RUSSIA VS CHECHNYAN SECESSIONISTS
Also called: First and Second Chechen Wars
Years: 1994-2006 | Est. deaths: 65 000
Published prior to 2013
Coinciding with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, part of Chechnya declared independence from the Russian Federation. Simmering debate over independence ultimately led to civil war in 1993. The First Chechen War began in 1994 when Russian forces entered Chechnya to restore civil order and central rule. Following a 1997 ceasefire agreement, Russian troops were withdrawn from Chechnya.
The 1997 election of separatist President Aslan Maskhadov led to turbulence within the country and a chilly relationship with Moscow. Further tensions arose in January and February of 1999 as Maskhadov announced that Islamic Sharia law would be introduced in Chechnya over the course of three years. In March of that year, General Gennadiy Shpigun—Moscow’s envoy to Chechnya—was kidnapped and ultimately killed.
In August and September of 1999, Shamil Basayev (who served as Commander of the Chechen armed forces in 1996 and was tapped to be Prime Minister of Chechnya for six months in 1998) led a small military force—not more than two thousand troops—from Chechnya into the neighbouring Republic of Dagestan. Baseyev sought to annex the Republic in order to form an independent Islamic state, but ultimately failed to take control of the Dagestani government. Moscow responded by bombing Chechen border villages that purportedly concealed the invaders.
In late September of 1999, the Russian military began bombing targets within Chechnya. Ground troops followed soon after. In response, martial law was declared and all eligible men were conscripted. President Maskhadov declared a ghazevat (holy war) to face the approaching Russians.
Hoping to avoid the significant casualties which plagued the First Chechnen War, the Russians advanced slowly and in force. The Russian military made extensive use of artillery and bombs in an attempt to soften Chechen defenses. It was not until November that the Chechen capital of Grozny was surrounded, and more than two additional weeks of shelling and bombing were required before Russian troops were able to claim a foothold within any part of the heavily fortified city.
By February 2000 much of Grozny had been reduced to rubble by nearly incessant artillery fire and bombing. Surviving Chechen rebels sought to escape into the hills surrounding the city. In March, the Russian army began to allow former residents back into the city to visit the wreckage.
Despite the destruction of Grozny, fighting continued, particularly in the mountainous southern portions of Chechnya. Rebels typically targeted Russian officials and pro-Russian members of government and police forces.
In September 2001, Chechen troops launched bold attacks on the Chechen cities of Gudermes and Argun. Rebels also shot down a helicopter, killing a number of senior Russian military officers. In the days following the attacks, approximately four hundred individuals suspected of involvement were arrested by Russian forces.
In March 2002, the leader of the fundamentalist Islamic rebel operations, Amir Khattab, was killed. Amir Abu al-Walid replaced him.
Russian officials have accused the bordering nation of Georgia of allowing Chechen rebels to operate out of Georgian territory, and permitting the flow of troops and materiel across the Georgian border with Chechnya. In August 2002, Russia launched air strikes on purported rebel havens in the Pankisi gorge very close to the Georgian border.
The Moscow theater hostage crisis
On October 23, 2002, gunmen took more than seven hundred hostages prisoner at a Moscow theater. The hostage-takers demanded an end to the Russian presence in Chechnya, and threatened to execute the hostages if their conditions were not met. The seige ended violently on October 26, when Russian troops stormed the building.
The Beslan school siege
On September 1, 2004, approximately thirty individuals seized control of Beslan’s Middle School Number One and more than one thousand hostages. Most of the hostages were students under the age of eighteen. Following a tense two-day standoff punctuated by occasional gunfire and explosions, Russian special forces raided the building. Fighting lasted more than two hours; ultimately 331 civilians, 11 soldiers, and 31 hostage-takers died.
In February of 2005 Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Baseyev issued a call for a ceasefire lasting until at least February 22: the day preceding the anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechen population. The call was issued through a separatist website and addressed to President Putin. Fighting between Chechen and Russian military units has apparently ceased in the region.
On 8 March 2005, Maskhadov was killed in the Chechen community of Tolstoy-Yurt, northeast of Grozny. His death took place during a raid by Russian security forces.