Chechen History

The essay on the history of conflict in Chechnya was prepared in 1995 by Edward Kline, President, The Andrei Sakharov Foundation. Please, e-mail questions to Mr. Kline (ekline@inx.net). Published by newsbee.net with Mr. Kline's kind permission.



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1. Late 18th Century - 1960

The Russian Conquest

Russia's systematic attempt to subdue and occupy the North Caucasus region dates from the late 18th century and the military campaign begun in 1783. Sheik Mansur, a Chechen, led the resistance from 1785 until his capture in 1791. But resistance to Russian occupation did not end.

From 1824 until 1859, Imam Shamil led the Muslim peoples of the North Caucasus in a long, bloody war against the Russian invaders. The Russians won by sheer force of numbers, and by carrying out a policy of relentless, destructive total war from fortress towns such as Grozny, founded in 1818 by the Russian general, Alexander Ermolov. After the surrender of Shamil, the Commander-in-chief of the Russian forces, Prince Bariatinski declared "in the name of the Tsar, the Russian government leaves you forever free to profess the faith of your fathers... The authorities in charge of your government will exercise their authority according to the shariat [Muslim written law which regulates the civil, social, and family life of all believers] and the adat [Muslim customary law which varies from people to people]." But, as Richard Pipes wrote in The Formation of the Soviet Union, "The Chechens and Ingush presented a special problem. Inhabiting the nearly inaccessible mountain ranges bordering on Dagestan, they were always, from the Russian point of view, a troublesome element. Unassimilable and warlike, they created so much difficulty for the Russian forces trying to subdue the North Caucasus that, after conquering the area, the government felt compelled to employ Cossack forces to expel them from the valleys and lowlands into the bare mountain regions. There, faced by Cossack settlements on one side, and wild peaks on the other, they lived in abject poverty tending sheep and waiting for the day when they could wreak revenge on the newcomers and regain their lost lands."

Beginning in 1859, many Chechens were deported to or sought haven in the Ottoman Empire. (A Chechen diaspora exists to this day in Turkey, Jordan, and other successor states of the Ottoman empire.) Even after Shamil's surrender, the Caucasian War continued on a reduced scale until 1864, and there continued to be intermittent outbreaks of armed resistance to Russian imperial rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most notably in 1877-78.

The Soviet Period 1918-1944

In May 1918, seizing the opportunity offered by the Russian revolution, the peoples of Dagestan and the North Caucasus formed a North Caucasian Republic and declared their independence. For the next three years, as civil war raged in the former Russian empire, a fierce struggle was waged for control of the Caucasus.General Denikin, the leader of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army attacked and defeated the forces of the North Caucasian Republic, but in the fall of 1919 Sheikh Uzun Haji organized a North Caucasian Emirate in the mountains of Chechnya and led the anti-Denikin resistance. Denikin was forced to withdraw. The Bolsheviks, who earlier cooperated with Sheikh Uzun Haji, installed a regime of military occupation. This led to a new outbreak of fighting in August 1920.

In January 1921 in Vladikavkaz, a Congress of Mountaineers was convened, and, with the personal participation of Stalin, a Soviet Socialist Autonomous Mountain Republic (including the Chechens, Ingush, Ossetins, Kabardians, Balkars, and Karachai) was established. The Republic's constituent assembly accepted Soviet sovereignty in return for recognition of the shariat and adat as the basic law of the Republic, full autonomy of the Republic in domestic affairs, and the transfer to the Republic of territory which had been taken from Mountain peoples by the Tsars.

In November 1922, Chechnya was detached from the Mountain Republic and given the status of an Autonomous Oblast of the Russian Federation, one step in the progressive erosion of Bolshevik pledges to respect the mountain peoples' autonomy. The collectivization campaign of 1929 sparked a new cycle of rebellion and repression. In 1934, the Chechen and Ingush Autonomous Oblasts were merged, and in December 1936, prior to the adoption of a new Soviet Constitution, their status was elevated to a Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR). However, the purges of 1936-38 led to the execution and imprisonment of thousands of Chechens and the stiffening of anti-Soviet sentiment.

In January 1940, Hassan Izrailov assumed the leadership of the Chechen anti- Soviet guerillas, declaring in a letter to the Soviet leaders: "For twenty years now, the Soviet authorities have been fighting my people, aiming to destroy them group by group: first the kulaks, then the mullahs and the `bandits', then the bourgeois-nationalists. I am sure now that their real object is the annihilation of our nation as a whole."

After the German army invaded Russia in June 1941, Chechen guerilla actions and Russian countermeasures intensified.

1944 Deportation

In November 1942 German units were approaching Vladikavkaz and had reached Mozdok on the road to Grozny, but they had to retreat when the German 6th army was cut off at Stalingrad later that month. Although the Germans never occupied Chechnya, on February 23-24, 1944, the Chechens and their neighbors the Ingush were systematically rounded up by Russian troops and shipped off to the east in freight trains.

The Soviet census of 1939 had counted 407,690 Chechens and 92,074 Ingush; altogether some 400,000 Chechens and Ingush were deported to Soviet Central Asia, the majority to Kazakhstan. It is estimated that 30% or more died during their detention and transport from the Caucasus or within the first year of their forcible resettlement. The decree ordering the deportation and abolishing the Chechen-Ingush ASSR was dated March 7, 1944. It explained the action as follows: During the Great Patriotic War, and especially during the time the German-Fascist army was operating in the Caucasus, many Chechens and Ingush betrayed their motherland, went over to the side of the fascist occupiers, enlisted in detachments of saboteurs and spies sent by the Germans into the rear of the Red Army, in response to German orders formed armed bands to fight against Soviet power, for several years have also taken part in armed actions against the Soviet authorities, and for a long time without engaging in honest work have conducted bandit raids against the collective farms of neighboring regions, robbing and killing Soviet people. Therefore, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet orders:1. Deportation to other regions of the USSR of all Chechens and Ingush living on or adjacent to the territory of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR, and liquidation of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. ...

