Second Chechen War
The Second Chechen War is part of an ongoing conflict in the Chechen Republic (Chechnya) and Russia. At issue is the degree of autonomy Chechnya should enjoy with respect to Russian rule—whether Chechnya should remain within the Russian Federation or whether it should form an independent nation. Although most major combat took place from 1999 to 2002, violence continues to flare up to the present day.
The Russian Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committee estimates that some 11,000 servicemen have been killed, with another 25,000 wounded. It estimates the civilian death toll at about 20,000 people. Chechen authorities quote a figure closer to 100,000 killed, with up to 240,000 injured. Other Chechen sources cite figures of 50,000 to 250,000 Chechen civilians, and 10,000 to 50,000 Russian servicemen, killed during the 1994-2003 period.
- 1 Historical basis for conflict
- 2 Immediate causes
- 3 War
- 4 Restoration of government
- 5 Continuing tension
- 6 Influence on Russian politics
- 7 External links
Historical basis for conflict
Following the annexation of Crimea by Imperial Russia in 1783, the Russian Empire began began spreading her influence into the Caucasus in order to secure its border against the Ottoman Empire. The Caucasus War was started in 1817. Russian forces first moved into the area that is now Chechnya in 1830, conflict in the area lasted until 1859. Many troops from the annexed states of the Caucasus fought unsuccessfully against Russia in the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).
In 1922, months before the creation of the Soviet Union, Chechen Autonomous Oblast of RSFSR was established. Eventually, in 1936, Chechnya and neighbouring Ingushetia became the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Chechens were aiding Nazi forces during World War II. In 1944, according to the decision of Soviet Government nearly all Chechens and Ingushs were deported to Kazakh SSR and Kirghiz SSR. They were allowed to return in 1957, and their republic was reinstated.
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 Following a 1997 ceasefire agreement, Russian troops were withdrawn from Chechnya.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 introducedTemplate:Fact 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.
Conflict in Dagestan
In August and September of 1999, Shamil Basayev (who served as Commander of the Chechen armed forces in 1996 and was a Minister of Chechenyan Government) led a small military force—not more than two thousand troops—from Chechnya into the neighbouring Republic of Dagestan. Basayev 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 organizing the defence of Daghestan.
Bombings in Russia
At the same time as the incursion into Dagestan, a series of bombings took place in Russia (in Moscow and in Volgodonsk) and Dagestan (outside an apartment building housing Russian soldiers in Buinaksk). The bombs targeted four apartment buildings and a mall, and in total killed nearly three hundred people. The Russian government (including then-President Boris Yeltsin) blamed Chechen separatists for the bombings, though there is some question about whether this assignment of responsibility is accurate. Shamil Basayev has denied involvement in the attacks. Some high-profile individuals (including the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky), connected with the rebels, have suggested that the FSB (a Russian intelligence service) staged the bombings to provide a pretext for an invasion of Chechnya.
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 ghazawat (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.
Although "extensive use of artillery" is often interpreted in the World War I context of leveling enemy positions, by mid-80es Russian artillery was often used in place of high precision weapons, mostly to destroy snipers and insurgent hideouts. Carpet bombing and the like were never conducted in this war.
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 residents to return to the city.
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 the 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.
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 matériel 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.
Restoration of government
On March 23, 2003, a new Chechen constitution was passed in a referendum. The 2003 Constitution granted the Chechen Republic a significant degree of autonomy, but still tied it firmly to the Russian Federation and Moscow's rule. The new constitution entered into force on April 2, 2003.
The constitutional referendum was strongly supported by the Russian government but met a harsh critical response from Chechen separatists; many separatists chose to boycott the ballot.
International opinion was mixed—enthusiasm for the prospect of peace and stability in the region was tempered by concerns about the conduct of the referendum and fears of a violent backlash.
Chief among the concerns are the forty thousand Russian soldiers that were included in the eligible voters' list (out of approximately 540,000). As well, no independent international organization (neither the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) nor the United Nations) officially observed the voting. (The OSCE sent a small team, but was unwilling to make a statement about the conduct of the referendum.) The OSCE, the United States State Department, and the United Kingdom's Foreign Office all questioned the wisdom of holding the referendum while the region was still unsettled.
