The First Chechen War was fought between Russia and Chechnya from 1994 to 1996 and resulted in Chechnya's de facto independence from Russia.
After the initial campaign of 19941995, culminating in the devastating Battle of Grozny, Russian federal forces attempted to control the mountainous area of Chechnya but were set back by Chechen guerrilla warfare and raids on the flatlands (including mass hostage takings beyond Chechnya) in spite of Russia's overwhelming manpower, weaponry, and air support. The resulting widespread demoralization of federal forces, and the almost universal opposition of the Russian public to the brutal conflict, led Boris Yeltsin's government to declare a ceasefire in 1996 and sign a peace treaty a year later.
The war was a military defeat for Russia as well as a disaster for Chechnya. By one conservative estimate there were 7,500 Russian military, 4,000 Chechen combatant, and more than 35,000 civilian deaths. Other estimates put the number of casualties between 80,000 to 100,000 killed. More than 500,000 persons were displaced by the conflict. Cities and villages were left in ruins. In 1999 the conflict resumed in the form of the Second Chechen War.
Origins of the war in Chechnya
The collapse of the Soviet Union
Russia became an independent nation after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. While Russia was widely accepted as the successor state to the Soviet Union, it lost most of its military and economic power. While ethnic Russians made up more than 70% of the population, significant ethnic and religious differences posed a threat of political disintegration in some regions.
In the Soviet period, some of Russia's approximately 100 nationalities were granted ethnic enclaves that had various formal federal rights attached. Relations of these entities with the federal government and demands for autonomy erupted into a major political issue in the early 1990s.
The Russian Federation Treaty
President Yeltsin incorporated these demands into his 1990 election campaign by claiming that their resolution was a high priority. There was an urgent need for a law to clearly define the powers of each federal subject. Such a law was passed on March 31, 1992, when Yeltsin and Ruslan Khasbulatov, then chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet and an ethnic Chechen himself, signed the Federation Treaty bilaterally with 86 out of 88 federal subjects. In almost all cases, demands for greater autonomy or independence were satisfied by concessions of regional autonomy and tax privileges. The treaty outlined three basic types of federal subjects and the powers that were reserved for local and federal government.
The only federal subjects which did not sign the treaty were Chechnya and Tatarstan. Eventually, in the spring of 1994, President Yeltsin signed a special political accord with Mintimer Şäymiev, the president of Tatarstan, granting many of its demands for greater autonomy for the republic within Russia. Thus, Chechnya remained the only federal subject which did not sign the treaty. Neither Yeltsin nor the Chechen government attempted any serious negotiations and the situation would deteriorate into a full-scale conflict.
The history of Chechen conflicts
Russian Cossacks had lived in lowland Chechnya (Terek) since the 16th century. Russia first invaded the Chechen highlands during the reign of Peter the Great, in the early 18th century, as a countermeasure to Chechen raids on Russian settlements. After a series of fierce battles, Russia defeated Chechnya and annexed it in the 1870s.
Chechnya's subsequent attempts at gaining independence after the fall of the Russian Empire failed. In 1922 Chechnya was incorporated into Bolshevist Russia and later into the USSR.
In 1936, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin created the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR). In 1944, on the orders of NKVD chief Lavrenti Beria, more than 1 million Chechens, Ingushes, and other North Caucasian peoples were deported to Siberia and Central Asia, officially as punishment for alleged collaboration with the invading Nazis. Stalin's policy made the state of Chechnya a non-entity. Eventually, Soviet first secretary Nikita Khrushchev granted the Chechen and Ingush peoples permission to return to their homeland and restored the republic in 1957.
Chechen declaration of independence
On September 6, 1991, with the aim of asserting independence, militants of the All-National Congress of the Chechen People (NCChP), led by Dzhokhar Dudayev, stormed a session of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR Supreme Soviet. They killed the Communist Party chief for Grozny, Vitali Kutsenko, brutalized several other party members, and effectively dissolved the government of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR.
In the following month Dudayev won overwhelming popular support to oust the interim central government-supported administration. He was made president in an allegedly fraudulent election. Dudayev then declared independence from the USSR. In November 1991, President Yeltsin dispatched troops to Grozny. They were forced to withdraw when Dudayev's forces prevented them from leaving the airport.
After Chechnya had made its initial declaration of sovereignty, the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic split in two in June 1992. Ingushetia joined the Russian Federation, while Chechnya declared full independence in 1993, which was not recognized by other countries. From 1991 to 1994, tens of thousands of people of non-Chechen ethnicity, mostly Russians, left the republic amidst reports of violence against the non-Chechen population. Chechen industry began to fail as a result of many Russian engineers and workers leaving or being expelled from the republic. During the Chechen Civil War, factions both sympathetic and opposed to Dudayev fought for power, sometimes in pitched battles with heavy weaponry.
Internal conflict in Chechnya
In March 1992, the opposition attempted a coup d'état , but their attempt was crushed by force. A month later, Dudayev introduced direct presidential rule, and in June 1993, dissolved the Parliament to avoid a referendum on a vote of non-confidence. He also ordered the opposition dislodged from Grozny to Nadterechny district. Federal forces dispatched to the Ossetian-Ingush conflict were ordered to move to the Chechen border in late October 1992. Dudayev, perceiving this as "an act of aggression against the Chechen Republic," declared a state of emergency and threatened general mobilization if the Russian troops did not withdraw from the Chechen border. After staging another coup attempt in December 1993, the opposition organized a Provisional Council as a potential alternative government for Chechnya, calling on Moscow for assistance.