Exile and Return: 1944-1957

The behavior of the Chechens in exile in Kazakhstan has been described in The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: "there was one nation that would not give in, would not acquire the mental habits of submission -- and not just individual rebels among them, but the whole nation to a man. These were the Chechens. They were capable of rustling cattle, robbing a house, or sometimes simply taking what they wanted by force. They respected only rebels. And here is an extraordinary thing -- everyone was afraid of them. No one could stop them from living as they did. The regime which had ruled the land for thirty years could not force them to respect its laws."

On February 25, 1956, in Khrushchev's speech to the 20th Party Congress exposing Stalin's crimes, he mentioned the Chechens among the peoples deported toward the close of World War II, commenting: "no reasonable man can grasp how it is possible to make whole nations responsible for hostile activity, including women, children, old people, Communists and Komsomols, to use mass repression against them, and to expose them to misery and suffering for the hostile acts of individuals or groups of individuals."On July 16, 1956, following Khrushchev's signal, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet issued a decree abolishing the legal restrictions that had been imposed on the deported Chechens, but specifically ruled out claims for return to their homeland and restitution of confiscated property.

On January 8, 1957, a further decree of the Presidium reconstituted the Chechen-Ingush ASSR, and cancelled the ban on the return of Chechens and Ingush. The horror of their mass deportation and the misery of their resettlement regimen in Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan have not been forgotten or forgiven by the Chechens.

2. History: Perestroika and the breakup of Soviet Empire

Perestroika in Chechnya: 1987-1991

Perestroika initiated a period of renewed unrest in Chechnya. Chechen intellectuals began by attacking the officially-sponsored historian Vitaly Vinogradov's view that Chechnya had voluntarily joined Russia. In 1988, a proposal to build a biochemical plant in the town of Gudermes aroused widespread popular opposition. In summer 1988, a Chechen-Ingush Popular Front was formed, which rapidly progressed from ecological to political slogans. In June 1989, for the first time a Chechen, Doku Zavgaev, was elected first secretary of the Communist Party in the Chechen-Ingush ASSR.

Various civic action groups began to organize, and on November 23, 1990, a Chechen National Congress (CNC) was convened, with the consent and participation of Zavgaev. The Congress passed a resolution calling for the "sovereignty" of the Chechen-Ingush Republic and elected Jokhar Dudaev chairman of its Executive Committee.

Dudaev was born in a Chechen village in January 1944 and was deported with his family to Kazakhstan a few weeks later; he returned to Chechnya with his parents in 1957, pursued a successful military career, joined the Communist Party in 1966, and became a Major General in the Soviet air force. From 1987 to 1991 he commanded the strategic bomber group based in Tartu, Estonia, and from 1989, he commanded the garrison in that city. (In Estonia, he is still a popular hero because of his sympathetic attitude toward the Estonian national movement.) Early in 1991, after his election as chairman of the CNC executive committee, Dudaev retired from the Soviet air force. He is still listed as a major general in the reserves, and is legally entitled to a general's pension. He is married to a Russian, with whom he has three children (a son was wounded during the current fighting in Chechnya). Dudaev has been described as charismatic, intelligent, energetic, authoritarian, erratic, hotheaded, single- mindedly dedicated to the independence of Chechnya.

On November 27, 1990, prodded by the CNC's resolution, the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR adopted a "Declaration on the State Sovereignty of the Chechen-Ingush Republic." Since "sovereignty" was also proclaimed at this time by other Soviet Republics, the Chechen-Ingush declaration, which was endorsed by Zavgaev, did not cause particular concern, despite the implicit upgrade in status from that of Autonomous Republic within the Russian Federation.

In spring 1991 when the CNC again convened (June 8-9), the more radical faction was in the majority. In a speech to this Congress published in a Grozny newspaper, Dudaev declared that the Soviet Union and its instruments of colonial oppression -- the Communist Party, the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Procuracy -- had robbed the Chechen nation of its "religion, language, education, science, culture, natural resources, ideology, mass media, leadership cadres, and rights to freedom and life." He acknowledged that "the price of genuine sovereignty is great," but rejected proposals to accept diminished sovereignty in exchange for economic stability, asserting that it was absurd "to presume that the Chechens will ever be reconciled with their present miserly colonial freedom."

The CNC concluded its gathering by calling for early parliamentary and presidential elections, for adoption of a new consitution and a law on citizenship, and for a referendum on the Republic's status. The CNC set as prerequisites for signing a treaty with the USSR or Russia the unconditional recognition of the Chechen nation's right to independence, compensation for crimes committed against the Chechen nation, trials of the guilty, and establishment of a government based on democratic principles.

The Separation of the Ingush

The actions of the CNC presented their neighbors the Ingush with a dilemma. Chechens and Ingush are related by ties of language, religion, and culture, and have been traditional allies, joined together under the Soviets in the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. The Ingush, however, have tended to be less irreconcilable in their hostility to Russian influence.

In 1991 their chief concern was to regain ancestral territory to the west, the Prigorodny raion bordering Vladikavkaz. In 1944, when the Chechen and Ingush were deported, this region was transferred to the North Ossetin ASSR and it had not been returned to the Chechen-Ingush ASSR after its reconstitution in 1957. (The northern Naursky and Shelkovsky districts, however, were incorporated into the Chechen-Ingush ASSR for the first time in 1957.) On April 26, 1991, the RSFSR Supreme Soviet passed a Law on the Rehabilitation of the Repressed Peoples promising in Article 6 "the restoration of the frontiers of their national territories existing before the frontiers were changed by anti-Constitutional force." The Law also provided for a discretionary transitional period before implementation of this provision.

