Chechen wars


Chechen wars
(1994–1996 and 1999–2005)
   In the midst of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the leadership of Chechnya declared their independence of Moscow. Rather than confronting Jokhar Dudayev’s secessionist regime directly, Boris Yeltsin generally ignored the problem after Russian troops were forced out of the area in late 1991, though Moscow supported anti-Dudayev militias with weapons and financing. In late 1994, however, Yeltsin, in an attempt to “restore constitutional order,” sent federal troops back into the breakaway region, which now called itself Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya. Hopes of a rapid defeat of the rebels were quickly dashed as guerilla fighting and poor morale took their toll on the Russian military.
   Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in aerial bombardments and urban warfare, and the Kremlin found itself condemned at home and abroad for its conduct of the war. While the Russian army was eventually able to take the regional capital Grozny, outright victory proved nearly impossible. Separatist warlords such as Shamil Basayev soon took up terrorist tactics, such as hostage taking in neighboring regions such as Stavropol, Ingushetiya, and Dagestan. Chechnya’s chief mufti, Akhmad Kadyrov, then declared the war against the Russians to be a jihad, thus implying that it was the duty of all Muslims to defend the breakaway republic. Upward of 5,000 foreign fighters flocked to the Chechen cause, while irregular bands of Cossacks lent their support to federal forces, creating an extremely volatile situation across the North Caucasus.
   Yeltsin, who had hoped that a short and popular war with the separatists would buttress his authority, soon realized that the war was becoming unmanageable and that terrorist attacks were impacting national security. Despite the death of Dudayev on 21 April 1996, the worsening military situation and increasing accusations of routine violations of human rights severely hampered Yeltsin’s popularity, nearly costing him the 1996 presidential election. In August, renewed conflict in Grozny and the threat of the complete destruction of the city by military commanders precipitated the Khasav-Yurt Accord, which brought about a cease-fire, followed by the withdrawal of all federal troops from the republic in December 1996. On 12 May 1997, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov visited Moscow where he and Yeltsin signed a formal peace treaty and established economic relations between the republic and the rest of the federation. The war cost the lives of 3,800 federal troops, 3,000– 4,000 separatists, and more than 100,000 residents of Chechnya, mostly civilians. The civilian casualties were dominated by ethnic Chechens but also included approximately 35,000 ethnic Russians who died during the initial taking of Grozny.
   In the wake of the Khasav-Yurt agreement, a number of the more radical combatants gravitated toward Islamism, embracing a strict form of Wahhabism combined with a political ideology that advocated the creation of a caliphate in the North Caucasus. Basayev and the Arab-Circassian Ibn al-Khattab represented the most dangerous of these belligerents. In the late summer of 1999, the two launched an armed incursion into neighboring Dagestan that roughly coincided with a series of apartment bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities (also linked to Chechen rebels). The Kremlin responded by sending federal troops back into Chechnya, ending its de facto independence and triggering the Second Chechen War.
   Rather than risk another poorly executed ground war, the Russian military initially favored aerial bombardments to target the Chechen militants. While the tactics were condemned abroad, the actions taken by president-in-waiting Vladimir Putin proved popular at home. From December 1999 until February 2000, Russian troops laid siege to Grozny, resulting in massive civilian casualties and the exodus of much of the city’s population to neighboring Ingushetiya and elsewhere. With much loss of life, the city was ultimately placed under federal control. In May, Putin appointed Akhmad Kadyrov as president of the republic, reestablishing nominal authority and bringing an end to full-scale war in the region.
   Anti-Russian forces continued a deadly guerilla campaign for several years, which led to harsh reprisals from Russian forces and allied militias. Disappearances and cases of torture became commonplace during the period from 2000 to 2005. Terror attacks, hostage taking, and assassinations plagued Chechnya for the next five years. Basayev and others orchestrated a series of terrorist attacks across Russia that claimed nearly 1,000 lives during the same time period. Kadyrov was killed on 9 May 2004 by a bomb blast during World War II memorial celebrations. His son Ramzan Kadyrov, a pro-Russian militia commander, ultimately succeeded him as president of the republic.
   On 2 February 2005, the leading rebel commander, Maskhadov, declared a unilateral cease-fire, marking the end of major guerilla operations (Maskhadov was killed a month later). In 2006, Basayev was also killed, removing one of the major organizers of war-related terrorism. From 2006 to 2007, the situation in Chechnya greatly normalized; the period saw the return of many refugees and extensive building projects in Grozny. While the war has not been declared officially over, the Kremlin announced that major counterterrorism operations ended in April 2009.
   The second Chechen War took the lives of upward of 10,000 federal soldiers and police. Roughly the same number of militants— many of them recruited from abroad—died in the fighting, and between 25,000 and 50,000 civilians perished in the fighting and subsequent chaos. Collectively, the two wars have rendered the region an environmental disaster zone, claimed nearly 200,000 lives, and created lasting resentment between the various ethnic and religious communities of the entire region. Veterans of the war suffer from intense social problems, and the conflict has had lasting negative impacts on the culture of the army and the police. The effects of the Chechen-led terror campaign have sparked endemic racism across Russia directed at those of “Caucasian” appearance, often resulting in ethnic violence.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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