First Chechen War

From Academic Kids

The First Chechen War occurred when Russian forces attempted to recapture the breakaway southern republic of Chechnya in a two year period lasting from 1994 to 1996.

Despite overwhelming manpower, weaponry, and air support, the Russian forces were unable to establish effective control over the mountainous area due to many successful Chechen guerrilla raids. Widespread demoralization of the Russian forces in the area prompted Russian President Boris Yeltsin to declare a unilateral cease-fire in 1995 and to begin withdrawing troops a year later.

After the deaths of thousands of civilians, on May 27, 1996 Boris Yeltsin met with Chechnyan rebels for the first time and negotiated a cease-fire in the war.


Origins of the War in Chechnya

The collapse of the Soviet regime and Russia's March 1992 Federation Treaty

In 1991, quite suddenly and unexpectedly for most Russians, the Soviet Union ceased to exist and Russia again became an independent nation. Although Russia was widely accepted as the Soviet Union's successor state in diplomatic affairs, Russia lost much of its international and domestic power. Having just witnessed the disintegration of the Soviet Union as a result of demands for greater sovereignty and power in the fourteen other successor states of the USSR, Russian elites were understandably fearful that similar developments could take place in non-Russian areas of their own republic. (Ethnic Russians make up more than 80% of the present population of the Russian Federation.)

In the Soviet period, some of Russia's approximately 100 nationalities were granted their own ethnic enclaves, to which varying formal federal rights were attached. Other smaller or more dispersed nationalities did not receive such recognition. In most of these enclaves, ethnic Russians constituted a majority of the population, although the titular nationalities usually enjoyed disproportionate representation in local government bodies. Relations between the central government calling for far-reaching autonomy (and sometimes even full independence) and subordinate jurisdictions, and among those jurisdictions, became a political issue in the 1990s.

In almost all cases, however, these demands were satisfied by concessions over regional autonomy and tax privileges. The Federation Treaty was signed in March 1992 by President Yeltsin and most leaders of the autonomous republics and other ethnic and geographical subunits. (For additional details, see The Russian Treaty of 1992 and regional power in Russia.) The treaty consisted of three separate documents, each pertaining to one type of regional jurisdiction. It outlined powers reserved for the central government, shared powers, and residual powers to be exercised primarily by the subunits.

The failure of Russian negotiations with Chechnya

The only autonomous jurisdictions that refused to sign the 1992 Federation Treaty were Chechnya and Tatarstan, both of which are rich in oil. (In the spring of 1994, President Yeltsin signed a special political accord with the president of Tatarstan granting many of the demands for greater autonomy among the Volga Tatars, a Muslim people conquered by Russia in the mid-16th century.)

Yeltsin declined to carry out serious negotiations with Chechnya, however, allowing the situation to deteriorate into full-scale war at the end of 1994. In the first half of 1996, Chechnya continued to pose the biggest obstacle to the quelling of separatism among the components of the Russian Federation.

The Chechen struggle for independence and Chechen nationalism

Chechen nationalism in historical context

The first Russian invasion of Chechnya occurred during the time of Peter the Great, in the early eighteenth century. After a long series of fierce battles and bloody massacres, Chechnya was incorporated into Russia in the 1870s. In 1936 Soviet leader Joseph Stalin created the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic. In 1943, when Nazi forces reached the gates of the Chechen capital, Grozny, Chechen separatists staged a rebellion against Russian rule. In response, the next year Stalin deported more than 1 million Chechens, Ingush, and other North Caucasian peoples to Siberia and Central Asia on the pretext that they had collaborated with the Nazis. The remaining Muslim people of the Chechnya region were resettled among neighboring Christian communities. Stalin's brutal policy virtually erased Chechnya from the map, but Soviet first secretary Nikita Khrushchev permitted the Chechen and Ingush peoples to return to their homeland and restored their republic in 1957.

Chechen President Dzhokar Dudayev

Missing image
Dzhokar Dudayev

The series of events since the Soviet Union's collapse flowed naturally from the Chechens' long-standing hatred of the Russians. In September 1991, the government of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic resigned under pressure from the proindependence Congress of the Chechen People, whose leader was former Soviet air force general Dzhokar Dudayev. The following month, Dudayev won overwhelming popular support to oust the interim, central government-supported administration and make himself president. Dudayev then issued a unilateral declaration of independence. In November 1991, President Yeltsin dispatched troops to Grozny, but they were withdrawn when Dudayev's forces prevented them from leaving the airport.

The Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic split in two in June 1992. After Chechnya had announced its initial declaration of sovereignty in 1991, Ingushetia joined the Russian Federation; Chechnya declared full independence in 1993. In August 1994, when an opposition faction launched an armed campaign to topple Dudayev's government, Moscow supplied the rebel forces with military equipment, and Russian aircraft began to bomb Grozny. In December, five days after Dudayev and Minister of Defense Pavel Grachev of Russia had agreed to avoid the further use of force, Russian troops invaded Chechnya.

Russian reaction

Chechnya long has had a reputation in Russia as a center of organized crime and corrupt business practices; the Chechen mafiya has a particularly fierce reputation. The proportion of Chechens and other Caucasians in Russia's emerging market economy is much higher than the representation of these nationalities in the population as a whole. In its propaganda campaign to justify military action against Chechnya, the Russian government played upon the stereotypes of the criminal and the dishonest businessman. It also illustrated the brutal practices of the Chechen rebels by broadcasting photos of the severed heads of victims along the roads in the breakaway republic. Meanwhile, Russians adopted the habit of including all individuals of non-Slavic appearance under the heading "Chechen," widening the existing strain of racism in Russia's society.

Quagmire and cease fire

The spread of the war and the rise of new separatist activities

Boris Yeltsin's expectations of a quick surgical strike followed by Chechen capitulation were horribly misguided. Russia was quickly submerged in a quagmire like that of the United States in the Vietnam War. Highly mobile units of Chechen fighters inflicted humiliating losses on Russia's ill-prepared, and not seldom, demoralized troops. The Russian military command then resorted to devastating air raids and use of artillery, causing enormous losses among the (Chechen and Russian) civilian population. When the Russians attacked the Chechen capital of Grozny during the first weeks of January 1995, about 25,000 civilians died under a week-long air-raid and artillery fire in the sealed-off city. The Russians are reported to have lost some thousands soldiers during their assault.

Massive use of artillery and air strikes remained the dominating strategy throughout the Russian campaign. In addition, Russian troops committed numerous and, in part, systematic war crimes against civilians, such as severe torture and summary executions, which often were linked to raids affecting entire villages. In the village of Samashki alone, about 100 civilians were killed by the Russians, and several hundreds beaten up or otherwhise severely tortured. Chechen insurgents, in turn, resorted to guerrilla tactics, such as setting booby-traps and mining roads. As the war went on, they increasingly organized large hostage takings, seeking to exert pressure on the Russian public and the Russian leadership.

The protracted war in Chechnya, which generated many reports of violence against civilians, ignited fear and contempt toward Russia among many other ethnic groups in the federation. The inability of Russian forces to subdue the Chechen "bandits" also encouraged other ethnic groups to defy the central government by proclaiming and defending their independence.

As the war was widely reported to the Russian public through television and newspaper accounts, it contributed, among the Russian population, to a loss of confidence in the government and, particularly, a steep decline in president Yeltsin's popularity. Chechnya was one of the heaviest burdens Yeltsin carried during Russia's 1996 presidential election campaign.

In January 1996, the destruction of the border village Pervomayskoye in the Russian Republic of Dagestan by Russian forces in reaction to Chechen hostage taking brought strong criticism from the hitherto loyal Republic of Dagestan and escalated domestic dissatisfaction. Chechnya's declaration that it was waging a jihad (holy war) against Russia also raised the specter that Muslim "volunteers" from other regions and even outside Russia would enter the fray. However, Russia 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 to extreme nationalist Russian factions.

Some fighting occurred in Ingushetia in 1995, mostly when Russian commanders sent troops over the border in pursuit of Chechen rebels. 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, even threatening to sue the Russian Ministry of Defense for damages inflicted.

Missing image
Scene of rubble in Grozny

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 imposing 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 domestic conflicts.

1996 ceasefire agreement

The demoralized and poorly trained Russian army proved incapable of suppressing determined Chechen opposition either in the Chechen capital or in the countryside. As humiliating 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 rocket attack killed Dudayev in April 1996, the Chechens persisted.

In August 1996 Yeltsin's national security adviser, Alexander Lebed, brokered a ceasefire agreement with Chechen leaders, and a peace treaty was formally signed in May 1997.

However, the conflict resumed in 1999, thus rendering the 1997 peace accord meaningless (see Second Chechen War). Chechen rebels continue to resist the Russian presence in their homeland to this day.

See also

External links

es:Primera guerra chechena ja:第一次チェチェン紛争 fi:Ensimmäinen Tšetšenian sota


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