Ingush leaders believed that their claims to Prigorodny raion could best be achieved by remaining within the Russian Federation. The June 1991 meeting of the CNC suggested that the Ingush decide their own political status and determine their relationship to Chechnya by a referendum. On September 15, 1991, an assembly of Ingush deputies passed a resolution calling for the formation of an "Ingush Autonomous Republic within the RSFSR." A referendum conducted (November 30-December 1, 1991) in three predominantly Ingush districts approved the proposed separation from Chechnya.

The Ingush decision was accepted by Dudaev and his followers. It was in effect confirmed by the RF Supreme Soviet on June 4, 1992, when it adopted a law "On the Creation of the Ingush Republic in the Russian Federation." This law failed, however, to fix the boundaries of the newly established Ingush Republic, providing instead in Article 5 that a Russian Federation government commission should consult with all parties concerned and propose a solution for the frontier issue by December 31, 1993. The failure to resolve promptly the question of Prigorodny rayon led to fighting between Ossetins and Ingush in October 1992, with several hundred people killed and many homes destroyed, the expulsion of almost all Ingush from Vladikavkaz and Prigorodny rayon, and the establishment by the Russian Federation of a state of emergency administration for the affected region.

General Ruslan Aushev, president of Ingushetia, and Boris Agapov, vice-president, have tried to keep Ingushetia out of the current war in Chechnya, while at the same time serving as a constructive intermediaries for the opposing parties.

The Chechen Revolution: August-December 1991

Political passions continued to heat up in Chechnya during the summer of 1991. They boiled over following the failed August 19-21 coup attempt by reactionary forces in Moscow. Zavgaev was then in Moscow to sign the proposed Union treaty. Almost all officials in Grozny either favored the putschists or avoided taking sides by calling in sick.

In contrast, on August 19, Dudaev and the CNC Executive Committee issued a decree denouncing the plotters as "a group of government criminals," appealed to "the population of the Chechen Republic to show perseverance, determination, and courage in defending democracy and human dignity," and called for "a campaign of civil disobedience." Large demonstrations in Grozny's main square supported Dudaev and the CNC. Zavgaev, who returned from Moscow on August 21, and the official establishment in Chechnya never regained control of the situation in Chechnya; on August 22 Dudaev's followers seized the Grozny television station; on August 24 they pulled down Lenin's statue in the town center; by the end of August a national guard was formed; on September 1-2 the third session of the CNC passed a resolution transferring power in Chechnya to its Executive Committee; and on September 6 the National Guard stormed a meeting of the Chechen-Ingush Supreme Soviet, forced Zavgaev to sign an "act of abdication," and manhandled and dispersed the deputies. In the melee, Vitaly Kutsenko, the first secretary of the Communist Party City Committee, jumped from a third-floor window and died as a result of his injuries. The leaders of the Russian Federation, having defeated the attempted coup and now striving to replace the disintegrating administrative structures of the USSR, sought to assert their authority over the Chechen-Ingush Republic. On August 26, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a Chechen, a general in the Ministry of Interior, and chair of the Russian Supreme Soviet's Committee on Legality and Public Order, was sent down to Grozny; he urged Zavgaev and the authorities, who were still recognized by Moscow, to refrain from the use of force in dealing with civil disobedience.

On September 11, Gennady Burbulis and Mikhail Poltoranin were dispatched from Moscow by the Russian Republic's leadership to try and restore order. On September 14, Ruslan Khasbulatov, a Chechen elected in 1990 to the RF Supreme Soviet from Grozny and its acting chairman after June 1991, arrived in Grozny to broker a deal among the conflicting forces. In an interview on September 7, he had called Zavgaev a tool of Moscow and a supporter of the putsch. On September 15, at a special session of the Chechen-Ingush Supreme Soviet, he persuaded the deputies to remove Zavgaev and to disband, in anticipation of new parliamentary elections, which were set for November 17. A 32-member Provisional Council, drawn from various political factions, was appointed to exercise executive power in the interim. Nevertheless, the political struggle between the radical nation-alist forces, grouped around Dudaev and pushing for independence, and the conservative establishment, trying to preserve the status quo, continued.

The Provisional Council, unwieldy and divided, split into competing blocs, and the CNC declared that elections for parliament and a president would be held on October 27.On October 6-7, General Alexander Rutskoi, then Vice-President of Russia, accompanied by Andrei Dunaev, RF Minister of Internal Affairs, and Viktor Ivanenko, chairman of the RF KGB, visited Grozny and met with Dudaev and representatives of the different factions contending for power. Rutskoi, on his return to Moscow, reported to the Russian Federation's Supreme Soviet that Georgia's President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was behind the unrest in Chechnya, and that Dudaev's "gang", which was terrorizing the population, numbered only 250 men.

On October 8, the Presidium of the RF Supreme Soviet adopted a Resolution on the Political Situation in the Chechen-Ingush Republic, which expressed "serious concern regarding the situation in the Chechen-Ingush Republic" where "the escalation of violent actions by illegal formations is continuing" and "the life, rights, and property of citizens of the Chechen-Ingush Republic are subect to growing danger." The Presidium then declared that the Provisional Council was the only legitimate state power in the Republic, that this Provisional Council should take all necessary measures to stabilize the situation, that "illegal armed formations" should hand in their weapons by midnight October 10, and that the forthcoming elections should be held on the basis of the Russian Federation's existing legislation.

On October 9, speaking on Russian television, General Rutskoi called the CNC Executive Committee members "criminals." His attacks were seconded by Khasbulatov, who assured the Supreme Soviet that the overwhelming majority of the Chechen people wanted to remain in the Federation. On October 19, President Yeltsin ordered all in Chechnya to submit to the terms of the Resolution of October 8 within three days.Dudaev in response announced mobilization and expansion of the Chechen National Guard; 50,000 persons demonstrated in his support in Grozny. Elections were held on October 27, the date proposed by the CNC, and, according to Andrei Illarionov's and Boris Lvin's article "Should Russia recognize Chechnya's Indpendence?" (Moscow News, no. 8, 1995), 458,144 persons (72% of the eligible voters) participated. Running against three competitors for the presidency, Dudaev received 412,671 votes (90% of the ballots cast). Several candidates had withdrawn, complaining of unfair election practices.