Chechnya long had a reputation in Russia as a center of organized crime. The proportion of Chechens and other Caucasian peoples in Russia's emerging market economy was much higher than their representation in the population as a whole. In its campaign to justify military action against Chechnya, the Russian government played upon stereotypes of Chechens as criminals and dishonest businessmen. 71% of Russians believed Chechnya was invaded to halt Chechen-inspired crime.
Covert support of opposition forces
In August 1994, when the coalition of the opposition factions, based in the north of Chechnya, launched an armed campaign to remove Dudayev's government, Moscow clandestinely supplied rebel forces with financial support, military equipment, and mercenaries. Russia suspended all civilian flights to Grozny while the air defense aviation and border troops set up a military blockade of the republic.
On October 30 unmarked Russian aircraft began bombing Grozny; on November 23, Russian aviation subjected the city of Shali and a tank unit (the Chechens had six relatively modern T-72s captured from the opposition forces and grouped into a "Tank Regiment", as well as 18 post-Soviet APCs and T-62 tanks) deployed on its outskirts to an aerial rocket bombardment.
The opposition forces, who were joined by Russian troops, launched a clandestine but badly organized assault on Grozny in mid-October 1994. It was followed by a second, larger attack on November 2627, 1994. Dudayev's National Guard forces, improvising their defense, repulsed the attacks and succeeded in capturing some 20 Russian Army regulars and about 50 other Russian citizens secretly hired by the Russian FSK.
On November 29, President Boris Yeltsin issued an ultimatum to all warring factions in Chechnya ordering them to disarm and surrender. When the government in Grozny refused, President Yeltsin ordered an attack to restore "constitutional order." By December 1, Russian forces were carrying out heavy aerial bombardments of Chechnya, targeting both military sites and the capital Grozny.
On December 11, 1994, five days after Dudayev and Minister of Defense Pavel Grachev of Russia had agreed to avoid the further use of force, Russian troops entered Chechnya.
The Russian war in Chechnya
The Chechen Air Force was destroyed in the first few hours of the war. Nevertheless, Boris Yeltsin's expectations of a quick surgical strike, quickly followed by Chechen capitulation, were horribly misguided, and Russia soon found itself in a quagmire.
On December 11, 1994 Russian forces launched a three-pronged ground attack towards Grozny. The main attack was halted by deputy commander of Russian ground forces, Colonel-General Eduard Vorobyov, who resigned in protest, stating that he would not attack fellow Russians. Yeltsin's adviser on nationality affairs, Emil Pain, and Russia's Deputy Minister of Defense, Colonel-General Boris Gromov (esteemed hero of the Soviet-Afghan War), also resigned in protest of the invasion, as did Major-General Borys Poliakov. More than 800 professional soldiers and officers refused to take part in the operation. Of these, 83 were convicted by military courts, and the rest were discharged.
The morale of the troops was low from the beginning, for they were poorly prepared and did not understand why they were sent into battle. Some Russian units resisted the order to advance, and in some cases the troops sabotaged their own equipment. In Ingushetia, civilian protesters stopped the western column and set 30 military vehicles on fire. About 70 conscripts deserted their units. Advance of the western column was halted at Dolinskoye. A group of 50 Russian paratroopers surrendered to the local militia, after being deployed by helicopters behind enemy lines and then abandoned.
Around 500 people took advantage of the December 1317, 1994 amnesty declared by Boris Yeltsin for members of Dzhokhar Dudayev's armed groups. Yeltsin ordered Russian commanders to show restraint, but they were neither prepared nor trained for this. Other problems occurred as Yeltsin sent in freshly trained conscripts from neighboring regions rather than regular soldiers. Highly mobile units of Chechen fighters caused severe losses to Russia's ill-prepared, demoralized troops. The Russian military command then resorted to the carpet bombing tactics and indiscriminate tube and rocket artillery barrages, causing enormous casualties among the Chechen and Russian civilian population.
On December 26, Dudayev's son, Avlur, was mortally wounded in the fighting. With the Russians closing in on the capital, Chechens started to prepare bunkers and set up fighting positions in Grozny. On December 29, Russian forces repelled a Chechen armored counterattack in the battle of Khankala.
Battle for Grozny
A Chechen separatist near the Presidential Palace in Grozny, January 1995. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev
Main article: Battle of Grozny (1994-1995)
When Russians attacked the Chechen capital of Grozny from December 1994 to January 1995, thousands of civilians died from a week-long series of air raids and artillery bombardment of the sealed-off city in the heaviest bombing campaign in Europe since the destruction of Dresden. After armored assaults failed, the Russian military set out to pulverize the city into submission. Russian aircraft bombarded Grozny while armored forces and artillery hammered the city from the ground. The Russian assault fell mainly on Grozny's civilians, mostly ethnic Russians, as separatist forces operated from buildings filled with Russian civilians as human shields.
The first attack led to heavy Russian casualties and nearly a complete breakdown of morale. An estimated 1,000 to 2,000 soldiers died in the disastrous New Year's Eve assault alone. All units of the Maikop Brigade sent into the city, numbering more than 1,000 men, were destroyed during the 60-hour fight for, and around, Grozny's central railway station, leaving only few survivors. Several other Russian armored columns each lost hundreds of men during the first two days and nights of the siege. Many soldiers were captured.
Despite the early Chechen defeat of the New Year assault and many further casualties, Grozny was eventually conquered by Russian forces amidst bitter urban warfare. On January 7, 1995, Russia's Major-General Viktor Vorobyov was killed by mortar fire, becoming the first on a long list of generals to be killed in Chechnya. On January 19, despite heavy casualties, Russian forces seized the ruins of the presidential palace, which had been heavily contested for more than three weeks as Chechens finally abandoned their positions in the destroyed downtown area. The battle for the southern part of the city continued until the official end on March 6, 1995.
