city with the population in place.BACK
29.Colonel Sergey Leonenko, "Ovladenie gorodom" [Capturing a City], Armeyskiy Sbornik (Army Digest), No. 3, 1995, pp. 31-35. "The fact is that in one case troops take a city using all weapons without restriction, and in another case [they are] under orders to preserve the city as a cultural and economic center."BACK
30.An exception may be the reported use of a self-guiding missile that homed in on the transmission of Chechen President Dudaev's satellite phone, killing him as he stood in an open field on 21 April 1996.BACK
31.The Krasnopol is an 152mm laser-designated artillery projectile that can be fired from the 2S19 self-propelled gun and older artillery systems such as the 2S3.BACK
32."Russian Military Assesses Errors of Chechnya Campaign," International Defense Digest, No. 4, 1995, p. 6.BACK
33."The basic 9M55K rocket fired by the Smerch has a high explosive cluster warhead that carries 72 unguided, dual-purpose bomblets to attack personnel and the vulnerable upper surfaces of armored vehicles." Smerch Submunitions Make Show Debut,' Jane's Defense Weekly, 30 September 1995, p. 15.BACK
34.In an article in Jane's Intelligence Review, the author estimated that the Chechens had an artillery regiment consisting of 30 light and medium artillery pieces. There have been numerous cases, however, of the Chechens employing BM-21 multiple rocket launchers during the campaign. Dr. Mark Galeotti, "Decline and Fall - What Went Wrong in Chechnia?", Vol. 7, No. 3, p. 98. A more accurate assessment of the Chechen's capability is probably the one in Kraznaya Zvezda in which the author states that the Chechens had about 200 artillery pieces to include 18 BM-21s. Shevtsov, p. 3.BACK
35.The Chechens also used automobiles as mobile mortar platforms for their ambushes. Colonel Aleksandr Kostychenko, "Uroki groznogo" [Lessons of Grozny], Armeyskiy Sbornik (Army Digest), No. 11, 1995, p. 29.BACK
36.Les Grau, Soviet Non-Linear Combat: Challenge of the 90s, Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1989.BACK
38.Artilleriyskiy divizion v boyu [The Artillery Battalion in Combat], 1984, as reported in JPRS-UMA-85-012-L, 1 May 1985, p. 9.BACK
41."Frontal and Army Aviation in the Chechen Conflict", Conflict Studies Research Centre, The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Camberley, England, June 1995, p. 4. This report was based on the book The Russian Armed Forces in the Chechnya Conflict (see footnote #9).BACK
42. Igor Chernyak, "Skandaly: pekhotnye generaly atakuyut Gracheva"[Scandals: Infantry Generals Attack Grachev], Komsomolskaya Pravda (Komsomol Truth), 10 December 1994, p. 2.BACK
43. Livia Klingl, "Idiots Are Responsible for the Organization," Kurier, 5 January 1995, p. 5 as told in FBIS-SOV-95-003, p. 10.BACK
44. "Vesti" newscast, Moscow Russian Television Network, 3 January 1995 as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-002, 4 January 1995, p. 10.BACK
45. CIS News Item, 0115D, 15 January 1995.BACK
46. Dmitriy Kamyshev, "People in Grozny Are Not Afraid of Assault," Kommersant-Daily, 14 December 1994, p. 1. As reported in FBIS-SOV-94-241, pp. 42-43.BACK
47.Lieutenant-Colonel Sergei Knyazkov, "Artillery ne znaet tishinii"[The Artillery does not Know Silence], Kraznaya Zvezda (Red Star), 15 March 1995, p. 1.BACK
48.CIS News Item, 0225A/A1, 25 February 1995.BACK
49.CIS News Item, 0114 A/A1, 14 January 1995.BACK
50. In 1995 the Russian government received only 24 per cent of the available number of conscripts."The Russian Armed Forces: From Super Power to Limited Power," Jane's Defence Weekly, 14 February 1996, p. 17.BACK
51. Charles Dick, "The Russian Army - Present Plight and Future Prospects," Jane's Intelligence Review Yearbook 1994/1995, p. 41.BACK
A Timeline of Terrorism in Russia under President Vladimir Putin
Two explosions killed at least 10 people and injured dozens more Monday in a busy metro station in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The blasts ripped through two carriages and killed 10 people with at least 50 more injured, according to a spokesperson for the governor of St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, quoted in local media station Rossiya-24. While the cause of the blasts has not yet been confirmed, Russia's metro stations have endured bomb attacks by militant groups in the past, especially by separatists from Russia's restive, southern region of Chechnya and militants loyal to the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, which Russia has joined forces with the Syrian government to fight in Syria.
Many of the acts of terror conducted under Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has led the country as president or prime minister since 2000, were apparently intended to further separatist or Islamist militant agendas and Putin has often responded to such incidents by expanding the powers of the presidency and the capabilities of intelligence services.
October 2002: Dozens of Chechen militants seized a theater in Moscow, taking 700 people hostage. Russian security forces attempted to enter the theater and pumped a strong narcotic gas into the building to sedate the attackers. Most of the casualties were incurred in the raid, which happened on the third day of the crisis. Ultimately, 41 Chechen militants and 129 hostages were killed, most of them succumbing to the gas.
August 2003: Chechen militants killed 50 in a suicide bombing using a truck rigged with explosives and driven into a military hospital in the southern state of Northern Ossetia, located on the border of Chechnya.
December 2003: An explosion killed 46 people and injured an additional 146 near Yessentuki station in Russia's southern state of Stavropol Krai.
February 2004: At least 39 people were killed and 100 people were injured in a suicide bombing on a Moscow metro train.
June 2004: Chechen militants stormed the interior ministry building of the city of Ingushetia, resulting in the deaths of at least 92 people, including acting regional Interior Minister Abukar Kostoyev.
August 2004: Two Chechen suicide bombers detonated themselves nearly simultaneously on two separate Russian passenger flights, causing 90 deaths.
September 2004: Chechen rebels assaulted a children's school in the southern Russian city of Beslan, taking over 1,000 hostages. Those killed throughout the seizure and subsequent attack by Russian forces and local armed vigilante groups number more than 331, half of them children.
August 2009: A suicide bomber killed 20 people and injured 138 more after driving his truck, packed with his explosives, into a police station in Nazran, the largest city in the southern state of Ingushetia.
March 2010: Two suicide bombers killed 40 people after blowing themselves up in subway stations in Dagestan.
December 2013: Two consecutive suicide bombing attacks killed at least 3o after detonating in the city of Volgograd, weeks before the nation was scheduled to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
October 2015: In an attack later claimed by ISIS, a Russian Airbus A321 exploded in mid-flight after departing from Egypt, killing 224 people.
December 2016: A Russian flight traveling to Syria crashed into the Black Sea near Sochi, killing all 92 on board. A number of passengers were members of the Red Army choir scheduled to perform a New Year's concert in Syria. While no signs of an explosive had were found by authorities, a terror motive has not been ruled out by authorities and the investigation has been ongoing.
Russia Was Never The Same After Its 1994 Invasion Of Chechnya
Russia’s army, like the country itself, was then an impoverished shadow of its former Soviet self.
Key point: The resulting sense of national humiliation and weakness, and the manifest corruption and incompetence of the Yeltsin administration discredited democratization in the eyes of many Russians.
On New Year’s Eve, 1994 Russian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles poured into the streets of Grozny with an assault expected to snuff out the self-declared Chechcen Republic of Ichkeria, as black smoke poured into the sky from oil tanks set ablaze by a dawn artillery bombardment.
Defense Minister Pavel Grachev had claimed the upstart Chechens would be swept away in “a bloodless blitzkrieg” with minimal forces. But the forces entering Grozny from four axes were far from minimal, counting elements from seven motorized rifle regiments and one independent brigade mounted in wheeled BTR-80 armored personnel carriers and tracked BMP-2 fighting vehicles, two tank battalions with T-72 and T-80 main battle tanks, and two parachute regiments.
Surely such firepower would brush away the estimated 100 or so Chechen fighters supporting an upstart pro-independence government based in Grozny. But the New Year’s Eve surprise that unfolded in Grozny thirty years ago would set the course for post-Soviet Russia in ways that continue to haunt world politics today.
The Muslim Chechens had clashed with Russia for centuries. Tolstoy even wrote the short novel Haji Murad about a Chechen rebel commander caught between internecine local disputes and the self-destructive intrigues of Tsarist Russia. During World War II, Soviet secret police deported a half-million Chechens and other local minorities from their homes, accusing them of collaboration with German forces. They were only allowed return in 1958.