The Russian authorities refused to recognize the election as valid, claiming that only 15% of eligible voters participated and that existing legislation had not been respected. Now it was the turn for groups opposing Dudaev to demonstrate in Grozny, and in December, Umar Avturkhanov, an officer in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the recently elected mayor of the Nadterechny Raion in the north of Chechnya, announced that he would not obey Grozny's commands. On November 7, President Yeltsin declared a state of emergency in the Chechen-Ingush Republic. The newly-elected Chechen parliament responded by voting emergency powers to Dudaev, who ordered martial law in Chechnya and mobilized the National Guard. When planes carrying Russian troops landed at the airport near Grozny, their deployment was blocked by Chechen forces.

On November 10, the RF Supreme Soviet voted to withhold the confirmation required by Russian law for prolongation of Yeltsin's state of emergency decree. Probably the dominant factor in the Supreme Soviet's decision was a reluctance to use the Russian army to intervene in a domestic political dispute, a reluctance reinforced by the recent August events in Moscow. The Russian troops were evacuated from Grozny airport in what was regarded as a defeat for the Chechen policy of Rutskoi, Khasbulatov, and Yeltsin.It is interesting how events in Grozny during fall 1991 reflected and often seemed to anticipate analogous events in Moscow.

3. "Independence" (1992-1994)

After Russia`s failure to reassert effective sovereignty over Chechnya in November 1991, an extended stalemate developed. Chechnya attempted to assert the prerogatives of an independent sovereign state, while Russia continued to regard the Chechen Republic as part of the Russian Federation and subject to its laws-- the Chechen Republic is listed in Article 65 of the 1993 Constitution as one of the 89 subjects of the Russian Federation and the two seats in the Council of the Federation assigned to Chechnya are listed as vacant. Nevertheless, an uneasy modus vivendi prevailed for two and a half years, despite intermittent sound and fury. Some attempts were made to negotiate a resolution of the conflict, but Russia mainly followed a policy of benign neglect, except in the international arena where its adamant stance prevented any state from extending diplomatic recognition to the Chechen Republic.

Dudaev turned out to be an erratic and quarrelsome president. Suzanne Goldenberg, author of The Pride of Small Nations: The Caucasus and Post-Soviet Disorder, describes her visit to Grozny and her audience with Dudaev as follows:

Everywhere one sees men in various menacing guises, loitering with a disregard for time that seems closer in spirit to Peshawar, say, than to Moscow. The village elders with heavy sheepskin coats and cutlasses, the suspected mafiosi with gold teeth, fedora and black coat of movie gangsters, the bored soldiers -- these are the people with power in Grozny. They preen themselves in front of some of the finest cars in Russia -- Mercedes, Saabs, and other imports -- clasp each others shoulders in a quick hug in the Islamic style of greeting, mutter "salaam" and move on. On Thursday mornings the square is resrved for the dancers, who, according to local Sufi or mystical traditions, move at speed in dizzying circles and patterns meant to induce a religious ecstasy.In Moscow's newspapers and on television, the leader of independent Chechnya, General Jokhar Dudaev, is portrayed as a dangerous lunatic. Amid all the Russian prejudices against Caucasians, there is a particular contempt for Chechens. They are depicted by the media as a nation of thugs and criminals, relying on strong-arm techniques to safeguard their claim on the takings of Moscow's drug dealers, prostitutes, arm merchants, and smugglers. Although there is almost certainly a Chechen presence in Moscow's underworld, this fact is blown out of all proportion. As a Chechen foreign ministy official complained: "Some journal-ists who come to the Chechen Republic see only the limousines, they can't see the poor people, or the people fighting for their freedom. The main purpose of this idea of the Chechen mafia is to hide the struggle of a people for independence." At first glance, General Dudaev does indeed appear strange. His grip on affairs is so complete that it is impossible even to get a hotel room in Grozny without his personal intervention. Visitors seeking an audience stand waiting for six hours at a stretch in a corridor of heavily armed bodyguards, pacing and smoking. When they do reach the inner sanctum, Dudaev is invariably behind his desk, a strategy to hide the fact that he is very short. Wary but smiling in civilian clothing, he greets visitors from beneath the new green velvet national flag. The emblem of freedom shows a seated wolf on a mountain top in the light of a full moon. The green represents Islam, and the wolf the uncompromising independence of the mountain people.In November 1991, when Russian pressure was at its height, Dudaev released 640 prisoners from Grozny's prison to help defend Chechnya's independence. Many subsequently became members of the National Guard or of Dudaev's personal bodyguard. In early 1992, soon after Chechnya's declaration of independence, there were raids on Russian weapons depots in Chechnya, possibly instigated by Dudaev. Chechnya became a major supplier of Russian arms to the Bosnian Muslims, and allegedly an important base for drug dealers as well. Even sympathetic observers have called the Dudaev government's management of the Chechen economy a disaster; the blockade and other other sanctions imposed by Russia, even though they were only haphazardly enforced, accelerated the economic decline.When Dudaev clashed with parliament in June 1992, he announced the introduction of direct presidential rule. After speaker of the Chechen parliament Husein Akhmadov met in January 1993 with Ramazan Abdulatipov, chair of the Russian Supreme Soviet's Council of Nationalities, and Sergei Shakhrai, then chairman of the State Committee on Nationalities, and signed a letter of intent to negotiate a treaty with Russia, the conflict between Dudaev and the parliament escalated. It culminated in Dudaev's dissolution of the parliament and a June 1993 battle in Grozny between the National Guard and supporters of the parliament, which claimed more than 100 victims. Dudaev made Grozny the seat of the Confederation of Caucasian Peoples, a loosely structured and not very effective organization of fifteen peoples. The Confederation was intended to encourage the belief that a union of the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus is possible and could produce a viable independent state, but it also aroused Russian fears of Chechen meddling in Russia's ethnic Republics. Dudaev's grant of political asylum to Zviad Gamsakhurdia when he was ousted as Georgia's president in January 1992 and, later that same year, the sending of Chechen volunteers to assist Abkhazians in their fight for independence from Georgia only added to these fears.Despite official policy not to discriminate against Russians and to encourage them to remain in Chechnya, economic depression, interethnic incidents (many involving Cossacks in Chechnya's northern districts), fears of crime, and a reluctance to live as a minority in a Chechen-speaking and Muslim-oriented state led to a substantial increase in the emigration of Russians from Chechnya after 1991. A letter from an emigrant from Grozny published in Argumenty i fakty, no. 6, 1995, provides insight into a Russian's perception of interethnic relations before the war:Three years have passed since Dudaev came to power, and during that time 200,000 Russians have left Chechnya [this figure seems somewhat exaggerated], abandoning their homes, or selling them for a pittance. We Russians from Chechnya lost everything: our homes, possessions, friends, jobs. It was the Russians who developed the Republic's economy. No Chechen ever worked at a lathe or in the dangerous conditions of the oil refineries. They considered such jobs degrading. They would say "we have our white slaves -- the Russians."Now everyone's calling the Chechens poor unfortunates! Rackets, terrorism, counterfeiting, theft and armed robbery are the occupations "a real Chechen" considers worthy of him. "Go back to your Russia!" they screamed. And did everything to make their wish come true. And almost all Russians left. The Chechen people got what they wanted, and there's no reason to feel sorry for them. Chechnya's industry has been devastated. Sewage flows in Grozny's streets, and there's no water, electricity, heat. What can be done about it when earlier everything was supplied by Russian workers -- the Chechens thought that to get water you turn on the taps, to get light you throw the switch, and that's all there is to it.Calamities can really be understood only by persons who have suffered them. I'm not a nationalist, but I'm absolutely sure that the government has to be tough in taking care of Dudaev's gang, because Grozny is Russia, it's our town built by our ancestors.

