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Mosnews: The War In Chechnya

posted by FerrasB on July, 2006 as NORTH CAUCASUS

From: MSN NicknameEagle_wng  (Original Message)    Sent: 7/12/2006 3:08 AM

The War in Chechnya

The roots of the current conflict between Russia and Chechnya, involving the latter’s struggle for independence, go back several centuries. A region located just north of the Caucasus Mountains that separate Asia from Europe and, currently, Georgia from the Russian Federation, Chechnya has been inhabited for thousands of years by a people speaking an isolated language. Once conquered by the Ottoman Turks, the Chechens are predominantly Muslim, and Sunni missionaries from Saudi Arabia reinforced the Sunni faith there in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Russian Empire under Catherine the Great annexed Georgia, a predominantly Christian country that borders Chechnya to the south, in 1783, thereby formally gaining control of Chechnya. Afterwards, Chechens declared a holy war on Russia, which escalated during the following century, culminating in the Caucasian War that ended in 1864. The resisting Chechen tribes were headed by Imam Shamil, a military and religious leader whose charisma was recounted in Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Hadji Murat.

Resistance to Russian forces did not cease, however, even after Chechnya was conquered in 1858, and it continued after Chechnya became a Soviet republic. In 1944, Joseph Stalin deported about 400,000 Chechens and Ingush to Kazakhstan. The ban on their return was lifted in 1957 by Nikita Khrushchev.

In 1991, thanks to mass demonstrations led by the newly-formed Chechen National Congress, the Communist leadership of the republic was brought down, and Chechen National Congress leader Jokhar Dudaev was elected president. He then claimed Chechen independence from Russia.

The First Campaign: 1994-1996

In December 1994, Russian troops invaded Chechnya after Dudaev’s government issued its own constitution, disregarding the Russian elections of 1993.

President Boris Yeltsin sent Russian troops into Chechnya on December 11, 1994. By New Year’s Eve, the army was fighting for Grozny, the capital, in what came to be considered one of the worst military engagements of the 20th century; over 2,000 Russian soldiers were killed in the first several days alone. By January 19, Federal forces had retaken the nearly-destroyed presidential palace, after having suffered tremendous losses in lives and morale.

By May of that year, Russian forces had captured the main towns and had secured about two-thirds of Chechen territory. However, resistance and sporadic fighting continued for another year.

In June of 1995, Chechen rebels seized hundreds of hostages at a hospital in Budennovsk, in southern Russia. The siege ended after a long and unsuccessful Russian commando operation in which over a hundred hostages were killed.

The fighting escalated until April of 1996, when Russian forces killed Dudaev in a missile attack — he was targeted while using a satellite phone. In August, after several unsuccessful truces and an attack by Chechen rebels on Grozny, President Boris Yesltin sent the security chief, General Alexander Lebed, to negotiate with rebel chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov. They finally signed the Khasavyurt Accords, which provided for a ceasefire and paved the way for a formal agreement to withdraw Russian troops, which was signed in November.

Chechnya was given de facto independence in January 1997, when Russia recognized Maskhadov’s government following his victory in Chechen presidential elections.

According to the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, 3,826 troops were killed and 17,892 were wounded during the first Chechen campaign, which ended in 1996. 1,906 are missing in action. Based on data from human rights organizations, anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 civilians were killed during the conflict.

The Second Campaign: 1999-present

Chechnya’s formal status as a sovereign republic was not resolved, however, with Russia recognizing Chechnya as an autonomous republic within Russia, and with Maskhadov’s government claiming independence and calling the newly formed state the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

By June 1998, amid kidnappings and overall growing lawlessness as organized criminal gangs and rival warlords increasingly got out of his control, Maskhadov imposed a state of emergency. Chechnya’s international position was worsening as well, after four engineers from Britain and New Zealand are kidnapped and later found decapitated.

Pressured by fundamentalist rebel groups, Maskhadov introduced Islamic Shari’ah law in the first months of 1999. That summer, after rebel groups demanded a more Islamic government and Maskhadov’s resignation, armed Chechen rebel troops invaded neighboring Dagestan in a campaign for an Islamic state. The clash with Russian troops begins.

In Russia meanwhile, some 300 civilians are killed when a series of explosions rocked apartment blocks in the cities of Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk, as well as in Dagestan. The terrorist acts were immediately blamed on Chechen rebels. Vladimir Putin, then the new prime minister, launched an anti-terrorism campaign and redeployed Russian forces in Chechnya.

That year, Moscow cut off all negotiations with Maskhadov, refusing to recognize him as the legitimate Chechen authority. Former members of the Chechen republican legislature formed the State Council of the Republic of Chechnya, which became the only Chechen authority recognized by the Kremlin.

By the end of the year, an estimated 200,000 civilian refugees fled Chechnya for neighboring republics and Russia. After the capture and near-destruction of Grozny in February, Vladimir Putin, elected president in March, declared that Chechnya would be governed by Moscow. That summer, he appointed former cleric Akhmad Kadyrov to head the federal administration in Chechnya.

Military actions continued for the next year in Chechnya, which Putin’s government referred to as anti-terrorist operations. Control of all military operations was transferred to the Federal Security Service (FSB). Federal forces were met with guerrilla resistance from rebel forces, as well as from terrorist attacks and ambushes. Formal military operations were considered ended as of December 2001, after negotiations with Maskhadov’s representative Akhmed Zakayev led to a peace settlement in Moscow.

However, troops have not been withdrawn from the breakaway region, and Chechen rebels continue to attack federal forces, swelling the list of casualties in the anti-terrorist campaign.

Meanwhile, terrorist attacks on Russian territory have increased since the start of the second campaign. In October 2002, Chechen rebels, allegedly linked to field commander Shamil Basayev, seized about 900 hostages in a theater during a performance of the Russian musical NordOst. A series of suicide bombings took place in Moscow in the summer of 2003, killing dozens of people. In February 2004, an alleged suicide bombing in the Moscow subway killed up to fifty people.

Information about the casualties in the second Chechen campaign is unclear and often contradictory. In December of 2002, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that since October 1, 1999, the total losses in the federal forces were 4,572 killed and 15,549 wounded. Since then, no official statements have been made on this issue by the Defense Ministry. According to the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, there were up to 60,000 Russian troops in the first campaign, and up to 90,000 in the second. As of 2003, there were 75,000 troops. Taking this into account, the casualties are likely to continue increasing.

As Russian troops continue to gradually withdraw from Chechnya, refugees have begun to return home. At a referendum in March of 2003 that excluded the armed insurgency from voting, Chechens voted in favor of a constitution that backed Russian rule. In a presidential election in October of 2003, administration head Akhmad Kadyrov won by an overwhelming vote and was sworn in as president. International monitors, however, have disputed the fairness of the referendum and the elections.

In May 2004, the republic was thrown into further turmoil when Kadyrov was killed in an explosion just as he was giving a Victory Day speech in Grozny. The pre-term presidential elections were scheduled for August 29; until then prime minister of Chechnya Sergei Abramov is acting president.

Updated: 08.07.2006 22:00 MSK

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