As the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, a former Soviet bomber pilot with combat experience from Afghanistan named Dzokhar Dudayev rose to prominence in Chechnya. In September 1991, his National Congress of the Chechen People stormed the local soviet and fatally ejected the Communist party leader from a window.
Russia was soon engaged in negotiating the status of federal subject territories that amounted to enclaves for ethnic minorities. Out of eighty-eight territories, Chechnya remained the only not to sign on to a treaty by 1994.
As Dudayev consolidated his hold on Chechnya, he was appointed president and demanded independence from Russia. But Dudayev was violently opposed by local Chechen factions as well as facing mounting pressure from Moscow .
On November 22, 1994, Russia attempted to dispose of Dudayev by organizing and arming his opponents, and then juicing them up with an infusion of regular Russian military personnel and their armored vehicles—a ploy Russia would later employ in Eastern Ukraine.
The anti-Dudayev column consisted of between 1,500 to 3,000 troops and forty-two T-72 main battle tanks (only a third of which were manned by Chechens) and was covered from the air by a half-dozen helicopter gunships and Su-27 Flanker jets. On November 26, they ran afoul of pro-Dudayev militia in downtown Grozny that knocked out twenty T-72s with rocket-propelled grenades, killed around 150 attackers and captured several armored vehicles and dozens of Russian soldiers.
This defeat made Moscow’s machinations in the region undeniable—and set Yeltsin’s government lurching on the path to war.
Second Battle of Grozny
Even as heavy aerial bombing began December 1, many Russians objected to openly fighting their fellow citizens. Several senior officials resigned and hundreds of soldiers and officers refused to mobilize.
Russia’s army, like the country itself, was then an impoverished shadow of its former Soviet self. Most units were at far below their theoretical strength, and many of its soldiers untrained and often demoralized conscripts who were reportedly often drunk on duty and had no idea why they were fighting in Chechnya in the first place.
Despite the chaos and unpreparedness, Russian forces won several early victories. Su-24 and Su-25 jets wiped out Dudayev’s air force of 266 planes and helicopters on the ground early in December. Then paratroopers from the 104 th Guards Airborne division seized the Khankala military airfield near Grozny, and beat back an armored attack by Dudayev’s forces, destroying six tanks.
Thus, the four Russian columns entering Grozny on New Year’s anticipated only light resistance.
But the average Russian soldiers received almost no training in urban warfare. Like the U.S. Army which then held the mantra “We don’t do cities,” the Red Army saw urban areas as costly quagmires best bypassed and avoided in a decisive war of maneuver. Furthermore, Russian troops were not trained or equipped to minimize minimize civilian casualties and possessed only extremely limited quantities of precision-guided munitions.
The roughly 2,000 Chechen defenders—only 200 of them soldiers—were also highly disorganized. But they operated in effective small groups of twenty-forty fighters ensconced in high-rising buildings overlooking the avenues of advance. These groups were subdivided in fire teams each with its own anti-tank special, light machine gunner and one or two sniper/assault riflemen.
Ilyas Akhmadov, future foreign minister of the short-lived Chechen republic, described the collision of these forces in a 1999 interview with Small War Journals:
“What struck me at first was that Russian tanks and APCs were not even advancing in battle order. They were marching as if on parade ground with only a distance of 5 to 6 meters between each APC. They were unable to maneuver or turn around when necessary. What is more, infantry was also advancing in complete disorder among the APCs.
Our tactics were simple but effective: we let the Russian columns enter the city, driving along streets where the APCs and tanks could not maneuver. When a column was engaged in a narrow avenue, we simply shot the leading APC and the last one of the column. The Russians were sitting ducks.”
The 81 st Motor Rifle Regiment penetrated deep into Grozny, only to find itself ambushed from all sides and forced to retreat on foot. The lead battalion of the 131 st Maikop Brigade seized the Grozny train station only to receive an ominous radio message: “Welcome to hell!” Ambushers concealed in the buildings overlooking the station then opened fire with heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, forcing Russian soldiers to scurry indoors as their vehicles were set ablaze.
Russian tanks and APCs could not elevate their guns high enough to shoot back at Chechens ambushers concealed in the upper stories of building, so it fell to a handful of Shilka and Tunguska anti-aircraft tanks with rapid-firing cannons to provide fire support. Fearful mechanized infantrymen refused to disembark from their armored vehicles, allowing Chechens to pick the APCs off one by one.
In January, Russian forces remobilized for a second, slower-paced assault on Grozny covered by heavy artillery and aerial bombardment. But aerial carpet bombing and barrages of BM-12 Grad and BM-21 Uragan rockets killed thousands of civilians but relatively few fighters.
While most of Dudayev’s forces fell back, a contingent of 350 fighters and 150 militia defended the tall, boxy Chechen Presidential Palace against repeated assaults before exfiltrating under cover of darkness on January 18/19.
In 1995, Chechen rebels battled Russian troops over outlying towns, then waged guerilla warfare in the mountains. Mass killings, rape and torture by Russian forces caused Chechen rebel recruitment to swell, while Chechens turned increasingly to hostage-taking and terrorism in neighboring regions to pressure Russia.
By 1996, the counter-insurgency quagmire gave way to a dramatic endgame. Chechen forces successfully raided Russian-held Grozny for weapons in March. Saudi jihadist Ibn al-Khattab staged a devastating ambush of a Russian convoy at Shatoy on April 16 that prompted the resignation of Defense Minister Grachev. Five days later, a precision missile strike by Su-24 and Su-25 jets killed Dudayev. But the movement outlasted it’s leader’s death.
On August 6, Chechen leader Shamil Basayev used infiltration tactics re-capture Grozny with just 1,500-2,000 fighters, bypassing and besieging the 12,000-strong garrison and inflicting 900 casualties on the 276 th Motor Rifle Regiment when it tried to come to its rescue.
By August 19, a Russian general warned that artillery would level Grozny in forty-eight hours if the Chechens didn’t withdraw. The bombardment began as promised—hitting civilian refugee still fleeing the city—but was terminated early by a ceasefire.
Public opinion had turned so decisively against the disastrous war that the Yeltsin administration was ready to throw in the towel. The Kashav-Yurt accord on August 31 theoretically set aside final determination of Checnya’s status to 2001 and stipulated demilitarization of Grozy and various militias. But in effect, it allowed the creation of a de facto independent Chechen Republican.
By various credible counts, around 8,000 Russian soldiers were listed as killed or missing in action in the first Chechen War, and 52,000 wounded while between 50,000 and 100,000 Chechen civilians and fighters died in the fighting, and as many as 35,000 ethnically Russian civilians.
The three battles in Grozny were leading indicators—alongside the siege of Sarajevo and the Battle of Mogadishu—that future wars were more, not less likely to rage in the hearts of densely populated cities. That sobering truth echoed years later in vast sieges that would unfold in Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul and Aleppo.
Just as consequentially, the First Chechen War was perceived as a rock-bottom humiliation of the newly democratic Russia. Yeltsin’s government had not only turned to heavy-handed use of force—alienating international opinion in the process—but then proven incapable of prevailing by it.
Why the Russian Military Failed in Chechnya
Nations usually resort to using military force when lesser means of persuasion have proven inadequate. Conflict results when one country or people has been unsuccessful in forcing another country or people to submit to its will. As Clauswitz remarked, "War is merely an extension of politics by other means". In the modern understanding, the decision to employ force often rests upon the assumption that lesser means of persuasion have failed. Many maintain that using the military instrument of power prior to exhausting the more civilized methods of resolving conflict reflects aggression, imperialism, or at least, impatience. Modern, democratic behavior rests upon the assumption that military force should be used only as a last resort.
In this era of peacekeeping, an equally valid argument, however, can be made for the early and preventative use of force. Applying firm and decisive military force prior to the onset of hostilities can often serve to deter the potential aggressor. Crudely expressed, spilling a little blood today may preclude spilling a lot tomorrow. When dealing with those who don't share the same liberal beliefs towards conflict resolution, exhaustive diplomatic manuverings, sanctions and warnings are interpreted as weakness and lack the persuasive power of a resolute, though limited, use of force.
In the recent Russian military involvement in Chechnya (October 1994-September 1996), we saw a sloppy mixture of these two approaches. Russian tanks crossed into Chechnya in December 1994 to "establish constitutional order in Chechnya and to preserve the territorial integrity of Russia." 3 This drastic step was the last in a series of increasingly forceful and largely unsuccessful attempts to remove Chechen President Dzhokar Dudayev from power, crush the Chechen claims of independence and impose the Russian Federation's political and economic control of this region. Tens of thousands of casualties later, with much of Chechnya in ruins, Russian forces were withdrawn from this region, having been largely humiliated in nearly two years of vicious fighting. This paper will examine some of the reasons behind the Russian decision to employ conventional military force against the Chechens and why their security establishment suffered a defeat.