By Sergey Kovalev's estimates, about 27,000 civilians died in the first five weeks of fighting. Dmitri Volkogonov, the late Russian historian and general, said the Russian military's bombardment of Grozny killed around 35,000 civilians, including 5,000 children, and that the vast majority of those killed were ethnic Russians. While military casualties are not known, the Russian side admitted to having lost nearly 2,000 killed or missing. International monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe described the scenes as nothing short of an "unimaginable catastrophe," while German Chancellor Helmut Kohl described the events as "sheer madness."
In the southern mountains, the Russians launched an offensive along the entire front on April 15, 1994, advancing in columns comprised of 200300 vehicles. The Chechens defended the city of Argun, moving their military headquarters first to completely surrounded Shali, then shortly after to Serzhen-Yurt as they were forced into the mountains, and finally to Shamil Basayev's stronghold of Vedeno. The second-largest city of Gudermes was surrendered without a fight, but the village of Shatoy was defended by the men of Ruslan Gelayev. Eventually, the Chechen Command withdrew from the area of Vedeno to the Chechen opposition-aligned village of Dargo, and from there to Benoy.
Between January and May 1995, when the Russian forces conquered most of the republic in the conventional campaign, their losses in Chechnya were approximately 2,800 killed, 10,000 wounded, and over 500 missing or captured, according to an estimate cited in a U.S. Army report.
The dominant Russian strategy was to use heavy artillery and air strikes throughout the campaign, leading some Western and Chechen sources to call the air strikes deliberate terror bombing on the part of Russia. Interestingly, due to the fact that ethnic Chechens in Grozny were able to seek refuge among their respective Teips in the surrounding villages of the countryside, the highest proportion of initial civilian casualties were inflicted against ethnic Russians who were unable to procure viable escape routes.
It was alleged that Russian troops, especially those belonging to the MVD, committed numerous, and in part systematic acts of torture and summary executions on rebel sympathizers; they were often linked to zachistka (cleansing) raids, affecting entire town districts and villages that harbored boyeviki, the rebel fighters. In the lowland village of Samashki, from April 7 to April 8, 1995, Russian forces killed 103 civilians, while several hundred more were beaten or otherwise tortured. Humanitarian and aid groups chronicled persistent patterns of Russian soldiers killing civilians, raping, and looting. Chechen criminals also robbed and killed ethnic Russians.
As the war went on, separatists resorted to large hostage takings, attempting to influence the Russian public and Russian leadership. More than 1,500 hostages were seized and about 120 civilians died in the June 1995 Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis in southern Russia; the raid enforced a temporary stop in Russian military operations, allowing the Chechens the time to regroup and prepare for guerrilla operations in the time of their greatest crisis.
Chechen separatists then resorted to guerrilla tactics, such as setting booby traps and mining roads. The success of Chechen mining and use of improvised explosive devices was particularly noteworthy. By the summer of 1995, Russian military sources said the Chechen mining of transportation routes, buildings and other targets were "acquiring a massive character." Chechen separatists effectively exploited a combination of mines and ambushes, as well as mines and explosives, to target Russian leaders and facilities.
Human rights organizations accused Russian forces of engaging in indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force whenever encountering resistance, resulting in numerous civilian deaths. For example, during the December 1995 Chechen raid on Gudermes, Russian forces pounded parts of the town with heavy artillery and surface- and helicopter-launched rockets, killing at least 267 civilians. They also prevented civilians from evacuating from areas of imminent danger, and prevented humanitarian organizations from assisting civilians in need.
Separatist fighters killed Chechens considered to be collaborators and mistreated civilian captives and federal prisoners of war, especially pilots. Both rebel and federal sides of the conflict kidnapped hostages for ransom and used human shields for cover during the fighting and movement of troops (in one incident, a group of 6090 surrounded Russian troops took approximately 500 civilian hostages at the Grozny Municipal Hospital No. 9). Russian forces committed violations of international humanitarian law and human rights on a much larger scale than Chechen separatists. Television and newspaper accounts widely reported these to the Russian public. As a result, the Russian media coverage partially precipitated a loss of public confidence in the government and a steep decline in president Yeltsin's popularity. Chechnya was one of the heaviest burdens on Yeltsin's 1996 presidential election campaign.
The protracted war in Chechnya, as well as many reports of extreme violence against civilians, ignited fear and contempt of Russia among other ethnic groups in the federation. The inability of Russian forces to subdue the Chechen fighters also encouraged other ethnic groups to defy the central government by proclaiming and defending their independence. In Chechnya, the full-scale Russian attack also led many of Dudayev's opponents to unite with Dudayev, and to thousands of volunteers swelling the ranks of mobile guerilla units. Many others formed local self-defence militia units to defend their settlements in the case of the federal offensive action, numbering 5,0006,000 men in late 1995 according to the Chechen command (altogether, Chechens fielded some 10,00012,000 full-time and reserve fighters at a time).
In the fall of 1995, the Russian commander in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Anatoliy Romanov, was critically injured in a bomb blast in Grozny. Suspicion of responsibility for the attack fell on rogue elements of the Russian military. The attack destroyed hopes for a permanent ceasefire based on the developing trust between Romanov and General Aslan Maskhadov, Chief of Staff of the Chechen forces and former Soviet Colonel. In August, the two personally went to southern Chechnya in an effort to convince the local commanders to release Russian prisoners, while the Russian command spread word through the media that some Chechen field commanders had announced that they would no longer obey Maskhadov.
