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Chechen Wars

When Chechnya left the Soviet Union in 1991 to declare independence, its prospects were just as real as those of former Soviet republics in the Baltic, South Caucasus and Asia. Never did the Chechens imagine that their country would be totally destroyed by air raids and artillery fire during two Russian wars while Western democracies, for the most part, stood by. 200,000 dead, the plight of refugees, concentration camps, purges and cruel torture have uprooted Chechen society and driven people to a despair that makes them increasingly unpredictable.[1]

The Chechen problem actually started when Russians took control of the castle of Azak. Muslim Chechen started to resist. The resistance continued during the 19th and 20th centuries. During Chechen resistance the leader (Seyh Shamil) of Chechen people has played an important role. He was not a support of nationalist resistance; his idea was based on jihad.

Another reason of the invasion was that this area has many petrol resources. For example, 11,5% of production of the Russia’s petrol came from Chechnya and also this production increased annually. It had no benefit for the Chechen population because they lived in mountains and Russia reaped benefits of this petrol.  [2]

Generally the Chechen Conflict started when Russia wanted to dominate the Caucasus region. The Tsarist administration wanted to annex the region. Since the 18th century Russia started its move in Caucasus region.  During 19th century Russia got power in that region. In the Second World War some part of Chechnya rebelled against the USSR, the latter suppressed the movement. [3]

There were two battles for Grozny. In the first Russians took the city with a conventional, massed armored force with infantry and close air support. The second battle featured small bands of Chechens taking the city back from the same sort of Russian force that had captured it in the first place. The lessons of both battles are very instructive.[4]

In 1994, the Russia Federation started military action against to Chechens. Actually Russian people did not want to conduct this war. That created “Vietnam Syndrome”. The support of Yeltsin decreased. Russian commanders believed that war would end in two weeks but they had miscalculated. Even Russian army could not take Grozny that easily. However, they occupied that city in March 1995. [5]

On 23 April 1996, Chechen leader Dudayev was killed by a Russian missile attack. [6] Occupation of Chechnya was far from being called a victory. Chechens continued to struggle with guerrilla tactics in rural areas. During period of Yeltsin, the solution of Chechen problem was unsuccessful.

In August 1996 Chechnya was inflamed by the sudden clash of Chechen separatists which obliged then Russian President Yeltsin to sign the Khasavyurt agreement with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. [7]

The agreement had not reached peace and both sides had not determined what would happen in details. According to the Russian side, Chechnya recognized its subordination to Russia. But the Chechens people kept willing to be independent. The 2001 referendum was the proof of that.

In 1994-1995, war became so hard and the Russian army tried to take under control the Chechnya’s mountainous areas, however although Russia had more troops and weapons Russia could not succeed. After this failure the support of opposition grew and then Yeltsin’s government declared an agreement with the Chechens in 1996, after that the agreement was signed.

Tsarist Russia defeated Chechens in 1870. When tsarist Russia started to collapse in 1922, the Chechens declared their independence. Later they established the Soviet Union with Bolsheviks. The leader of Soviet Union Joseph Stalin (who is from Georgia) established Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936. After that NKVD[8] commissar Lavrenti Beria[9] expatriated more than one million people of Chechen-Ingush society to Siberia.

The USSR entered the process of collapse by Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika political reforms and Chechen declared their independence as Chechen-Ingush Republic, and first president was Dzhokhar Dudayev. Russia wanted to remove them and bring a new government who would be under control of Russia. Later Omar Avtorkhanov (supported by Russia) emerged as the head of opposition in Chechnya.

In 1994 the dissident supporters of Russia began clashes with the government. Russia wished to hide this game that is why Russia tried to show this clash as a domestic affair of the Chechens. However this game emerged when followers of the government captured some Russian troops. From time to time Russia launched air attacks on Grozny. Moscow wanted to make others believe that they were out of this business. Later when this game emerged they were forced to accept.

On 29 November 1994 Boris Yeltsin gave an ultimatum to both sides which included to lay down their arms in 48 hours. However Chechen leader Dudayev refused and said that: ‘’Russia has no such kind of right to give an ultimatum’’. The aim of Russia’s ultimatum was to create a reason for struggle with them. But the Chechen governance continued to expatriate Russian dissidents. After that improvements Russia began to struggle directly and on 3 December 1994, Russian fighter aircrafts bombed the President Palace in Grozny. That is how the First Chechen war began.

4.000 troops of the Russia army began to occupy city of the Chechen Republic, Natterechni. After that Russia gave a new ultimatum to Dudayev’s troops to release Russian troops (who had been captured before) in 48 hours. But Dudayev’s troops had a stipulation to release them: Russia must accept that troops belong to the Russian army. Both sides could not solve this prisoner problem with ultimatum.