Ever since their forced annexation to the Russian empire in the last century, the Chechens have never willingly accepted Russian rule. However, since the population of Chechnya has never been more than a fraction of the Russian, the Chechens have had to wait until Russia was weak or distracted before attempting to assert any new claim of independence. During the Russian Civil War (1917-20), the Chechens declared their sovereignty and established a "theocratic democracy", until the Red Army finally suppressed them in 1920. The scene was repeated during the German drive east in WW II, when many Chechens joined the Nazi's anti-Communist campaign. For this "treachery", the entire people was deported to the deserts of Central Asia. It is estimated that 30-40% of the population died either during transit or in the brutal conditions of forced exile.
Again, in mid-1991, sensing weakness and confusion within the Kremlin, nationalist leaders within the Chechen republic began to press demands for independence. A new government, led by former Soviet Air Force General Dzhokar Dudayev, declared Chechen independence in November 1991. Other, more immediate problems prevented the central authorities from taking vigorous action against these Chechen claims. The situation continued to deteriorate, with Chechnya gaining both a self-declared independence and the reputation as a "gangster state". Using a variety of means, the Chechens acquired a large portion of former Soviet military equipment which had been deployed on their territory and began creating an effective military force.
By the spring of 1994, Russian authorities were attempting to reassert their control over Chechen territory. Russian government officials accused Dudayev of creating a criminal state and, working clandestinely within the Chechen opposition, urged the Chechen people to topple him. 4 Fighting continued throughout the autumn between forces loyal to Dudayev and the Russian-backed opposition. The Russians finally resorted to supplying Russian tanks and crews to assist the opposition. This covert attempt failed and was soon made public. 5 Realizing that their Chechen proxies were unable to defeat Dudayev (and to avoid charges of Russian complicity in the failed attempt), the Russian "power" ministers convinced President Yeltsin to deploy regular Russian forces openly into Chechnya. 6 On 11 December 1994, the Russians marched into Chechnya.
Having relied on clandestine measures to remove Dudayev, detailed planning for a wide scale conventional military operation did not begin until two weeks prior to the commencement of hostilities. This haste resulted in considerable confusion in command and control which plagued the Russian military throughout the entire 21-month conflict. 7 Not surprisingly, deployed units were not ready for combat. 8 This lack of preparation resulted in a near knock-out blow to the Russian forces, so that by the beginning of January 1995 "the army was close to mutiny, almost refusing to obey the ridiculous orders of its commanders and the government in Moscow". 9 As later events would prove, the Russian security establishment never fully recovered from this inauspicious beginning.
Besides this lack of preparedness, there were legal and moral grounds which hampered the execution of this mission. One of the articles of the Russian military oath (signed by President Yeltsin in January 1992), had each new recruit swear not "to use weapons against my own people". 12 The Chechens still belonged to the Russian Federation, and hence, using military force against them was, strictly speaking, illegal. Because of this, the Deputy Commander of Ground Forces would rather resign than lead this unprepared, motley force into combat. 13
What Prompted the Decision?
President Yeltsin felt pressure to show he was still in control. A year prior to the Russian attack into Chechnya, the country was poised on the verge of civil war. In October 1993, a showdown between the Russian Parliament and President Yeltsin was fought out on the streets of Moscow. With the help of his Minister of Defense, General Pavel Grachev and a company of T-80 tanks, President Yeltsin persuaded the stubborn parliamentarians to vacate their legislative dwelling, agree to new parliamentary elections and the ratification of a new constitution. The results of the elections were not, however, what the President expected.
The members of the Russian Security Council considered Dudayev and his army as a criminal, disorganized gang of rebels, who would be intimidated at the first sign of a Russian tank. They failed to understand that for the past three years, the Chechen leader and his entourage had fostered the notion of Chechen independence, transforming the region from a Russian republic into a quasi-Muslim, well-armed state, led by a committed core of dedicated fighters. Dudayev and many of his key lieutenants were Soviet military veterans, who were well aware of Russian capabilities and weaknesses. 22 Traditionally, the Chechens are a warrior people, for whom resistance and fighting are national virtues. Having appropriated the lion's share of the arsenal left behind by the Soviet/Russian military, President Dudayev and other clan leaders had created small, effective guerrilla groups. The Dudayev government had also managed to enlist numbers of well-trained mercenaries who had vested interests in fighting the Russians. 23 From the day Dudayev had declared independence in 1991, many Chechens had been preparing for a Russian attack.
Thus armed with false notions over his own and the enemy's abilities, President Yeltsin ordered the attack of Russian units into Chechnya. The initial results were a disaster. The list of tactical and operational blunders were indicative of "an overall lack of competence" among the Russian forces which improved only marginally during the course of the war. 25 This is not to imply that the Russians never displayed solid leadership, heroism and tactical competence. As the war progressed, some units fought well and with valor. Their sacrifice and efforts, however, were overshadowed and undermined by a failure to apply the principles of war and problems within the senior leadership.
How not to fight a war violation of U.S. principles.
Second, Russian leaders ought to have considered the constitutional basis for using the military to establish order in Chechnya. Though the new Russian constitution (December 1993) granted the President wide authorities (wide enough to justify the use of force against any foreign enemy), the decision to use the military against the internal threat in Chechnya was never put before the Russian Duma, and thus never gained the support of the Russian people. Use of armed forces to quell internal disputes, had in the past been relegated to the Internal Forces (MVD). As mentioned earlier, employing the military against Russian citizens was establishing a dangerous precedent, and was widely criticized in the Russian media. Throughout the 21 month conflict, little effort was made to generate public support. This arbitrary decision to use force against the Chechens, made in relative isolation and without the support or knowledge of the Russian populace, would return to haunt the Kremlin leadership.
Despite their painful history, only a fraction of the Chechen population harbored any open hostility toward Russian leadership at the onset of hostilities. Indeed, many Chechens supported the early Russian efforts to unseat Dudayev. The Chechen president had succeeded in bringing the region to the brink of economic collapse. However, as the war and the destruction progressed, the Chechen population (and many of the Russians living in Chechnya), began to consider the Russian military as the enemy. In their sloppy attempt at chopping off the head of the Chechen leadership, the Russian military and internal forces not only agitated Dudayev supporters, but also alienated nearly the entire Chechen/Russian population. The often indis- criminate slaughter confirmed their worst fears and recalled their deadly exile during WW II.
3. Mass: Preparing for the last war is a potential problem for any military. Reading the history of the Soviet Great Patriotic War (WWII), one is struck by the sheer scale and mass of Soviet military operations. However, the concept of massed force which worked against the Nazis in 1944-45, failed against the Chechens in 1994-96. There were three reasons for this:
A. Thousands of untrained troops, poorly led and fighting for a dubious cause proved no match for well-trained, committed patriots fighting for their homeland. Despite the advantage in firepower, heavy armored forces are of limited value in low-intensity operations.
4. Economy of Force: Without thorough planning and preparation, it is impossible to gain economy of force. Problems with command and control resulted in the sloppy employment and distribution of forces. Unable to accurately target the Chechen rebels (i.e. those who were actively fighting against the Russians) and crush the Chechen center of gravity, Russian forces adopted a "shot gun" approach. They delivered tons of ordnance in the hope of taking out individual Chechen snipers. This unjudicious employment of combat power served to alienate a large percentage of the potentially neutral Chechen population and transformed them into active combatants.
5. Maneuver: Despite their complete dominance in every type of weapon system, Russian forces proved largely unable to place the Chechens into a disadvantageous position. The Chechens knew the territory, and though outmanned and undergunned, the Chechens knowledge of the territory allowed them to keep the Russian forces off-balance. The one notable exception where the Russians gained an advantage "was the large-scale use of combat helicopters and helicopter-transport assaults". 35 Russian forces often resembled a steamroller, which would simply crush whatever came before it. Unfortunately for the Russians, the steamroller soon ran out of steam, and so the Russian units were forced to adopt a "firebase mentality". 36 Russian forces would often move predictably along a given azimuth, and having secured the major lines of communication, would consolidate and dig in. Even the highly renowned Spetsnatz/recon units were sometimes unable to effectively maneuver because of command and control problems and equipment shortages. 37 On occasion, Russian planning illustrated a serious lack of flexibility. During offensive operations (most notably, the original plan to seize Grozny), when unexpected resistance altered the plan, instead of adapting, the Russians continued in their frontal assault.