Spread of the war
Akhmad Kadyrov's declaration that Chechnya was waging a Jihad (holy war) against Russia raised the spectre that Jihadists from other regions and even outside Russia would enter the war. By some estimates, up to 5,000 non-Chechens served in volunteer formations; they were mostly Caucasian and included possibly 1,500 Dagestanis, 1,000 Georgians and Abkhazians, 500 Ingushes and 200 Azeris, as well as 300 Turks, 400 Slavs from Baltic states and Ukraine, and more than 100 Arabs and Iranians. The volunteers included a number of ethnic Russians, which included citizens of Moscow.
On March 6, 1996, a Cypriot passenger jet flying toward Germany was hijacked by Chechen sympathisers to publicize the Chechen cause; as was a Turkish passenger ship carrying 200 Russian passengers on January 9, 1996. These incidents, perpetrated by the Turkish gunmen, were resolved without fatalities.
Meanwhile, the war in Chechnya spawned a new form of separatist activity in the Russian Federation. Resistance to the conscription of men from minority ethnic groups to fight in Chechnya was widespread among other republics, many of which passed laws and decrees on the subject. For example, the government of Chuvashia passed a decree providing legal protection to soldiers from the republic who refused to participate in the Chechnya war and imposed limits on the use of the Russian army in ethnic or regional conflicts within Russia. Some regional and local legislative bodies called for a prohibition on the use of draftees in quelling internal uprisings; others demanded a total ban on the use of the armed forces in quelling domestic conflicts.
Limited fighting occurred in the Republic of Ingushetia in 1995, mostly when Russian commanders sent troops over the border in pursuit of Chechen fighters. Although all sides generally observed the distinction between the two peoples that formerly shared the autonomous republic, as many as 200,000 refugees from Chechnya and neighboring North Ossetia strained Ingushetia's already weak economy. On several occasions, Ingush president Ruslan Aushev protested incursions by Russian soldiers, and even threatened to sue the Russian Ministry of Defence for damages inflicted; he said that his people could not forget how the same Russian armored columns "and the same Defense Minister" assisted in the destruction of Ingush settlements and the expulsion of Ingush population from North Ossetia in 1992.
Undisciplined Russian soldiers were also reported as murdering, raping, and looting in Ingushetia. In a widely reported incident partially witnessed by visiting Russian Duma deputies, at least nine Ingush civilians and an ethnic Bashkir soldier were murdered by apparently drunk Russian soldiers. In earlier incidents, another Russian soldier and the Ingush Health Minister were killed by drunken Russian soldiers, as were another five Ingush villagers.
The Russian government officials feared that a move to end the war short of victory would create a cascade of secession attempts by other ethnic minorities, and present a new target for extreme nationalist Russian factions. The Don Cossacks, who were originally sympathetic to the Chechen cause, turned hostile in result of the Chechen terror attacks, and the Kuban Cossacks started organising themselves against the Chechens, including manning paramilitary roadblocks against infiltration of their territories by militants.
In January 1996, Russian forces, in reaction to the large-scale Chechen hostage taking in Kizlyar, destroyed Pervomayskoye, a border village in the Russian Republic of Dagestan, killing dozens of civilians including hostages. This action brought strong criticism from the hitherto loyal Republic of Dagestan and escalated domestic dissatisfaction.
The poorly trained, ill-supplied, and badly led conscripts of the Russian army proved incapable of suppressing determined Chechen opposition, both in the Chechen capital and in the countryside. It took Russian forces over 15 months to capture Bamut, a small village southwest of the capital Grozny, which fell on May 22, 1996.
On March 6, 1996, between 1,500 and 2,000 Chechen fighters infiltrated Grozny and launched a three-day surprise raid on the city, overrunning much of the city and capturing caches of weapons and ammunition. A month later, forces of Arab commander Ibn al-Khattab destroyed the reconnaissance company and 2nd Motor Rifle Battalion column of the 245th Motorized Rifle Regiment in an ambush near Shatoy.
As military defeats and growing casualties made the war more and more unpopular in Russia, and as the 1996 presidential elections neared, Yeltsin's government sought a way out of the conflict. Although a Russian guided missile attack killed Dudayev on April 21, 1996, the rebels persisted. On August 6, 1996, three days before Yeltsin was to be inaugurated for his second term as president, when most of the Russian Army troops were moved south due to what was planned as their final offensive, the Chechens launched a new attack on Grozny.
More than 1,500 Chechen fighters, led by Shamil Basayev, again moved in by trucks and cars in a carefully orchestrated assault. Within hours, they had overrun the key districts, and laid siege to the Russian posts and bases and the government compound in the centre, in spite of the fact that the Russians had about 12,000 troops in and around Grozny. Russian troops in Argun and Gudermes were also surrounded in their garrisons. A number of Chechens deemed to be collaborators were rounded up, detained, and executed; reliable sources have stated that the execution list for one region of Grozny comprised more than 200 names.
Several attempts by the Army armored columns to rescue the mainly MVD units, which were trapped by the Chechens, were repelled with heavy Russian casualties; the 276th Motorized Regiment of 900 men lost 450 dead or wounded in a two-day attempt to reach the city centre. Russian military officials said that more than 200 soldiers had been killed and nearly 800 wounded in five days of fighting, and that an unknown number were missing; Chechens put the number of Russian dead at close to 1,000. Thousands of demoralized, hungry, and thirsty troops were either taken prisoner or surrounded and largely disarmed, their heavy weapons and ammunition commandeered by the rebels.
On August 19, despite the presence of 50,000 to 200,000 both Chechen and Russian civilians, as well as thousands of federal servicemen in Grozny, the Russian commander Konstantin Pulikovsky gave an ultimatum for Chechen fighters to leave the city in 48 hours, or it would be leveled in a massive aerial and ground bombardment. This was followed by a chaotic of scenes of panic as civilians tried to flee before the army carried out its threat, with parts of the city ablaze and falling shells scattering refugee columns.