Later both sides tried to come up with some kind of solution. However this meeting was between Russian Defense minister Pavel Grachov and Chechen President Dudayev on 6 December 1994, although the meeting was positive, Russia bombed Grozny second time on 7 December. On 11 December, Russian troops entered the Chechen territory. Both sides lost their troops.

In 1996 the Khasavyurt Agreement signed and the independence of Chechnya was officially recognized by Russia. On 31 August 1996 an agreement signed between Aslan Mashadov (the representative of Chechnya) and Aleksandr Lebed (the representative of Russia).  The agreement was about political statue of Chechenia that would be solved following 5 years. During withdrawal of the Russian troops, the warplanes bombed Grozny again, after bombardment thousands of civilians died.  During the war almost 200 thousand people died, more than 500 thousand people were forced to immigrate. The winner of the war was Chechnya but not for a long time…

There were four major reasons for the Second War waged by Russia in Chechnya. First, it was a direct response to the American air raids over Yugoslavia, when Russia was ignored as a world power. Second, it was revenge for the humiliating defeat the Russians had suffered in 1996. Third, many Russian generals liked to quote Putin’s idea that this war would mark the rebirth of the Russian army and the Russian nation, and that it would boost a sense of Russian national identity after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And last but not least, it was this war that made for KGB/FSB agent Vladimir Putin President of Russia.[10]

The Khasavyurt Agreement stopped war but did not bring stability. It is necessary to give Chechens war reparations to rebuild Chechnya by Russia. But Russians had a condition for Chechnya statue. The First Chechen War was hard to digest for Russia and the geopolitical importance of area, the security of Russian petrol problem and with the success of Chechnya other ethnic groups might have wanted to declare independence as well.

The conflict between both sides won a different case with Putin. When he became head of state, the Chechen problem became more confrontational. He thought that solution of this conflict should have finished in hard way.

The Second Chechen War started on 29 September 1999 with the Russian army’s bombing. On first October 1999 the Chechen government and parliament were declared illegal by Russia. Later many civilians died during that air campaign. On 8 June 2000 Putin declared decision binding Chechnya to Russia. During the First Chechen War guerrilla supporter Ahmet Kadirov was appointed the head of Chechnya by Putin. The agreement of 2003 Chechnya had broad powers as a republic which is linked to Russia.[11] But after the Second Chechen war some insurgencies started in the mountains.

Putin’s mind-boggling rise to the summit of power is inextricably linked to the start of the Second Chechen War in September 1999, triggered by two terrorist attacks in Moscow. That watershed could be marked as a “Russian 9/11,” and Putin assumed the lead in response to the tragedy. While he publicly took responsibility for launching the military operation to exterminate the terrorists, it is clear that the decision was not his to make. President Boris Yeltsin was still the commander in chief, and it was his team of aids, key ministers, and confidants that had prepared the order. The involvement of Boris Berezovsky is a matter of wild speculation, but it is known that Sergei Stepashin, Putin’s predecessor as prime minister who had significant experience from the first war, was personally involved in preparing the plans for the second one.[12]

Bilal TAŞTAN, International Black Sea University, International Relations

[1] Ekkehard Maass, Berlin 2003

[2] Abdullah Temizkan,”Kuzey Kafkasya’da Müridizmin Kurumsallaşması ve Gazavat” Karadeniz Araştırmaları,2010, Sayı:25,s.77-92

[3] Hasan Kanbolat, “Rusya Federasyonu’nun Kafkasya Politikası ve Çeçenistan Savaşı”, Avrasya Dosyası, Rusya Özel Sayısı, 2001,s.165-179

[4] JOHN ARQUILLA, THEODOREKARASIK, Chechnya: A Glimpse of Future Conflict, USA

[5] Kanbolat, a.ge. s.172

[6] “Efsane lideri Erbakan’ın Telefonundan vurmuşlar”, http://haber.gazetevatan.com/efsane-lideri-erbakanin-telefonundan-vurmuslar/372402/30/dunya (26.05.2014)

[7] Todays Zaman, August, the Month of Russian Calamity, August 27, 2004

[8] People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs.

[9]  was a Soviet politician of Georgian ethnicity, Marshal of the Soviet Union and state security administrator, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus (NKVD).

[10] Ekkehard Maass, Chechnya – War and History, Berlin 2003

[11] Topuz, a. g. e. s.

[12] Pavel K. Baev, ‘’Putin’s War in Chechnya: Who steers the course?’’ Ponars, November 2004

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