7. Security: More than once, the Chechens were aware of Russian plans before the commanders in the field. Both the former Security Council Secretary and chief Russian peace negotiator claimed that there was a high level leak somewhere between the commanders in the field and the political leaders in the Kremlin. The Chechens were apparently aware of every major Russian operation, from the initial attack in December 1994, to the deployment of forces into the capital in August 1996. 41 One of the more flagrant security breaches occurred in June 1995, when a company of Chechen fighters slipped across the border north into Stavropol and took an entire hospital hostage. The continued resupply of Chechen forces (and not just those weapons which were supplied by Russian soldiers), illustrated the Russian inability to isolate the theater of operations. Security was no better at the tactical level. Ill-disciplined, poorly fed and supplied (and often drunk) soldiers performed poorly in security tasks. Russian tactics aggravated their inability to secure an area. As the war progressed, and Russian operations became ever more heavy-handed (and the Chechen response more desperate), nearly every Chechen was transformed into a guerrilla, making security almost impossible.
Though serious, given enough time and effort, tactical incompetence can be remedied on the battlefield. If it were just the above violations, Russian forces could have learned from their mistakes, and though it might have taken another year or so, they could have ultimately defeated the Chechens. What finally undermined the Russian effort were grievous breaches in the realm of leadership. This failure of leadership occurred at the highest of levels, from the critical juncture where policy is translated into military action, and infected the entire operation with pessimism and skepticism.
In a very real sense, the fight against the Chechens was lost within the walls of the Kremlin.
The tragedy for the Russian military/security establishment is that there were many Russian officers and soldiers who attempted to carry out their duties in a professional manner. Unfortunately, the poor example of a number of senior level officers poisoned the morale and fighting spirit of the entire force. Those that betrayed their military/security vocation succumbed to one or more of the following leadership failures:
1. Pleasing their political leaders or higher headquarters by insisting upon the execution of absurd or infeasible military orders. A glaring example was General Grachev's insistence to continue the initial attack upon Grozny in January 1995, despite the unprepared state of the invasion force. Other examples include the many attempts on the part of the military leadership to end the war by certain dates (e.g. in time for the 50th anniversary of the end of WW II in May 1995 before President Yeltsin's visit to the G-7 summit in June 1995 before the presidential elections in June 1996). Their motives were being driven by considerations external to the conflict or the welfare of their men.
2. A casual disregard toward the fate of both soldiers and civilians. Russian military actions displayed an almost complete indifference toward casualties. The remains of Russian soldiers, Chechen rebels and innocent civilians were left to rot on the streets for weeks. Russian fire planners targeted cultural landmarks, hospitals, and markets in their pursuit of rebel forces.
Their callous conduct quickly transformed the Russian forces from possible liberators from the Dudayev regime into eternal enemies.
For the time being at least, the war in Chechnya is over and, it appears that the Chechens have won their independence. The ceasefire agreement, however, which ended the hostilities merely postpones the final determination of Chechnya's political status until 2001. The negotiations are certain to be difficult. Russian political leaders continue to insist that Chechnya remains a part of Russia, while Chechen leaders openly proclaim their sovereignty.
Regardless of political status, the final tally from the 21 month conflict is grim. The Chechens have undoubtedly gained a greater degree of autonomy, but the region is in ruins, the economy and infrastucture largely destroyed, and 10-15% of the population is either dead, wounded or have been displaced from the region.
The results from the Russian side are even more discouraging. Besides the thousands of Russian soldiers and civilians killed, wounded or missing, the fighting in Chechnya has revealed deep flaws within the entire Russian security establishment. The fighting in Chechnya has helped to sink morale within the Russian military to an all-time low. In the political realm, the Chechen war has stripped President Yeltsin of most of his liberal supporters. For all practical purposes, the Chechens have gained their independence, further weakening the already feeble centralized control of the Kremlin. In the international realm, this conflict has done much to discredit Russia both as a superpower and as a country which is moving toward democracy.
Russian politicians, generals and analysts will continue to debate how this conflict might have been avoided, or perhaps how it might have been won. While many Russians continue to insist that Chechnya remains a part of Russia, few are now willing to advocate the use of conventional military force to preserve this unity. Paradoxically, as Russia continues in its painful transition toward a democratic state, this may be the most valuable lesson derived from this conflict.
1. "Yeltsin Arrives in Grozny, Congratulates Russian Army," Interfax, 1026GMT 28 May 96, as reported in FBIS-SOV-96-103 (on-line).BACK
2. Ilya Bulavinov, "The First Victims of Military Organizational Development," Kommersant-Daily, 27 Nov 96, p. 3 as translated in RUSPRESS, 27 Nov 96.BACK
3. Aleksandr Goltz, "Shtoby pravil'no ispol'zovat' voennuyu silu, eyu kak minimum nado raspologat'" [In order to make correct use of military force, you must at least have it at your disposal], Krasnaya zvezda, 7 Sep 96, p. 2. BACK
4. By the summer of 1994, Dudayev had lost much of his support among those living within Chechnya. According to a number of sources, Dudayev had placed the Chechen republic on the brink of political and economic catastrophe. Political and military leaders in Moscow failed to understand that open Russian interference gave the Chechen leader the pretext to suspend all semblances of democracy and to direct the fractious clans at a single enemy: Russia. BACK
5. This humiliating failure was probably the spark which ignited the large-scale Russian military involvement. According to a close advisor of Yeltsin, "The president was utterly humiliated, and that could only lead to disaster". For a journalistic look at the Chechen conflict, see: David Remnick, "Letter from Chechnya," The New Yorker, 24 July 1995, pp. 46-62. Specific comment attributed to presidential advisor, Emil Pain, p. 55. BACK
6. Loosely defined, the "power" ministers within the Russian security establishment are those leaders which have armed forces at their disposal: the Minister of Defense (MOD), the Minister of Internal Affairs (MVD), the Federal Border Service (FSG), the Secretary of the Security Council the Chief of the Federal Security Service (FSB formerly KGB), and the chief of the Presidential Security Force. There remains some doubt as to which ministers were responsible for convincing Yeltsin that the Chechen crisis could be best handled by force. Likely candidates include the MOD (Grachev), MVD (Yerin), FSB (Stepashin), Yeltsin's chief bodyguard and chief of the presidential security force (Korzhakov), and the Secretary of the Security Council (Lobov). BACK
7. According to one report, Grachev bypassed the General Staff, and delegated detailed planning for the operation to the commander of the North Caucasus Military District. See comments by the deputy commander for Ground Troops, Col-Gen E. Vorobyov in Remnick, p. 58. An article written shortly after the invasion began, places the blame for confusion on the fact that Grachev detailed two officers out of the General Staff Main Directorate of Operations (who were unaware of the local conditions), to draw up the invasion plan. See, Mariya Dementyeva, "Operation Following Mozdok-Arbat Recipes the Lessons of the Last Phase of the Chechen Operation," Segodnya, 15 Feb 95, p. 9, as translated in JPRS-UMA-95-009, 15 Feb 95 (on-line). BACK
8. Pavel Felgengauer, "A War Moscow Cannot Afford to Lose," Transition, 31 May 1996, pp. 28-31.BACK
10. Aleksandr Frolov, "Soldaty na peredovoi i polkovodtsy v Mozdoke" [Soldiers on the frontlines and Commanders in Mozdok], Izvestiya, 11 Jan 95, p. 4. BACK
11. For an excellent synopsis of the Russian military performance in Chechnya, see: Charles Blandy and David Isby, "The Chechen Conflict," Jane's Intelligence Review, Special Report No.# 11, 1996. BACK
12. Voennaia sluzhba v sovremennoi Rossii [Military service in contemporary Russia], (St Petersburg, Russia: Center for Technical Development, 1995), p. 143. BACK
14. For an extremely detailed account of the many factors which finally prompted the Russian leadership to employ military force against the Chechens, see: Timothy L. Thomas, "The Caucasus Conflict and Russian Security: The Russian Armed Forces Confront Chechnya," Foreign Military Studies Office Blue Book, June 1995. BACK
15. This view is supported by both current and past Yeltsin advisors. For an excellent background to the Chechen conflict, see: Emil Pain and Arkady Popov, "RAND: Chechnya Case Study," at: http://www.rand.org/publications/CF/CF130/ . Also see "This is Yeltsin's Vietnam," Der Spiegel, 22 Jan 96 as translated in FBIS-SOV-96-016, 22 Jan 96 (on-line), where former Yeltsin advisor, Gregory Yavlinkskiy, claims that it was a desire to reassert his authority which prompted Yeltsin to use military force in Chechnya.BACK