The Khasav-Yurt Accord
The bombardment was halted by a ceasefire brokered by Yeltsin's national security adviser Alexander Lebed on August 22. The ultimatum, issued by Gen. Pulikovsky, now replaced, had been a "bad joke", Gen. Lebed said. However, Maskhadov later said the ultimatum was probably Lebed's initiative.
During eight hours of subsequent talks, Lebed and Maskhadov drafted and signed the Khasav-Yurt Accord on August 31, 1996. It included: technical aspects of demilitarization, the withdrawal of both sides' forces from Grozny, the creation of joint headquarters to preclude looting in the city, the withdrawal of all federal forces from Chechnya by December 31, 1996, and a stipulation that any agreement on the relations between the Chechen Republic Ichkeria and the Russian federal government need not be signed until late 2001.
The Moscow peace treaty
The Khasav-Yurt Accord paved the way for the signing of two further agreements between Russia and Chechnya. In mid-November 1996, Yeltsin and Maskhadov signed an agreement on economic relations and reparations to Chechens who had been "affected" by the 199496 war.
Six months later, on May 12, 1997, Chechen-elected president Aslan Maskhadov traveled to Moscow where he and Yeltsin signed a formal treaty "on peace and the principles of Russian-Chechen relations" that Maskhadov predicted would demolish "any basis to create ill-feelings between Moscow and Grozny." Maskhadov's optimism, however, proved misplaced. Over the next two years many of Maskhadov's former comrades-in-arms, led by field commander Shamil Basayev, launched an incursion into Dagestan in the summer of 1999.
According to the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, 3,826 troops were killed, 17,892 were wounded, and 1,906 are missing in action. According to NVO, the countrys most authoritative independent military weekly, 5,362 Russian soldiers died during the war, up to 52,000 were wounded and some 3,000 more remained missing by 2005. The estimate of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia, however, puts the number of dead at 14,000.
Chechen casualties are estimated at up to 100,000 dead or more, of which most were civilians. Various estimates put the number of Chechens dead or missing between 50,000 and 100,000. Russian Interior Minister Kulikov claimed that fewer than 20,000 civilians were killed. State Duma deputy Sergey Kovalyov's team could offer their conservative, documented estimate of more than 50,000 civilian deaths. Aleksander Lebed asserted that 80,000 to 100,000 had been killed and 240,000 had been injured. The number given by the Ichkerian authorities was about 100,000 killed.
Chechen separatists estimated their combat deaths at about 3,000 (including 800 in the first three months and mostly by mortar fire), although this number is almost certainly too low. It is impossible to know how many Chechen rebels were killed, since many fought independently and were not under the control of Dudayev. As such, their deaths were not counted among official Chechen losses. The Russian estimate is much higher; Russia's Federal Forces Command estimated that 15,000 Chechen fighters had been killed by the end of the war.
In the Khasavyurt agreements, both sides specifically agreed to an "all for all" exchange of prisoners to be carried out at the end of the war. Despite this commitment, many persons remained forcibly detained.
As of mid-January 1997, the Chechens still held between 700 and 1,000 Russian soldiers and officers as prisoners of war, according to Human Rights Watch. According to Amnesty International same month, 1,058 Russian soldiers and officers were still detained by Chechen fighters who were willing to release them in exchange for members of Chechen armed groups.
A partial analysis of 264 of the list of 1,432 reported missing Chechens found that, as of October 30, 1996, at least 139 were still being forcibly detained by the Russian side. It was entirely unclear, however, how many of these men were in fact alive. In February 1997 Russia approved an amnesty for Russian soldiers and Chechen rebels who committed illegal acts in connection with the war in Chechnya between December 9, 1994, and September 1, 1996.
The Second Chechen War is a military campaign conducted by Russia starting August 26, 1999, in which Russian forces recaptured the separatist region of Chechnya. The Second Chechen War was officially started in retaliation of the Dagestan War and Russian apartment bombings. The campaign reversed the outcome of the First Chechen War, in which the region gained de facto independence as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. It is regarded as an internal conflict within the Russian Federation by the international community.
The war bolstered the domestic popularity of Vladimir Putin, who launched the military campaign one month after becoming Russian prime minister. However, the war eventually became less popular; according to a 2007 poll 70 percent of Russians think there should be negotiations with the separatists, and only 16 percent believe the military campaign should continue. The conflict greatly contributed to the deep changes in the Russian politics and society.
During the initial campaign, Russian military and pro-Russian Chechen paramilitary faced determined Chechen separatists, but eventually seized the Chechen capital of Grozny in 2000 after a winter siege. After the full-scale offensive, Chechen guerrilla resistance throughout the North Caucasus region continued to inflict heavy Russian casualties and challenge Russian political control over Chechnya for several more years. Chechen separatists also carried out attacks against civilians in Russia, such as notably taking hostages inside a Moscow theater in 2002 and later doing so in a school in Beslan, North Ossetia in 2004. These terrorist attacks, as well as widespread human rights violations by Russian and separatist forces drew international condemnation. The exact death toll from this conflict is unknown, yet estimates range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands dead or missing, mostly civilians in Chechnya. No clear figures for Russian losses exist, but military deaths in two wars thought to at least equal the losses suffered during the Soviet war in Afghanistan of 15,000.