On October 5 2003, presidential elections were held in Chechnya under the auspices of the March constitution. As with the constitutional referendum, the OSCE and other international organizations did not send observers to monitor proceedings. The Kremlin-supported candidate Akhmat Kadyrov earned a commanding majority, taking about eighty percent of the vote.
Critics of the 2003 election argue that many separatist Chechens were barred from running, and that Kadyrov used his private militia to actively discourage political opponents.
Russian and Chechen officials have regularly and repeatedly accused the opposing side of committing various war crimes including murder, rape, and assorted other breaches of the laws of war. International and humanitarian organizations (including the Council of Europe and Amnesty International) have criticized both sides of the conflict for blatant and sustained violations of humanitarian law.
Former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was killed by a car bomb in Qatar on February 13, 2004. A Qatari court convicted two Russian government agents in the bombing. The Russian government denied involvement in the attack, blaming infighting among rebel factions or a dispute over money. Moscow had at the time been involved in a bid to extradite Yandarbiyev to Russia to face terrorism-related charges.
President Akhmat Kadyrov was killed in a substantial bomb blast in a Grozny football stadium on May 9, 2004. President Kadyrov had survived two preceding bomb attacks, one on his Grozny headquarters in 2002, and one by a suicide bomber at a religious festival in 2003. His successor, acting President Sergei Abramov, was targeted by yet another bombing in July of 2004; Abramov survived the attack.
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 siege ended violently on October 26, when Russian troops stormed the building. More than one hundred of the hostages perished in the fighting that followed and from the incapacitating effects of knockout gas used by the Russian forces. Russian officials blamed Maskhadov and Baseyev for the attack; both initially denied responsibility and insist that the attack was the work of independent rebels and terrorists. On November 2 Baseyev recanted his statements, assuming responsibility in a statement on his web site and apologizing to Maskhadov for not informing him of the plan.
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.
Once again, Russian officials publically linked Baseyev and Maskhadov to the attack, and Baseyev again claimed responsibility in a September 17 website publication. Maskhadov denounced the attacks and denied involvement.
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 not apparently ceased in the region.
Influence on Russian politics
Among ordinary Russian citizens, there existed a strong perception that Chechnya was firmly a part of Russia. The notion that it might secede was implausible and unacceptable, even after events of the First Chechen War. The violent acts of Chechen militants were portrayed within Russia as having been carried out by dangerous, unrepresentative fringe groups.
Within the Russian government, there was a concern that allowing Chechnya substantial autonomy might lead to a domino effect—other regions within the already-fragmented former Soviet Union might choose to follow suit.
Motivated by these factors, President Yeltsin authorized the invasion of Chechnya. Many argue over whether Yeltsin genuinely believed that victory would be swift and decisive, or that his assertions to that effect were simply meant to assuage the concerns of Russian citizens. Despite assembling a much larger and better-supported force than was brought to bear in the First Chechen War, the Russian army sustained appreciable losses but won the bloody battle for Grozny.
Election of Putin
The election of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency changed the tenor of the Chechen conflict. Putin was often less concerned about Western public opinion than Yeltsin, and continued to prosecute the war. Nevertheless, he permitted human rights investigations to take place in Chechnya.
Putin officially reestablished Russian rule in Chechnya in 2000. This development met with early approval in the rest of Russia, but the continued deaths of Russian troops dampened enthusiasm.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, Putin was able to attract more foreign support for his actions in Chechnya. With some measure of success, he was able to portray Chechen militants as Islamic terrorists.
Putin also gained stronger control of Chechnya when he put it under the control of the FSB instead of regular MVD units.
Hearts and minds
Although fighting within Chechnya has largely ceased, sporadic attacks continue. The local government is not stable, and Russians are mindful of the potential for renewed conflict. Russia continues to maintain a substantial military presence within Chechnya.
President Putin and newly-minted Chechen leaders face a difficult task restoring stability to the region and in convincing Russians in and out of Chechnya that they can manage the situation effectively.
Human rights issues
- Council of Europe Resolutions on 'The human rights situation in the Chechen Republic'
- Amnesty International recommendations on Chechnya