16. The economic factors which compelled Russia to initiate combat actions against Chechnya are distressing and quite complex. As General Lebed remarked, "the Chechen war is a mafia squabble at state level. The roots are primarily economic, then political, and only after that military". See, Ravil Zaripov, "Interview with General Aleksandr Lebed," Komsomolskaya pravda 19 Mar 96 as translated in FBIS-SOV-96-057, 22 Mar 96, p. 23. When Dudayev began to restrict Russian access to this " free economic-criminal zone", Russian leaders decided he had to be removed. "It appears that mafia henchmen are entrenched at the very top of the Russian political pyramid. They used Dudayev's Chechnya as a sort of black hole down which countless trillions [rubles] disappeared through financial, weapons and oil scams." See: Sergei Roy, "Aw What a Lousy War," Moscow News, March 1996, p. 3.BACK
17. Like the US-led actions against Iraq, there have been a number of theories which posit oil-revenues as the root cause of the Chechen conflict. However, given the fact that Chechnya possesses less than 1% of Russian oil reserves and that transit lines for the Caspian oil reserves will likely be pumped over numerous routes, it seems doubtful that oil alone drove the Russians to attack. The RAND study notes that influential representatives from the Russian oil and gas industry were dead set against the use of force. See Azrael and Pain, p. 5. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. For examples arguing that oil was the root cause, see: "Mobilized and Summoned by Competition," Kommersant, 10 Sep 96, as translated in FBIS-SOV-96-183, 10 Sep 96 (on-line). Interestingly enough, the major oil pipelines and refinery stations in Chechnya came out of the war almost unscathed. BACK
18. For an extremely thorough background to the reasons behind the Russian attack into Chechnya (from a retired Russian officer's perspective), see: Igor' Bunich, Khronika Chechenskoi voini [Chronicle of the Chechen war], (Saint Petersburg, Russia: Oblik Press, 1995). BACK
19. General Grachev had assumed the role of Defense Minister after displaying loyalty to President Yeltsin during the botched coup attempt of August 1991, and later, confirmed his loyalty during the constitutional showdown with the Parliament in October 1993. Practically from the day of his appointment, there had been rumors and allegations that Grachev was linked to corruption within the Russian military. Just a month prior to the Russian attack, a prominent Russian journalist, who had been investigating high-level military corruption, was murdered. Whether Grachev was linked to his death is unclear, but there is little doubt that he was at least involved in covering up for those subordinates who "plundered the military department, pilfering away sections large and small". See, Yuliya Kalinina, "Minister oborony-diagnos" [Minister of Defense-Diagnose], Moskovskiy Komsomolets, 11 Oct 96, p. 2. For a thorough study on the problem of corruption within the Russian armed forces, see: Graham H. Turbiville, "Mafia in Uniform: The Criminalization of the Russian Armed Forces," Foreign Military Studies Office Blue Book, July 1995.BACK
20. The press accusations implying his direct involvement in corrupt practices, combined with the failed "black' operation to unseat Dudayev, Grachev "was in no position to stop the operation and risk his position". See: Felgengauer, p. 29. BACK
21. In denying Russian military involvement in the failed covert operation, Defense Minister Grachev had claimed that from a military perspective, he would never have sent tanks into Grozny, and that "if the Army had fought. one airborne regiment within two hours would have been able to handle the whole thing". See, Pavel Litovkin, "Ministerstvo oborony RF: versiyu ob uchastii rossiiskoi armii v chechenskom konflikte General Grachev nazyvayet bredom'," [Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation: General Grachev calls the version about Russian army participation in the Chechen conflict nonsense'] , Izvestiya, 29 Nov 94, p. 1.BACK
22. "Oh, what tangled webs we weave" is an apt epitaph for Russian involvement in the Caucasus since the collapse of the USSR. The Kremlin leadership has been playing a double-game with the peoples of this region, often to its own peril. For example, the Russians were upset with the intransigence of the Georgian leadership with regard to military-basing rights and oil pipeline routes. They were determined to show the Georgians why they should maintain warm relations with Russia. To prove their point, the Russians began to provide military assistance to the Abkhazians in their fight for independence from Georgia. In the process, however, they inadvertently helped to train Chechen forces, who were also helping the Abkhazians. One of these Chechen fighters, Shamil Basayev, learned his lessons well, and two years later, helped to rout the Russians out of this region. BACK
24. Grachev assumed the position as Defense Minister by his personal pledge of loyalty to Yeltsin during the August 1991 coup attempt. He was certainly not the senior Russian officer at the time of his appointment. This rapid promotion, combined with Grachev's airborne background, alienated him from much of the senior (ground forces) leadership. His reputation was never very high and continued to decrease during the course of fighting in Chechnya. There were some within the ranks who would like nothing better than for Grachev to fail. For a brief assessment, see: Alexander Zhilin, "Generals Divided Over June Election," Moscow News, 11-17 April 1996, p. 4. Also see: Benjamin S. Lambeth, "Russia's Wounded Military," Foreign Affairs, March/April 1995, pp. 86-98.BACK
25. Peter Rutland, "Military Lessons of the Chechen War," OMRI Analytical Brief, No. 427, 31 October 96, (on-line). BACK
27. Aleksandr Prokhanov, "Interview with A. Lebed Strike with a Fist!", Zavtra, August 1995, No 34, pp. 1, 3 as translated in FBIS-SOV-95-185-S, 25 Sep 95, pp. 10-14. BACK
28. Prime Minister V. Chernomyrdin was on the verge of reaching a settlement with the Chechen leadership in November 1995, "when some elements in Moscow sabotaged it". See: A. Kennaway, "The Russian Black Hole," Conflict Studies Research Center, Nov 1996. BACK
30. Using the military to rout out Dudayev and his clan was simply the wrong tool for the job. For a number of reasons, there will probably never be an accurate accountability of the amount of ordnance used by the Russians. The Stalingrad landscape of Grozny would indicate that it was a lot. Just one indicator of the intensity during the most intense bombing of Sarajevo "there were 3,500 detonations a day, while in Grozny, the winter bombing [94-95] reached a rate of 4,000 detonations an hour". Remnick, p. 48.BACK
31. One of the more grisly episodes of this (intentional?) fratricide occurred during the fighting at Pervomayskaya in January 1996. For a thorough account which captures much of the flavor of fighting in this conflict and why the principle of "mass" must be built upon the precondition of well-trained units, see: Grigoriy Sanin, "Diagnosis: The Hunt for Lone Wolves' the Intelligence Services and Journalists Sum up the Results of the Russian Pearl Harbor'", Segodnya, 24 Jan 96, p. 3, as translated in FBIS-UMA-96-045-S, 6 March 1996, pp. 23-30. BACK
32. Consider the following quote from: Petr Berezko, "What did Lebed Learn From Top Secret Documents?," Novaya gazeta/ponedelnik, 7-13 Oct 96, p. 2 as translated in FBIS-SOV-96-198, 13 October 1996.
Aggravating the situation was the fact that the once vaunted strategic reserves of the former Soviet Army had long since been privatised, and there was little within the civilian sector which could be mobilized. BACK
33. Given their air superiority and well-documented targeting ability, why didn't the Russians remove President Dudayev before April 1996? From December 1995 until his death in April 1996, Dudayev was routinely giving interviews to members of the media. Much of the Russian failure is due to their inability to take out the Chechen C2 (command and control) early on and economize their fighting power. The answer might found in a secret agreement between Chechen and Russian officials, which stated that the Russians would not target Chechen leaders in exchange for Chechen assurances that they would confine their operations to Chechnya. See: S.I., "Was There a Secret Deal With FSB," Moskovskiy komsomolets, 20 June 95, p. 1, as translated in RUSPRESS, 20 June 95.BACK
34. Ilya Milshteyn, "Interview with Vladimir Lukin," Novoye vremya, Nov 96, No. 45, pp. 12-14, as translated in FBIS-SOV-96-236-S (on-line). BACK
36. ". as soon as darkness sets in, the federal forces find themselves almost everywhere effectively under siege' and under fire, so they for their part open fire in return at everything that moves'" See: Aleksey Arbatov, "Peace is Unlikely to Arrive Before the Election," Nezavisimaya gazeta, 4 Apr 96, pp. 1, 3, as translated in FBIS-SOV-96-068 (on-line). BACK
37. For an assessment of some of the problems effecting the spetsnatz and recon units, see: Oleg Blotskiy, "Chechnya:Voyna professionalov" [Chechnya: a war of professionals], Nezavisimaya gazeta, 22 Aug 96, p. 2.BACK
38. "In the words of a GRU officer who participated in combat actions in Chechnya, it was in this period [Dec 94-June 95] that military pilots refused to fly into areas where the Spetsnaz was engaging the rebels". See: Blotskiy. BACK
39. Consider the following quote from a Russian eyewitness: "A wounded internal troops soldier is brought to the Ministry of Defense hospital and told: Take him to the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) hospital". Frolov. BACK
40. M.J. Orr, "The Current State of the Russian Armed Forces", Conflict Studies Research Center, D60, November 1996, p. 11. BACK
41. The abundance of Kremlin conspiracy theories makes distilling the truth rather murky. In an attempt to explain their poor performance, Russian generals were anxious to find some excuse. From the available evidence, it appears that there was a leak out of the Kremlin and that the Chechen leadership did have a heads-up on a number of Russian initiatives. Consider the following quote from: Masha Gessen, "Letter from Moscow," New Statesman and Society, 19 Jan 96, pp. 39-51.