1994 - Mobilization

After Russia's failure to establish effective control over Chechnya in November 1991, despite all the real and alleged sins of the Dudaev regime, despite its anti-Dudaev propaganda campaigns and its fitful economic blockade of Chechnya, Moscow largely followed a policy of peaceful coexistence with the Grozny authorities until spring 1994. Russia's adoption in December 1993 of a Constitution and the simultaneous election of a Federal Assembly more Russian nationalist in outlook seems to have triggered a reassessment of the Chechen question.

On February 15, 1994, Russia and Tatarstan signed a treaty affirming Russian sovereignty but granting Tatarstan substantial domestic autonomy. Tatarstan had been the only Republic other than Chechnya which had refused to sign the March 1992 federal treaty. Dudaev, while acknowledging the desirability for Chechnya of close economic relations with Russia, apparently declined suggestions to follow Tatarstan's course and refused to enter into negotiations until Russia recognized Chechnya as an independent state and a subject of international law.

Pressure mounted in Moscow to do something about Chechnya. Nationalists wanted to reassert Russian rule by force. Liberals wanted to bring Chechnya within the framework of the Russian Constitution and the rule of law by means of a process of peaceful negotiation. The average Russian was angered by stories of Chechen abuse of local Russians and saw Chechnya as a dangerous center of mafia activities. Almost no one in Russia or abroad called for recognition of Chechnya's independence.At the same time, local opposition in Chechnya to Dudaev had grown because of the Republic's failure to win international recognition, Dudaev's erratic and authoritarian behavior, a severe economic slump, and increasing crime, corruption, and clan rivalry. Some districts of Chechnya had come under the control of the opposition, notably Nadterechny raion, dominated by Umar Avturkhanov, who in December 1993 organized a Provisional Council as a potential alternative government for Chechnya and appealed to Moscow for assistance.

In the spring of 1994 Yeltsin and his advisors apparently decided to provide covert financial and military assistance to the opposition in Chechnya in hopes that Dudaev could be overthrown and that a reconstituted Chechen government would accept the Russian Constitution and the status it granted to the Chechen Republic. Implementation was assigned to the Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK -- the principal successor to the KGB), headed by Sergei Stepashin. On June 29, while on an inspection tour of Russian troops in the North Caucasus, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev announced that Russia intended to develop in the region a powerful mobile army group that would be available to help Ministry of Interior forces with domestic security operations.

July 1994 saw the beginning of a gradually escalating, low-intensity conflict between Dudaev and the Russian-backed opposition, although it seemed initially more a battle of propaganda and disinformation, of alarms and excursions, rather than conventional military warfare.On August 2, Avturkhanov claimed on Russian TV that his Provisional Council (PC) exercised effective power in Chechnya, and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin asserted that the time had come to take "concrete measures" against the Dudaev regime in Chechnya, but promised that Russian military force would not be used. Moskovsky Komsomolets reported that FSK's deputy director Evgeny Savostyanov (later dismissed) had clandestinely visited the North Caucasus and covert operations against Chechnya were being stepped up.