Meanwhile, the fortunes of the Chechen independence movement sagged, plagued by the internal disunity between Chechen moderates and Islamist radicals and the changing global political climate after September 11, 2001, as well as the general war weariness of the Chechen population. The Russians have succeeded in installing a pro-Moscow Chechen regime, composed of the former separatists, and eliminating most of the more prominent Chechen separatist leaders, including former president Aslan Maskhadov and leading warlord Shamil Basayev. By now, large-scale fighting has been replaced by low-level skirmishing, hit and run attacks and bombings targeting federal troops and forces of the regional government, with the violence often spilling over into adjacent regions. Since 2005, the goal of the rebel movement is shifting most of the actual fighting out of Chechnya proper and into the nearby Russian territories; the Russian government, for its part, is concerned with maintaining stability in the North Caucasus. The conflict remains largely unpublicised in the West.
November 1994 Battle of Grozny was a November 26, 1994 failed attempt to to seize the city of Grozny, the Chechen capital, and overthrow the separatist government of Dzhokhar Dudayev.
The attack was staged by the forces of the anti-Dudayev opposition with the active support of Russian tanks and aircraft. This clandestine attempt at regime change ended with complete failure, prompting Moscow decided to carry out a large-scale military invasion of the republic next month.
In the summer of 1994 the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service began active and open co-operation with the Chechen opposition leaders. Forces of Umar Avturkhanov (former officer of the Soviet MVD) and Beslan Gantemirov (former mayor of Grozny) not only received money from Moscow (a figure of 150 billion roubles was mentioned) but weapons as well.
August and September 1994 saw the outbreak of fighting between the opposition and Dudayev's forces. By this time, the opposition had established a force of several hundred men, equipped with armoured vehicles and backed by Russian helicopters based in Mozdok airfield. This military campaign climaxed in mid-October 1994, when Gantamirov's forces tried to take Grozny by assault for the first time.
Disappointed by their failures and aware of their military weakness up to and after the October assault, former Duma speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov intensified their lobbying with the FSK and Russian President Boris Yeltsin's staff in favour of more direct involvement on Moscow's part. As a result, Avturkhanov and Gantemirov, who by then had joined their military forces, received all the weapons, instructors, training and media support they requested, setting the ground for the final assault. Tank drivers from Russia's elite formations were recruited for the task.
Shortly before the storm of Grozny, the GRU agents reported that Dudayev's army was completely incapable of offering serious resistance, in spite of the fact that three Russian tanks were destroyed even on their way to the city. On the morning of November 26, forces of the Chechen Provisional Council entered capital with the support of unmarked federal helicopters. According to the account by the Chechen government commander Dalkhan Kozayev, opposition forces numbered 42 tanks and 8 BTR-type wheeled APCs, and 3,000 men. Other estimates were up to 170 tanks and APCs and 5,000 men, while according to the opposition leaders just 1,200 fighters took active part in the attack.
They were met with improvised but fierce defense of the government forces in the city, and soon the assault turned into a disaster. After nearly twelve hours of intense fighting, Dudayev's forces destroyed the opposition's armoured columns, capturing dozens of ethnic Russian soldiers and officers who had manned the crews of the tanks and the APCs. Some 37 to 67 armoured vehicles were reportedly destroyed or disabled, while four to five undamaged tanks were captured intact after the opposition fighters fled, leaving their Russians crews alone in the streets of Grozny. In addition, four helicopters and a Su-25 fighter-bomber manned by the Russian pilots were reportedly downed. All that remained of the Russian tank unit and the supporting formations of the Chechen opposition had left the city the same day.
This defeat was truly catastrophic, not only in military but in political terms. The employment of the Russian soldiers, secretly hired by the FSK, vindicated Dudayev's long-standing propaganda tune - namely, that there was no Chechen opposition, only tools in "Moscow's imperial game." Russian complicity was at first denied by Moscow, but then acknowledged when Dudayev's men paraded several captured Russian soldiers before TV cameras.
The November 26 defeat exhausted Russia's means of waging war against Dudayev by proxy means, leading to launching an all out and disastrous direct intervention next month, with Russian Defence Minister Pavel Grachev boasting that it would take a single parachute regiment only two hours to capture the city.
The Battle of Dolinskoye (Dolinsky), which took place 25 kilometers northwest of the Chechen capital of Grozny, was the first major ground engagement of the First Chechen War.
The battle began on December 12, 1994, when two Russian Airborne Troops colonels, along with six other officers and 13 enlisted men, died in a surprise 9K51 Grad multiple rocket launcher attack on an advancing column of armored vehicles of the 106th Airborne Division and 56th Airborne Brigade. The Russian side immediatelly retaliated with a helicopter gunship and ground attack aircraft airstrikes.
By December 22, 1994, Dolinskoye continued to hold out against Russian fire. According to the Chechens, in 1995 Russians admitted losing up to 200 men in the battle.
Battle of Khankala was a failed attempt by the Chechen to counterattack at Khankala from Grozny and Argun using tanks.
Khankala, the former Soviet military base and airstrip at the eastern outskirts of Grozny, also overtaking the main Rostov-Baku highway and cutting direct access into Grozny from Argun was captured in a surprise south-east dash from Tolstoy-Yurt, by a column of Russian troops led by elements of the 104th Airborne Division.
The Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis took place from 14 June to 19 June 1995, when a group of more than 80 to 150 Chechen separatist fighters led by Shamil Basayev attacked the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk (pop. 100,000), some 70 miles north of the border with the republic of Chechnya.
The separatists crossed into the Stavropol Krai concealed in a military trucks supposedly transporting coffins from the war zone in Chechnya, while some others infiltrated the city in a small groups earlier. At about noon of June 14 they stormed the police station, city hall and government offices, where at least 20 policemen and soldiers were killed and 21 others wounded, and the Chechen flags were raised.