For an even more disturbing report of a security breach, see: Kostantin Petrov, "August in Grozny: Before and After Did Russian Special Services Know of Attack That Was Being Prepared?," Krasnaya zvezda, 28 Aug 96, pp. 1,3 as translated in FBIS-SOV-96-168 (on-line). The answer to the question, according to the author of this article, is that, yes, the special services did know of the impending attack, but took no action to warn the military units stationed in the city. BACK
43. Oleg Blotskiy, "Chechnya: voyna professionalov" [Chechnya: a war of professionals], Nezavisimoe voyennoe obozrennie, 22 August 1996, p. 2.BACK
44. Anatol Lieven, "Russia's Military Nadir: The Meaning of the Chechen Debacle," The National Interest, Summer 1996, pp. 24-33. BACK
46. 1996 Human Rights Report on Russia 1996 U.S. Department of State, 30 Jan 97, internet address: http://www.state.gov/www/issues/human_rights/1996_hrp_report/russia.html BACK
47. Tanks were sent into battle withour reactive armor, and some even without machine-gun ammunition. See Blandy and Isby, p. 20. BACK
48. Prior to signing the cease-fire with the Chechens, the Secretary of the Security Council, A. Lebed, commented that "threadbare partisan forces in WW II were better clothed than the lice infested Russian soldiers in Chechnya. He called them cannon-fodder". See: "Russia's Humiliation in Chechnya," New York Times, 15 Aug 96, p. 26. For a more detailed analysis on the impoverished condition of Russian security forces in Chechnya, see: Aleksandr Kondrashov, "Novaya taktika v staroy voyne" [A new tactic in the old war], Novaya gazeta/ponedelnik, 5-11 Aug 96, p. 6. BACK
49. Again, see report by Dr. Turbiville for catalog of corruption charges.
Chechen Language and Culture
Inspired by the armed conflict in Chechnya, several English-language books and articles appeared that sought to cast light on the unique language and culture of the Chechens. Among these works, Awde 1996, Jaimoukha 2005, and Layton 2014 stand out. Sokirianskaia 2005 explores the overemphasized yet, as the author shows, dramatically diminishing role of the teip, or tribe, in contemporary Chechen (and Ingush) society.
Awde, Nicholas. Chechen Dictionary and Phrasebook. New York: Hippocrene, 1996.
A basic dictionary of Chechen along with several hundred frequently used phrases.
Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. New York: Routledge, 2005.
The book looks into the history, organization, culture, and society of the Chechens.
Layton, Katherine S. Chechens: Culture and Society. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
This book brings an unusual overview of the Chechens’ culture and society at the times of armed conflict.
Sokirianskaia, Ekaterina. “Families and Clans in Ingushetia and Chechnya—A Fieldwork Report.” Central Asian Survey 24.4 (2005): 453–467.
This ethnographic account offers a rare insight into the changing role of families and teips in contemporary Chechnya and Ingushetia.
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The War That Continues to Shape Russia, 25 Years Later
Haunting images show how the first Chechen war humiliated post-Soviet Russia, exposed its weakness, strengthened hard-liners and enabled the rise of Vladimir V. Putin.
Chechen fighters running past dead Russian soldiers in Grozny in January 1995. Credit. Patrick Chauvel
MOSCOW — It began not so much as an invasion, but as a slouching stumble through mud and snow by frightened, ill-fed Russian conscripts, the hollowed-out remnants of a force that, before the collapse of the Soviet Union just three years earlier, had been the mighty Red Army.
But the Russian troops who advanced from three directions into the rebellious region of Chechnya on Dec. 11, 1994, carried history-changing forces that have since reshaped Russia and the world.
The Russian attack, initially in staggering disarray but then increasingly organized and brutal, signaled not just the start of the First Chechen War — a merciless conflict that killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians — but also the end of Russia’s liberal dream.
It was a turning point that tilted Russia toward the rule of President Vladimir V. Putin, now in power for two decades. At the time, Mr. Putin was an unknown municipal official in St. Petersburg, but five years later he became master of the Kremlin, propelled there by yet another Chechen war.
Anatoly Shabad, a former physicist and prominent pro-democracy politician in the early 1990s, visited Chechnya repeatedly in 1994, first to try to prevent war and then to halt the killing once it started.
Holed up in the basement of the presidential palace in Grozny, the Chechen capital, as Russian forces launched a disastrous, all-out assault on the city on New Year’s Eve 1994, Mr. Shabad emerged in the morning to find streets strewn with the corpses of Russian soldiers and their burned-out tanks.
Despite the Grozny debacle and many others, Mr. Shabad said, security and military officials who had pushed for the war — known as “siloviki,” or men of force — came out on top, regaining much of the influence they had lost to democratic forces after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991.
“The siloviki were the losers on the ground but they acquired power. The time of democratic transformation passed and society returned to its old state of mind,” Mr. Shabad, now retired from politics, recalled.
When President Boris N. Yeltsin, Russia’s first elected leader, announced 25 years ago that he would “employ all means at the state’s disposal” to crush Chechen demands for independence, he expected to subdue the Chechens with a swift show of overwhelming force.
The hope and expectation was that Russia would repeat the success that the United States military had in Haiti, which it had invaded in September 1994 to swiftly remove a military dictatorship.
Instead, the Chechen war dragged on for nearly two years and achieved none of Russia’s principal aims other than the death of the region’s despotic leader, Dzokhar Dudayev, who was killed in April 1996 by a laser-guided Russian missile.
The war reduced Grozny, a modern, multiethnic city, to a rubble-strewn wasteland reminiscent of Stalingrad in World War II, and shredded Russia’s post-Soviet image as a peaceful democracy. It also set up a second war in 1999 that helped convince Mr. Yeltsin — ill, often drunk and never fully recovered from the trauma of the first war — to hand over power to Mr. Putin on the eve of the new millennium.
The horrific brutality of the conflict turned what began as a secular nationalist movement in Chechnya into a cause increasingly colored by militant Islam, with many fighters viewing their battle against Russia as part of a global jihad.
Money and fighters poured in from the Middle East during the later stages of the war, turning Chechnya into a breeding ground for the violent ideology of Al Qaeda.
The 1994-96 war was freighted with foreboding from the start, with many of Mr. Yeltsin’s most stalwart supporters and senior military figures warning of disaster.
“It will be a blood bath, another Afghanistan,” predicted Gen. Boris Gromov, the deputy defense minister, who had led the last Soviet troops home from that country in February 1989. The deputy commander of Russia’s ground force resigned in protest.
Like the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the first Chechen war ended in a stalemate. Russia pulled out after signing a peace accord that left Chechnya’s ultimate status undecided but essentially gave the region the self-rule that Moscow had gone to war to prevent.
And like the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Russian departure from Chechnya left a devastated land that quickly descended into lawless strife among rival factions.
While the Afghan war had pushed the Soviet Union toward collapse, the Russian Federation survived the Chechen debacle. But it was utterly humiliated and fundamentally reshaped.
That made the ascent of a strongman like Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. agent who vowed to restore order and avenge Russia’s defeat in Chechnya, not only possible but perhaps also inevitable.
The 1994 invasion “was a real crossing of the Rubicon for Russia,” said Thomas de Waal, a British expert on the Caucasus who co-wrote “Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus,” a classic book on the conflict, with Carlotta Gall, now a reporter with The New York Times.