On August 6 there was a battle between pro-Dudaev and opposition forces in the Nadterechny raion. On August 10, a meeting was held in Grozny of clan chieftains, village elders, and Muslim religious leaders, who voted to proclaim a holy war (gazavat) if Russian troops invaded Chechnya. On August 29, Ruslan Khasbulatov agreed to cooperate with Avturkhanov's PC. (Dudaev had offered Khasbulatov asylum in Chechnya after Yeltsin disbanded the Russian Supreme Soviet in September 1993. Khasbulatov has played an ambiguous role in recent Chechen events, seemingly courted and also distrusted by all sides.) September 1-6 there was fighting between Dudaev's forces and opposition forces commanded by Beslan Gantemirov (elected mayor of Grozny in 1991), Ruslan Labazanov, and Avturkhanov. The Dudaev forces won this round despite the opposition's use of tanks and alleged support by Russian helicopter gunships. Fighting broke out again on September 13. Two of Grozny's television transmitters were blown up on September 15. On September 30, opposition forces claimed to have destroyed most of Chechnya's air force in an attack on the Grozny airport. On October 14-16, there was an attack, including helicopter strikes, on Grozny's suburbs: an army barracks and ammunition dump were blown up before opposition forces withdrew. Dudaev's forces captured Urus-Martan, Gantemirov's headquarters, on October 19, and a month-long lull in the fighting followed, but on November 17 near the village of Bratsk, Dudaev's troops engaged a column of tanks en route from North Ossetia to reinforce the PC forces.

The war entered a new phase in late November. On the 25th, 40 helicopters with Russian insignia attacked the Grozny airport and on the 26th the opposition launched a blitzkrieg tank attack on Grozny which penetrated up to the President's Palace. The attack fizzled out the next day, and the Chechens captured about seventy Russian soldiers who had manned the tanks. It was later disclosed that FSK had recruited them for this operation from regular army units. On November 29, President Yeltsin issued a 48-hour deadline for all factions fighting in Chechnya to surrender their weapons -- it was ignored. After General Grachev admitted on December 5 that Russian warplanes had bombed targets in Chechnya, which had earlier been denied, and that Russian soldiers had participated in the November 26 attack on Grozny, Dudaev met him in North Ossetia and agreed to release the captured Russian soldiers.

On December 8, President Yeltsin convened a special meeting of Russia's Security Council. The following day he issued Decree No. 2166, "On Measures to End the Activity of Illegal Armed Formations on the Territory of the Chechen Republic and in the Zone of Ossetin-Ingush Conflict," which stated:The Security Council of the Russian Federation has established the presence of illegal armed formations, whose actions over an extended period of time have led to bloodshed, the loss of life, and violation of the rights of citizens of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Chechen Republic and several districts of the North Caucasus.In accord with paragraph 5 of Article 13 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, activity directed toward violation of the Russian Federation's integrity, subversion of state security, creation of armed formations, or instigation of ethnic and national hatred is prohibited and is unlawful.On the basis of Article 80 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, I decree the following:1. I charge the Russian government in accord with points (e) and (f) of Article 114 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation to use all available state means to ensure the security of the state, the rule of law, civil rights and liberties, the defense of public order, the fight against crime, and the disarming of all illegal armed formations.2. This Decree enters into force from the date of publication.The Decreee was dated December 9, 1994. On the same day, the Russian government issued a resolution ordering the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) together with the Ministry of Defense "to disarm illegal armed formations on the territory of the Chechen Republic." The Ministry of Defense was ordered to destroy aircraft, armor, artillery and heavy weapons that were not surrendered or confiscated. The MVD and FSK were authorized to detain suspects, and deport non-residents from Chechnya. A special commission was set up to accredit correspondents in the war zone and to "ensure objective reporting of events in the Chechen Republic."

4. War

On December 11, Russian troops invaded Chechnya from the north, the east, and the west.The first two months of the war in Chechnya -- the nature and scale of the fighting makes "war" the appropriate term -- was reported in detail by television and the press both in Russia and abroad, although coverage has fallen off sharply since January 19, when Russian troops occupied Grozny's Presidential Palace.

Despite forecasts of a quick victory, Russian troops made slow progress in advancing on Grozny, held up by unarmed civilian protesters as well as by Chechen troops and a lack of supplies and seasoned soldiers. The Chechen forces are made up of the National Guard and other regular army units, including many soldiers with Afghan war experience; the volunteer militia, subject also to central command and discipline, in which a great proportion of able-bodied Chechen males participate, some on a part-time basis; and "the avengers," individuals or small groups, whose relatives have been killed, and who, acting on their own, seek blood vengeance in accord with Chechen custom. The Chechens' weapons, which include some artillery and armor and plentiful supplies of sophisticated anti-tank weapons, Kalashnikov automatic rifles, ammunition, and grenades, are Russian in origin. They were handed over to the Chechens in 1991, seized during raids on Russian arms depots in 1992, or bought at various times from corrupt Russian officers and other arms dealers. The Chechens lack American Stingers or equivalent Russian anti-aircraft weapons; this leaves them vulnerable to Russian helicopter gunships.

Russian air raids and artillery fire have been employed, in accord with traditional Russian military doctrine and practice, to prepare the way for ground offensives against Chechen positions. Initially, their use was relatively restrained. As Chechen resistance stiffened, however, the bombing and shelling of Grozny and of other population centers (including some in Ingushetia), as well as of military and industrial targets, escalated. Frederick Cuny, in his article Killing Chechny (The New York Review, April 6, 1995), describes the Russians' tactics: "To put the intensity of firing in perspective, the highest level of firing recorded in Sarajevo was 3,500 heavy detonations per day. In Grozny in early February, a colleague of mine counted 4,000 detonations per hour. Only in early March did the Russians diminish their shelling and adopt a strategy of starving out the local population." An all-out Russian assault on Grozny was launched on December 31, but it failed to achieve its main objective, the taking of the President's Palace. Russian armor and troops found themselves trapped in the city streets, leading to fierce battles and heavy casualties --many Russian soldiers were trapped in armored personnel carriers and incinerated.It was not until January 19, after more than a month of hard fighting and the total destruction of central Grozny, that Russian troops were able to occupy the President's Palace. After another three weeks of combat, the Russian command claimed that it controlled the city of Grozny, but its control is tenuous and is contested nightly by Chechen snipers and patrols. In mid-February, a brief respite was arranged, after which the war resumed. On Monday, February 13, in Ingushetia, MVD Colonel General Anatoly Kulikov, commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, and Russian army commander General Anatoly Kvashnin met with Dudaev's chief of staff, Colonel Asland Maskadov, and agreed on a heavy weapons cease-fire. In further meetings, on February 15 and 17, the two parties negotiated a 48-hour total cease-fire permitting an exchange of prisoners, recovery and burial of the bodies of dead Russian and Chechen soldiers, as well as the first delivery of humanitarian aid to Grozny by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on February 18.