After several hours, in the face of a Russian reinforcement, the separatists retreated to the residential district and seized a hospital. In the city and the hospital they took between 1,500 and 1,800 hostages, most of them civilians and including 150 children and women with newborn infants.
The hostage-takers issued an ultimatum threatening to kill the hostages unless their demands, including an end to the Chechen war and beginning of direct negotiations with Chechen separatist leadership, were met. Russian President Boris Yeltsin immediately vowed to do everything possible to free the hostages, denouncing the attack as "unprecedented in cynicism and cruelty."
On June 15, Basayev demanded that journalists be let into the hospital building to conduct a press conference, but when Basayev found the Russian authorities to be too slow in granting his request, he ordered six hostages killed (three helicopter pilots, two police officers and an official of military registration and enlistment office). Only after this journalists were passed into the hospital. Fearing for their lives, the hospital staff helped other policemen and pilots disguise themselves in civilian clothes and to appear committed to the hospital by changing the hospital records.
Chechen commanders enforced firm discipline among their men and reported to hostages that they will strictly punish subordinates for the least attempt at any violence. A member of Chechen force who was found to be threatening the hostages while under influence of narcotics was immediately shot. The Russians attempted various tactics to break the standoff, from threatening to execute 2,000 Chechen civilians to using Basayev's brother to talk him out of it.
After several days of siege, the Russian MVD and FSB OSNAZ special forces tried to storm the hospital compound at dawn on the fourth day, meeting fierce resistance. A woman connected to artificial respiration apparatus died during the assault when the electricity to the hospital was disconnected. After many hours of fighting wherein more than 30 hostages were killed, unable to avoid the grenades the Russians were throwing in through the shot-out windows, a ceasefire was agreed on and 227 hostages were released.
A second Russian attempt to take control of the hospital few hours later also failed and so did another one later, resulting in more casualties killed in crossfire. Russian authorities accused the Chechens of using the hostages as human shields.
On June 18, negotiations between Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Shamil Basayev led to a compromise which became a turning point for the First Chechen War. In exchange for the hostages, the Russian government agreed to temporarily halt military actions in Chechnya and begin a series of negotiations.
The just-released hostages were especially angered by Boris Yeltsin's order to use force against the separatists. Yeltsin meanwhile had gone to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the summit of the Group of Seven was being held. After meeting with Yeltsin, the seven condemned violence on both sides of the Chechen conflict.
On June 19, most of the hostages were released, and Basayev's group, under cover of 120 volunteer hostages (including 16 journalists and 9 State Duma deputies), departed for, and uneventfully reached, the Chechen village of Zandak near Chechnya's border with Dagestan. After these hostages were released, Basayev, accompanied by some of the journalists, moved to village of Dargo, where he was welcomed as a hero.
The raid is widely seen as having been the turning point in the war. It boosted the morale among the Chechens, shocked the Russian public, and discredited the Russian government. The initiated negotiations gave the separatists the critically needed time to rest and rearm. Until the end of the conflict, the Russian forces never regained the initiative.
In all, at least 105 citizens of Budyonovsk died at the result of the attack, including 18 women. At least 11 Russian policemen and minimum of 14 soldiers were also killed and 19 wounded, not including special forces servicemen. The elite anti-terrorist Alpha Group suffered at least 3 killed and 6 wounded. Eleven members of Basayev's group also died; their corpses went back to Chechnya in a special freezer truck.
About 160 buildings in the town were destroyed or damaged. Around 400 people were wounded while being held hostage. Many of the former hostages suffer from various forms of psychological wounds and traumas, and are being treated at a new facility in Budyonnovsk.
Reacting to the perceived inept handling of the hostage situation, the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, voted 241 to 72 in favour of an motion of no confidence of the government led by Viktor Chernomyrdin. The vote, however, was widely seen as purely symbolic, and the government did not step down.
Two weeks after the raid, Shamil Basayev expressed regrets about the way the attack had turned out, and that he and his men "had turned into beasts." In the years following the hostage-taking, about 30 of the attackers, including Basayev, have been killed, and 19 were convicted by the Stavropol territorial court. In June 2005 about 40 were still wanted in Russia.
The Kizlyar raid was a military offensive followed by a large-scale hostage taking by the Chechen separatists in January 1996 during the First Chechen War against Russia. The raid culminated in a week-long fierce battle for the border village of Pervomayskoye.
On January 9, 1996 allegedly on Dzhokhar Dudayev's order, Salman Raduyev's "Lone Wolf" group launched a copycat raid of the Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis on the helicopter military airfield and later a civilian hospital in Kizlyar, Dagestan.
A field commander Hunkarpasha Israpilov later said that he took over command of the operation from Raduyev after the latter failed in his mission to destroy the federal airbase, ammunition factory and other military and police installations in and around the city.
Rebel fighters led by Raduyev destroyed three helicopters at the Kizlyar military base and then entered the town, where they took some 1,500 to 3,000 hostages at a local hospital. All but about 120 were released after a day, but the rebels were using the remaining hostages as a human shields in an attempt to go back to Chechnya.
The rebels then headed in the direction of Chechnya but were halted near the border with Chechnya when Russian helicopter gunships fired on their convoy of 11 buses and two trucks on the border. A group of Novosibirsk OMON policemen who escorted the convoy and were caught in a crossfire surrendered to the rebels. The Chechens rushed for cover with the hostages to the nearby village of Pervomayskoye (Pervomaiskoye) and entrenched themselves.
Some hostages were reportedly given weapons by Chechens. Russian President Boris Yeltsin spoke on national TV on details of the operation. He said that, according to his information, "38 snipers" were supposed to keep the terrorists in their sights while a smoke screen would be created for hostages to run away through.