The war, he said, “sucked the whole country into a violent nightmare” as soldiers, mostly ill-trained conscripts, were thrown into the caldron.
“The hawks lost the war but won power,” Mr. de Waal said.
The official Russian military death toll was nearly 6,000, but most independent estimates put the real figure at perhaps twice that or more. The number of civilian deaths has been estimated at between 30,000 and 100,000.
Mr. Yeltsin’s decision to send troops into Chechnya was initially billed as a straightforward exercise to “restore constitutional order” and reverse the declaration of an independent state.
But as with subsequent Russian military interventions, notably in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, the war began with an elaborate subterfuge orchestrated by Russian intelligence.
Fifteen days before the main invasion, dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers poured into Chechnya, in what was presented as a push by Chechen opposition groups to topple Mr. Dudayev. The attack fit into a Russian narrative — repeated today in eastern Ukraine — that Moscow was simply a bystander in a local conflict.
But this story quickly unraveled, when Chechen fighters halted the advance, captured tank crews, revealed them to be Russian, and paraded them before Russian and foreign journalists.
Mr. Shabad, who visited Grozny in late November 1994 with other Russian lawmakers, said it was immediately obvious that official denials of Russian involvement were lies.
“They pretended that the Chechens were just fighting among themselves,” he said, “but the whole thing was organized by Russia, mainly the F.S.K.,” the domestic intelligence agency that succeeded the K.G.B., with the connivance of the military.
Andrei Rusakov, an army captain among the 20 or so Russians captured, told how he had signed a secret contract in which the F.S.K. — now called the F.S.B. — offered him several thousand dollars to take part in the phony Chechen opposition attack.
The revelation of the security service’s failure prompted public gloating by Russia’s military. Pavel S. Grachev, the defense minister, stated on television that the armed forces could have taken control of Chechnya with “one paratroop regiment in a couple of hours.”
His boast quickly came back to haunt him, when Mr. Yeltsin ordered the military to invade. The disastrous performance of the armed forces made Mr. Grachev perhaps the most reviled man in Russia, amid accusations that he had pushed for a military solution simply to disperse the whiff of corruption around him and his ministry.
After the failed New Year’s Eve attack on Grozny, Russian forces pounded it relentlessly from the air, an orgy of destruction that Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany denounced as “sheer madness.” The Russians finally captured the city, but as the war ground on amid horrendous brutality on both sides, Chechens recaptured it the following year, and laid siege to Russian forces in other major towns.
In August 1996, Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, Mr. Yeltsin’s national security adviser, reached an agreement with the Chechens to stop the fighting. Mr. Yeltsin, increasingly infirm, erratic and under siege politically, initially balked at the deal, which effectively acknowledged Russia’s defeat, but ultimately endorsed it.
As many as 600 people, many of them children, are dead, and hundreds more are injured. The two-day hostage crisis that ended in an 11-hour gunfight is the most horrific in a harrowing chain of terrorist attacks in Russia. Russian officials are saying al-Qaida did it. But the truth is far more complicated.
The current conflict in Chechnya goes back to the fall of 1991, when the tiny republic in the Russian Caucasus declared independence. It wasn’t a crazy thing to do. The Soviet Union, which once seemed indestructible, was falling apart (and collapsed completely by the end of the year). Russia itself had a convoluted structure, with 89 federation members, each belonging to one of five categories (region, autonomous region, ethnic republic, province, and two special-status cities) with different structures and rights within the federation. The Russian Constitution recognizes the right of federation members to secede—and Chechnya tried to claim this right.
The Chechens’ desire was perfectly understandable. As an ethnic group, Chechens had been mistreated by the Soviet regime, and the Russian empire before it, perhaps worse than anyone else. In 1944, the Chechens, along with several other ethnic groups, were accused of having collaborated with the Nazis and deported to Siberia. Their collective guilt established by the order of Stalin, on Feb. 23, 1944, more than half a million Chechens were forcibly herded onto cattle cars and sent to Western Siberia. As many as half died en route, and uncounted others perished in the harsh Siberian winter the exiles were literally dumped in the open snowy fields and left to fend for themselves.
The Chechens were not allowed to return home until 1957 *. So by the time of perestroika, most Chechen adults were people born in Siberian exile. No wonder they didn’t want to live side by side with the Russians, who had mangled their lives. The last straw came in August 1991, when, during the failed hard-line communist coup, rumors spread that another deportation was in the works. Chechens overthrew their local, Soviet-appointed leader, and elected a new president on a nationalist platform.
Russia had no intention of recognizing Chechen independence. The Kremlin’s fears were understandable: With the Soviet Union crumbling, there was no reason the shaky Russian federation couldn’t follow. Granting independence to one region could set off a chain reaction. What’s more, an oil pipeline went through Chechnya, and a small amount of oil was produced in the republic itself, so losing Chechnya could have meant significant financial loss for Russia. President Boris Yeltsin declined even to negotiate with the Chechen separatists—a traditional Russian disdain for this Muslim people no doubt played a role in his decision—and simply let the problem fester for three years.
By the fall of 1994, Chechnya, which had been left to its own devices, had all the trappings of de facto sovereignty. It had its own armed forces, small but well-trained, called the Presidential Guard. It operated its own international airport, which Russia seemed not to notice, and it had effectively taken control of its oil production and exports. In October 1994, Moscow decided finally to put things right by staging an armed uprising in Chechnya. It was meant to look like a spontaneous rebellion of pro-Moscow Chechens, but it was so poorly planned that it failed, and several dozen participants were detained by the Chechens. All the supposed rebels turned out to be ethnic Russians employed by the secret services.
When the covert operation failed, Moscow decided to use overt tactics. The Russian defense minister at the time boasted he could take Grozny, the Chechen capital, in two hours. The war, which began on Dec. 11, 1994, lasted nearly two years, cost at least 80,000 Chechens and about 4,000 Russian soldiers their lives, and ended in military defeat for Russia. In 1996, Russia pulled its troops out of a virtually demolished Chechnya, leaving it to fester—again. For the next three years, Chechnya, whose infrastructure had been bombed out of existence, turned into a state run by and for criminals. In the absence of any clear legal status for the place or its residents, everything that happened there—from oil exports to kidnappings—was by definition illegal.
A shocking and important event preceded the Russian pullout from Chechnya. In June 1995, a group of rebels emerged from what seemed at the time to be a nearly defeated Chechnya and tried to take over the small Russian town of Budyonnovsk. Dozens of armed men ended up barricading themselves in the local hospital where the patients, including women with their newborns, became their hostages. Russian troops tried to storm the building but aborted the attack quickly. In the end, Moscow negotiated a cease-fire in Chechnya and let the terrorists get away in exchange for the hostages’ release. Immediately after Budyonnovsk, Russia started peace negotiations with the Chechen rebels, making the hospital siege probably the most successful act of terrorism in history. It is also the only large-scale hostage-taking that didn’t end in a storm.
The second war in Chechnya began in September 1999, following a bizarre and brutal series of terrorist acts. Two apartment buildings in Moscow and one in the south of Russia exploded, killing more than 300 people. Another building, in the town of Ryazan, was de-mined in time. At the same time, a group of Chechen rebels staged an incursion into the neighboring republic of Dagestan, taking over several villages there for a few weeks. In the last five years, several critics of the Putin regime, including a former senior secret services officer, have produced a fair amount of evidence indicating that the Russian secret services may have instigated or even carried out some or all of these attacks. If this were the case, it wouldn’t be the first time a country fighting a separatist movement tried to defeat it by funding a more radical terrorist wing in the hopes of undermining the more moderate separatists locally and discrediting them internationally. It also wouldn’t be the first time such tactics had failed. Usually the terrorist movements quickly take on a life of their own, and their federal masters and funders lose control.
The current Russian regime based its popularity on its harsh response to the terrorist attacks of 1999. Vladimir Putin, a virtual unknown who was appointed prime minister just before the first explosions, rose to political fame and power by taking a harsh stand and promising to bomb Chechnya into submission. The bombing has been going on for five years, but submission still seems unattainable. Chechen fighters have not only continued to battle the federal powers at home but have staged a series of increasingly shocking terrorist attacks in other parts of Russia (although the Chechen connection is, in most cases, presumed rather than proved). There have been explosions in Moscow and elsewhere, including a bomb in the Moscow subway there have been two shocking hostage crises—over 800 people held for three days in a Moscow theater two years ago and 1,000 or more held in the school building this week. Russians, for their part, always seem to botch the rescue operations. In the Moscow theater, the military part worked fine, but 129 people died needlessly because no one had bothered to organize the medical end of the rescue. The details of this week’s bloodbath are not yet clear, but it is obvious that it involved a military and humanistic failure on the part of the Russians.