Unfortunately, hopes that this limited truce might become a starting point for a settlement of the conflict were dashed when talks were broken off. Chechen forces regrouped to the east of Grozny around the towns of Gudermes, Argun, and Shali, and also in the hills to the south of Grozny. Until mid-March, fighting was sporadic, with Russian forces slowly consolidating their positions, sometimes by negotiating agreements with local Chechen authorities, sometimes by air and ground attacks on Chechen positions. On March 20, Russian forces began a new offensive to take Shali and Argun; heavy bombing, strafing, and shelling of Chechen positions in and around the towns were followed up by tank and infantry attacks. If the road junctions of Shali and Gudermes are captured by the Russians, the Chechens' access to Dagestan will be seriously reduced. Even if the Russians' present offensive succeeds, however, Cuny (in the article cited above and written on March 9) notes that at some point "the Russians must turn south ... and confront the Chechen forces massed in the south. Undoubtedly, the Russians can inflict major damage on the Chechens. The question for Yeltsin is how far he is prepared to go ... to win, the Russians will have to force half a million or more people into the mountains, cut off their food supplies, and starve them into submission."

The Conduct of the War: Violations of Humanitarian Law

Sergei Kovalev, Russia's Commissioner for Human Rights, has taken the lead in publicizing the human cost of the war in Chechnya and denouncing the gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law that have occurred. On December 15, he led a 5-man group to Chechnya to monitor the war there. (The original team included Kovalev, deputies of the State Duma Valery Borshchev, Mikhail Molostvov, and Leonid Petrovsky, and expert of the Memorial Society's Human Rights Center Oleg Orlov. Deputies Yuli Rybakov and Alexander Osovtsov later joined them.) While in Grozny, Kovalev sent to Moscow a series of bulletins and appeals reporting on the war's horror:

Every day we see planes dropping bombs on residential areas with complete impunity. Every day we see the bodies of civilians torn apart by these bombs, some without heads, others without legs. Many places in the city of Grozny resemble the section of Stalingrad left unrepaired in order to serve as a war memorial. There was a military hospital next to the building where we slept in Grozny before the December 31 attack. The hospital's head doctor told me that a shell had come through the roof during the attack. Fortunately, no one was killed directly. They had to interrupt an operation to amputate the arm of an elderly Russian woman who had been badly wounded by shrapnel, but they managed to complete the surgery later in a make-shift operating room in the basement. Other patients who couldn't receive necessary treatment because of the attack on the hospital died. By the time we returned to the site, it was too late to see anything -- the hospital had burned down.Boarding school 2 was hit, but fortunately all 43 children were in the basement. None were hurt, and they were evacuated to the village of Stary Atagi. I hope they'll be all right there, but according to recent unconfirmed reports, Stary Atagi has been bombed. Many other Chechen villages have been bombed, including, Urus-Martan which is sheltering more than 1,000 refugees.Anna Volkova, a very old woman, is sitting on the sidewalk with the few possessions she saved from her fourth floor apartment which was destroyed by a bomb. Next to her lie the bodies of her son and daughter-in-law covered by a blanket. Volkova is sitting on a stool behind a small cart covered with a flannel blanket -- passersby leave money for the funeral on it.During the attack, a house on Central Square, not far from the President's Palace, was set on fire. Alexander Pavlovich, a World War II veteran, managed to lower himself on sheets from his fourth-floor apartment to the third floor where he was saved by Chechen militiamen. Neither he nor the militiamen were able to rescue his wife, who was paralyzed. She cried out: "Save me! Save me!" before she burned to death.Grozny's ruins are overloaded with bodies -- the bodies of Russian soldiers. Stray dogs gnaw at the dead. Kovalev returned to Moscow on January 5 to describe directly to President Yeltsin the observations of his group. On January 10, he submitted a report to the Russian State Duma, detailing the group's "finding that gross violations of human rights and the norms of humanitarian law have been committed in the war zone on the territory of Chechnya and in parts of Ingushetia," and adding:

On the basis of our analysis of information gathered, together with official communiques, eyewitness testimonies and documents published by the media, we can responsibly assert that: 1. In the war zone, the Russian side is conducting military operations using modern heavy weapons and aircraft for indiscriminate attacks which are causing a) large-scale death and maiming of the civilian population in Chechnya; b) the destruction of housing and other civilian objects indispensable for survival; c) damage to and disruption of medical institutions, the destruction of ambulances and other medical conveyances, including some marked with the Red Cross insignia; d) the destruction of cultural objects; e) serious damage to installations involving potential hazard to the environment. 2. Necessary measures for the protection and evacuation of the civilian population located in the war zone are not being taken by either side; 3. The Russian side is not taking adequate measures for finding, removing, and burying the dead; 4. The Russian side is obstructing shipment to the war zone of humanitarian assistance, including lifesaving medical supplies needed for the wounded; 5. The Russian military authorities, officials, and government-controlled information services are unreasonably withholding information and conducting a campaign of deliberate disinformation, which is spreading such evident lies about events in the Chechen Republic as: a) false information about the time and nature of military operations, leading to civilian victims and the destruction of civilian targets ... c) the lie that there have been no rocket or bomb strikes ... d) concealing military losses and the names of those killed, wounded, or missing in action, and those taken prisoner. The Chechen side has also falsified information for purposes of propaganda. 6. The Russian side has continually hindered the activity of correspondents in the war zone, in a manner unrelated to the legitimate protection of military secrets. In addition, a number of credible eyewitnesses have reported that force has been used to interfere with reporters, as well as other instances of mistreatment of journalists, threats to them, and confiscation of their materials. Facts have become known about coercion of the press in Moscow as well....The Russian federal authorities are refusing to recognize that the events in Chechnya constitute a "non-international armed conflict." Their actions on the territory of the Chechen Republic are grossly violating the norms of international humanitarian law, and in particular, the June 8, 1977 Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949. The Russian Federation is a party to Protocol II, which relates to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts.The use of military weapons and the conduct of military operations as noted above, which have led to the death and maiming of many civilians; to the destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population; the destruction of irreplaceable cultural objects; the military authorities' obstruction of the shipment of humanitarian supplies to Grozny; and the failure to take measures for finding, removing and burying the dead are gross violations of Articles 4, 8, 13, 14, 16, and 18 of Protocol II.

Kovalev's testimony on the war's human cost was echoed in the observations of a 5-man fact-finding mission to Moscow and Chechnya (January 23-29) under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and led by Istvan Gyarmati, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office. His 20-page report includes the following comment: The humanitarian situation is a catastrophe of serious proportions. According to General Babichev 150,000 people, predominantly Russian, old, sick, women and children, are trapped in the ruins of the city. The Russian forces cannot cope with the situation without help from civilian Russian authorities and international humanitarian aid. The need for humanitarian aid is very large in all parts of Chechnya and the neighboring regions. Detained Chechens in the prison wagons in Mozdok we met had been badly beaten and were in urgent need of medical care.There have been other allegations of torture and summary execution of Chechen civilians detained by the Russian army and sent to screening facilities in Mozdok and elsewhere in the region. There are also credible reports that Russian soldiers were guilty of looting, indiscriminate shooting and other violence during the siege and taking of Grozny.

Lorenzo Amberg, from the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, led a second 5-man mission to Moscow, Chechnya, and North Ossetia (February 22-March 1) under OSCE auspices to investigate the humanitarian and human rights situation. The summary of the Group's Report states "that the most urgent problems are the distribution of relief goods and access of the ICRC to Chechnya, the security of the civilian population and refugee problems. The Mission believes the fundamental issue remains a negotiated ceasefire as the condition for any substantial improvement."

Pressed by the West, the Russian government has agreed in principle to a continuing OSCE presence in Chechnya and the adjacent region, but the terms of reference for the mission have not been published. Based on statistical analysis of refugees' eyewitness reports, Edward Gelman, a member of Kovalev's staff, has estimated as many as 24,000 civilian deaths between November 25 and January 25 due to the war; he estimates that 19,000 of them were the result of bombing and shelling. Civilian deaths in all Chechnya during that period may have exceeded 30,000.In an interview on March 23, Col. General Kulikov reported that 1,253 Russian army soldiers had been killed and 3,563 wounded during the war up to that date; 132 Ministry of Interior troops had been killed and 876 wounded. In addition, an earlier report had acknowledged 400 Russian soldiers missing in action. Several sources have issued substantially higher estimates for Russian casualties -- Frederick Cuny, for one, believes more than 5,000 Russian soldiers have been killed. So far, no reliable figures on Chechen army casualties have been published. James Collins, a US State Department official, in his testimony given to the US Helsinki Commission on January 27 cited estimates of 455,000 persons displaced by the fighting, of whom some 260,000 are in Chechnya proper, 130,000 in Ingushetia, 45,000 in Dagestan, and 20,000 elsewhere. The cost of reconstruction of housing, essential infrastructure, and industry has been estimated at more than $1,000,000,000. Jonas Bernstein wrote in the Wall Street Journal (March 20) that Grozny's "city center now resembles Dresden 50 years ago, and the Russian government ministers who recently inspected the damage there say it is beyond repair." The city's infrastructure -- water, gas, and sewage lines -- has been severely damaged as well as the housing stock. The recent Russian offensive may have inflicted comparable damage on Argun and Shali.

March 24, 1995



You can discuss this issue at the Discussion Board for Journalists

Edward Kline (ekline@inx.net)
Select Bibliography:

English-language

Marie Broxup, editor. The North Caucasus Barrier, Hurst, London, 1992. The articles by Abdurahman Avtorkhanov "The Chechens and the Ingush during the Soviet Period and its Antecedents," and by Marie Broxup "Russia and the North Caucasus" and "After the Putsch" are especially valuable. Suzanne Goldenberg, The Pride of Small Nations: The Caucasus and Post-Soviet Disorder, Zed Books, London, 1994. Paul Henze, Chechnia: A Report of a Fact-Finding Mission, September 23-October 3, 1992, International Alert, London,

Russian-language

Timur Muzaev, Zurab Todya, Novaya Checheno-Ingushetiya, Panorama, Moscow, 1992. Politicheskii landshaft Rossii (The Political Landscape of Russia), January 1995, Center for the Study of Political Geography, Moscow. The January 1995 issue of this new journal, devoted to articles on the Chechen conflict, is up-to-date and useful.

Acknowledgments:

Professor Andrew Blane

Professor emeritus of Russian history at City University of New York and secretary of the Human Rights Project Group, made a great many constructive contributions to the content and style of this briefing paper.

Frederick C. Cuny

An emergency management consultant, spent three weeks in January and February 1995 assessing the humanitarian situation in Chechnya and the surrounding region. His article in the April 6 New York Review of Books and a meeting with him provided important information on the situation in Chechnya.



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