Russian special forces tried for three days to break into the village. After failing to do so, then Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov and then Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Mikhail Barsukov, declaring that Raduyev's men had executed all of the hostages, ordered that the Russian forces open fire on the village with multiple rocket launchers. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin also said that no hostages remained alive. Nevertheless, hostages were still alive and appealing desperately to the Russian security forces to cease firing on the village.
During the days when the Russian troops stormed Pervomaiskoye a large crowd of people, the relatives of the hostages, gathered near checkpoints located 10 kilometers from the settlement, as Dagestani police did not allow them to come nearer to the site. The people stood in silence and watched how the Russian troops bombarded the settlement where their relatives were supposedly being held.
Russian authorities have sought to minimize coverage of the crisis by keeping correspondents kilometers away from the scene, confiscating equipment, and using guard dogs and warning shots on some reporters.
On the eighth night, despite Interior Minister Kulikov's assurances that three rings of security forces had surrounded the village, Raduyev and his men managed to break out of the encirclement and escape, taking with them between about 20 Russian police hostages and some civilians. The storm group led by Turpal-Ali Atgeriev lost 17 out of 40 members during the escape. The following support group with the wounded and hostages led by Aydemir Abdalayev lost 26 men killed. The rear guard was commanded by Suleiman Bustaiev. They crossed a freezing river using a gas pipeline. In the ensuing pursuit, many of the rebels were killed by strafing attacks from Mi-24 helicopters. Three or four hostages also perished.
At the same time, another 200 to 300 guerrillas, sent by Dudayev, crossed the border from Chechnya where 700-800 fighters from all over Chechnya grouped under the command of Maksud Ingulbayev. In a diversionary attack to aid in the breakthrough they attacked the Russian lines from behind and then briefly took over a schoolhouse in the neighboring village of Sovetskoye, just a few kilometers outside Pervomayskaya. (The relief column, like Salman Raduyev's detachment earlier this month, apparently made its way through Russian-patrolled areas of Chechnya and Dagestan. Russian military and law-enforcement officials accused the residents of two villages near Pervomaiskoye of having colluded with the relief force.)
According to former hostage Andrei Stepanenko, the majority of the Chechen fighters had escaped from encirclement early morning of January 18, with a number of wounded fighters being carried on stretchers, while some 20 seriously injured who could not be transported were left behind. They also took with them a large amount of weapons and ammunition, including captured BM-21 Grad rocket launcher trucks.
Russian forces finally captured a pulverized village full of the corpses of Chechen fighters, Dagestani civilians, and Russian soldiers. About 80 of the Kizlyar hostages were recovered alive. When the fighting was over, one Russian regular army soldier unintentionally fired his armored personnel carrier's cannon; the shell hit and blew up another armored vehicle, and its fragments landed on the elite Alpha Group team, killing two commandos and injuring three.
On January 19 Salman Raduyev proposed to exchange the police hostages for the seriously wounded fighters he had left behind. The Chechens announced their readiness to turn over remaining civilian hostages to Dagestani authorities.
Turkish authorities meanwhile coped effectively with the hijackers of the Panamanian-registered ferryboat Avrazya, captured on January 16 by an armed group thought to number about a dozen Turkish citizens of Caucasian origin (six Turks and three Chechens according to some sources) in support of the rebels besieged at Pervomaiskoye. Turkish authorities, in constant communication and negotiation with the captors, after three days secured safe release of the captives (150 mostly Russian passengers and a Turkish crew) unharmed, and surrender of the gunmen without bloodshed.
In Chechnya's capital Grozny approximately 30 Russian employees of a power plant from Rostov were kidnapped for ransom on January 17 by the group of Arbi Barayev. It was also reported that some 38 civilians, mostly ethnic Russians, had been kidnapped previous week in Chechnya's rebel-controlled Achkhoy-Martanovsky District and offered in exchange for Chechen fighters in Russian captivity and civilian Chechen inmates of Russian filtration camps. Their release was negotiated later this month.
Raduyev's later indictment said 37 Russian soldiers and police officers as well as 41 civilians were killed during the raid. Official Russian figures put the death toll from the raid at 78 Russian (Dagestani) civilians and soldiers.
Western analysts estimated overall casualties at 96 Chechen fighters killed (90 according to the rebel president Aslan Maskhadov), 26 hostages killed, and about 200 Russian servicemen killed or wounded. The full extent of civilian casualties remained unknown because the Russian army did not permit journalists and independent observers access to the village during the attack and until after dead bodies of civilians were reportedly cleared from the streets by soldiers.
On January 27, 1996, 26 Chechen fighters, whose bodies were returned by Russian authorities through Dagestani intermediaries, were buried in the Tsotsin-Yurt village cemetery, considered a holy place because it holds the bodies of 400 Chechens killed fighting Russian forces during the Russian Civil War in 1919.
Russian press accounts of the carnage (including those by Izvestiya corespondent Valery Yakov, who witnessed the fighting from inside Pervomaiskoye) described a chaotic, overmanned, and bungled Russian operation in Pervomaiskoye.
The international organization Reporters Without Borders publicly protested Russian security authorities' intimidation of the press at Pervomaiskoye and the Russian military authorities' ban on medical assistance to civilians and their refusal to allow evacuation of the wounded.
The Russian State Duma granted amnesty for the 11 captured guerrillas by a special resolution. They were swapped in exchange for the 17 policemen seized by the rebels in Pervomaiskoye.
Salman Raduyev was captured by the Russian during the Second Chechen War and in 2001 sentenced to life in prison. He died in prison colony in 2002. Same year, Turpal-Ali Atgeriev (sentenced to 15 years) also died in prison.