So, what does al-Qaida and international Islamic terrorism have to do with any of this? Probably very little. Chechens have plenty of reason to do what they do without outside inspiration. In addition, their tactics are very different from al-Qaida’s. Osama Bin Laden’s group generally aims for maximum casualties the Chechens, at least when they have staged hostage-takings, have not seemed to have that goal. Al-Qaida explicitly targets Westerners the Chechens, on the other hand, explicitly exclude Westerners from their list of targets they target Russians and Russia-sympathizers. Finally, the Chechens’ demands, when they have made them, have always focused on the war in Chechnya to the exclusion of any religious or international agenda. They have consistently demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya—an unattainable goal in the current Russian political climate, but one that may look plausible to the Chechens because it worked after Budyonnovsk.
Russian intelligence has produced little or no evidence that al-Qaida is present in Chechnya. Russian officials claimed that there were Arabs among the hostage-takers, but this information has yet to be confirmed, and even if it is, it may mean only that foreign men have come to fight on the side of Chechens—something that has happened before and something that happens in every conflict, whether or not a major international organization is involved. On the other hand, it would be surprising if al-Qaida had no presence in Chechnya at all. Chechens are Muslims, and they are at war representatives of virtually every Islamic organization have at one point or another sent missionaries and recruiters to the region. They have also sent money. Researchers of al-Qaida say that, in addition to its own organization, the terrorist network has a number of loose affiliates, essentially freelancers, who get occasional financial support. Most likely, some Chechen groups or individuals fall into that category.
But Russia’s terrorism problem is not international Islam. It’s a war that Russia started and has continued. Because of terrorism, this war has spread to engulf the entire enormous country.
Correction, Sept. 7, 2004: This article originally and incorrectly stated that Chechens were exiled in Western Siberia until 1976. In fact, they were allowed to return home in 1957. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
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"Stone provides a relatively brief but commendably well-balanced survey of Russian military history from the earliest years of the Kievan Rus state to the present. Whereas most studies of the Russian military concentrate on the events of the past two centuries, this book offers a cogent account of earlier years, including military innovations and wars during the time of Ivan the Terrible and the complicated military history of Peter the Great's reign. Moreover, the author succeeds admirably in his intention not only to include descriptions of the major battles, campaigns, and wars fought by the Russians, but also to discuss the interrelationship of military affairs with the development of the Russian state and society….The book can be read with great profit by anyone interested in Russian military history. Recommended. All levels/libraries." - Choice
"Stone does an artful job of recounting over 500 years of Russian military campaigns and explaining the complex and reciprocal relationships between the military and society in Russia, as well as Russia's role in Western military history (e.g., the triumph against Napoleon), enacted at the expense of its economic and civic gains. He clarifies Russia's place in the ebb and flow of alliances among emerging nation states in Europe. Every Russian history written in the past 20 years contains much of the same information that Stone presents, but he has a notable ability to clarify military history and thereby Russian history generally….[h]is style will catch the eye of students and casual readers. Recommended for public, high school, and college libraries." - Library Journal
"[A] first-rate, crystal-clear history of five centuries of Russian military operations, from which I have learned a great deal." - The International History Review
"This textbook - the first to appear in forty years - should prove invaluable to students, while specialists, too, will learn a great deal." - SEER
About the Author
David R. Stone is Associate Professor of Russian history at Kansas State University. His first book Hammer and Rifle: The Militarization of the Soviet Union, 1926-1933 , was a History Book Club selection, winner of the Historical Society's inaugural Best First Book prize, and co-winner of the Shulman Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies. The author of numerous articles on Russian and Soviet military and diplomatic history, Stone is currently working on a study of Trotsky's role in the creation and development of the Red Army.
– 1936 – After the Russian revolution, the ‘Chechnya-Ingushetia Socialist Soviet Autonomous Republic’ was formed. This means it was a kind self-governed state within the USSR.
– 23rd February 1944 -Massive deportations of the entire Chechen and Ingush populations are sent to Siberia and Central Asia. Stalin argued that it’s a punishment to the Chechens and Ingush for providing ‘supposed’ assistance to the German forces
– 500,000 Chechens and Ingush were deported in horrible conditions. More than half of them died during the journey.
– The Chechens strongly maintained their culture and identity during this forced exile.
– 1957- Nikita Khrushchev, the new leader of the USSR (Stalin died in 1953) re-establishes the ‘Republic of Chechnya and Ingushetia’.
– During that time, the Chechens and the Ingush were able to return to their homeland and at that time it was occupied as a Russian, Georgian and Armenian colony.
– Up until 2004, no one from the European Parliament recognized the catastrophe as ’Genocide’. From that year onwards, 23 February is commemorated as ‘World Chechnya Day’.
– 1991 – The Republic of Chechnya and Ingush proclaimed their unilateral independence from Russia. It was declared the ‘Chechen Republic of Ichkeria’.
– Moscow “approved” the declaration of independence. Those were the final moments of the USSR and no one put any attention to the declaration.
– The Ingush didn’t accept the proclamation of independence and demanded that the Ingush territory be separated from the rest of the Republic. Ingushetia was declared an autonomous republic and is part of the Russian Federation (named after the dissolution of the former USSR)
– The separation of Ingushetia was carried out with approval from the Russian Parliament
– 1992– Chechnya didn’t join the Russia Federation Parliament and constitution elections
– 1994– Chechnya was working as an independent state
– December 1994– Russian forces entered Chechnya to put an end to the independence process started in 1991
– Reasons of the I Russian-Chechen war:
The impossibility of the ‘Chechen problem’ makes it difficult for the Russian Federation to carry out their nationalist and neo-imperial ideals.
Looking for ‘external enemies’ in order for the Russian people to forget their own social and economic difficulties to use the conflict to deviate the attention from their own serious and deep problems that were going on in their country.
Hindering the “Chechen independence effort” extended to other neighbouring territories.
The geo-strategy and economic determining factors: Chechnya is united with other controversial countries on the Russian border.On the other hand, Russia would like to continue to control the oil and gas pipelines that pass through Chechnya.
– Russia encountered much bigger resistance in Chechnya than they expected
– I Russian-Chechen War 1994-96:
Only one political party supported the military actions, which were carried out in Chechnya
Top military officials expressed their disagreement with the war, which was carried out in Chechnya.
The Russian media could carry out their work with a certain degree of free speech
There was little support from the Russian population for this war.
– 1996 – “Grozny Miracle”: the Russian army was defeated by the Chechen troops and after the Chechens regained control of the capital and the main cities in Chechnya.
– Jassaviur peace agreement– this agreement ended 20 months of conflict. The Russian Government withdrew their troops from Chechnya. They negotiated a period of 5 years during which they would “normalize” life in Chechnya.They developed a strategy of self-determination in which the Chechens would self-govern after 5 years (2001).
– 1997- There were elections in Chechnya supervised by The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This organization certified that the elections were without irregularities.
– Reasons of the II Russian-Chechen War:
Deployment of Chechen guerrilla movements in Dagestan.
Bombs that blasted buildings in Moscow are attributed to the Chechen rebels. (Until now there was no clarification about who did it).
The Chechen have become “radical Islamists” and in conflict with the Russian Orthodox Christians.
– October 1994:the Russian Army enters once more in Chechnya and started the Second Russian-Chechen War.
– The main aim of this new war is to restore the whole Russian territory and cancel the “Jassaviurt Peace Agreement” and any possibility of independence of Chechnya.
– Differences with the I Russian-Chechen War:
In 1994 only one political party supported the conflict in 1999 only one political party (Yabloko) was opposed to this war.
Most of the Russian population supported the Russian government in second Russian-Chechen War.
The Russian and foreign media can´t enter Chechnya to report on the war. There is no guarantee of survival if you enter the country, which is why there is a complete lack of information.
– 2000 February: the Russian Government proclaims the downfall of Grozny.
– 2000 June: Moscow governs in Chechnya and appointed a new president. Since then, there are two governments in Chechnya: one appointed by Russia and one elected by the Chechen people.
– 2003: Russia cut discussions about the Chechen legal situation. At this time, it is the “Republic of Chechnya” and it is part of the Russia Federation.
April 2009 Putin considered the antiterrorist operation was conclude in Chechnya.
-The war in Chechnya has been finished but the peace doesn´t arrive until now.