The Chechen Campaign
Dr. Pavel Felgenhauer - Defense and Security Editor
When in mid December 1994 the Russian army suddenly marched on Grozny, not only the general public in Russia, but many politicians and analysts in Moscow and world wide were caught unawares. This sudden and ill-prepared winter march seemed totally irrational. But politicians, journalists, analysts and other "Gurus in Residence" must deliver explanations even if they are as baffled by events as the general public is, an occupational hazard of a profession that most of the time provides an easy and reasonable income with lots of personal ego satisfaction on the side.
The most intelligent way to react publicly to an unpredictable situation and to avoid tarnishing one's "Guru in Residence" credentials is to use the method of historical similarity. There was a long and bitter war between Russians and Chechens last century, so the new encounter may be described as the Second Caucasian War.
The Long History Of Russian-Chechen Warfare
There really are striking similarities between the wars then and now: battles on the Argun, for Vedeno and near Dargo; the severity of the fighting; the heavy loses, including very many civilians; the rules of engagement used by both sides that are obviously not in accord with civilized customs of warfare. As a result, many an analyst believed that the conflict would indeed turn out to be a second edition of the Great Caucasian War. When the Russian army got bogged down battling the Chechens in the winter of 1995 and took four whole months of heavy fighting in Grozny and on the plains just to reach the mountains, it was universally predicted that there, on the cliffs and in the ravines, the gallant guerrillas could make a stand, and that the ungainly Russian armored columns would be even less effective than on the streets of Grozny. The anti-Russian guerrilla war would go on and on, spreading from tribe to tribe throughout the Caucasus, as it did last century. Many even predicted that Russia had already lost the war and was on the verge of plunging into a long period of destructive internal turmoil like some Third World country.
But historical analogies are often misleading. After almost a year of conflict the Caucasian nations seem even more calm and unwilling to revolt against Moscow than at the beginning of the war. Also, in the old mountain strongholds of Vedeno and Shatoi the Chechens fared much worse in May and June 1995 than in Grozny in January. The strategic situation in the Caucasus is totally different today than in the last century. The mountainous people of the Caucasus no longer live in self-sufficient communities. They cannot produce their own arms and munitions in high mountain hideouts to fight the Russians face to face. They cannot even feed themselves. Without massive trade with Russian-inhabited lands and massive help and subsidies from the government in Moscow, not a single Caucasian nation can physically survive.
Nonetheless, the call of history is still important. In the Soviet times the authorities in Moscow did their best to keep the general public ignorant of the long and bloody war in the mountains in the last century. The official motive was to perpetuate the myth that all the tribes and nations of the Soviet Union joined Russia voluntarily and with glee. That was all a good Soviet officer needed to know. Serious military, political and ethno-social research of that war and its aftermath was virtually forbidden. As a result, the Russians have virtually forgotten the Caucasian war of the last century. And so they made many of the same mistakes as they made 150 years ago. The Russian forces often assumed a reactive posture, failing to consistently and aggressively engage the Chechens. The decision-making and command structure of the Russian forces was confused. The Russian military, intelligence and political leaders grossly underestimated the Chechens' resolve to fight and the degree of hostility that a Russian military move into Chechnya would create. The Russian army marched into a conflict as unprepared and ignorant of the task ahead of it as their nineteenth century predecessors -- those bayonet and saber brandishing, post-Napoleonic, dandied infantry and cavalry men.
But the Chechens forgot nothing. Not the war itself, not the gallantry of Imam Shamil's men, not the savagery of the fighting and the scorched land tactics of General Aleksei Ermolov and other Caucasian viceroys. And, of course, the Chechens did not forget the 1944 brutal deportation of all their nation by Soviet (Russian) troops. But the Chechen recollections of the last century Caucasian war were very romantic. They, apparently, actually believed that the irresolute Russians would simply flee when confronted with real Chechen valor, and thus invested very little effort into long-term planning and organization.
During virtually all of the 1995 campaign the Chechens lacked the concentration and coordination of force needed to inflict any but minor defeats on the Russians. Just as in the pre-Shamil times of their anti-Russian resistance last century, the "mountaineers were so deficient in conducting offensive operations more complex than an ordinary raid that the Russians considered a detachment of several companies sufficient to constitute an independent force. The mountaineers repeatedly proved unable to defeat a disciplined formation and showed no capacity whatsoever to cope effectively with artillery." Whereas the great Imam Shamil created a stringent political-economic system that enabled him to conduct a prolonged and effective campaign, Dudayev's Chechnya-Ichkeriya collapsed militarily after several months of fighting. Even such a span of effective resistance in the field was mostly the result of Russian strategic, operational and tactical blunders.
The mountaineers of the Northern Caucasus may think of themselves as direct descendants of Imam Shamil's Murids who followed their leader unquestioningly. But in reality the social and economic structure of the Caucasian tribes has changed dramatically and the independent Chechnya-Ichkeriya of Dzhokar Dudayev was definitely no Imamat. Thus the method of historical parallelism is rather misleading when analyzing the present Chechen conflict.
The Independent Chechnya-Ichkeriya Of Dzhokar Dudayev (1991-1994)
The self-proclaimed republic of Chechnya-Ichkeriya unilaterally declared its independence in 1991, after the Congress of the Chechen Nation overthrew the government of the Chechen-Ingush republic and forcibly disbanded its Supreme Soviet headed by former Communist Party Chief and Chechen strong-man Doku Zavgayev. In October 1991, after dislodging Zavgayev, taking over local KGB and Interior Ministry headquarters and freeing criminals from local prisons, the armed pro-independence supporters of the Chechen Nation's Congress organized unconstitutional parliamentary and presidential elections that made their declared leader, former Soviet Air Force General Dzhokar Dudayev, the president of a sovereign and independent Chechnya-Ichkeriya republic.
The authorities in Moscow never recognized Dudayev and his self-proclaimed independent Ichkeriya. In November 1991, several weeks after the unilateral declaration of Chechen independence, Russian President Boris Yeltsin proclaimed martial law in Chechnya in an attempt to quell General Dzhokar Dudayev's secessionist revolt before it became really dangerous.
But Mikhail Gorbachev, then still formally president of a collapsing Soviet Union and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, ordered the army to remain strictly neutral and to take no part whatsoever in enforcing the martial law. This order to keep out of mischief was willingly passed to the troops in and around Grozny by then-Chief of Staff General Vladimir Lobov. A regiment of lightly armed Interior Ministry troops that had been airlifted into Grozny surrendered its arms to the Chechen rebels without a fight when it became clear that the army would not support them.
The Russian Supreme Soviet promptly overruled Yeltsin's martial-law decree. The Chechen secessionist movement was allowed to develop until it got totally out of control and war became more or less inevitable. In 1991 Russian society and the majority of the political elite regarded the use of armed force as totally unacceptable in any situation.
Never since, in any negotiations, did the Chechens believe that the Russian government was capable and willing to use force to subdue their secession. During the war in 1995 they were reluctant to enter any meaningful negotiations, regardless of the pounding they were getting in the fighting. The Chechens were waiting for the Russian morale to crack, for the total victory and final triumph of the Chechen side. Many Chechen resistance field commanders even considered the Russian-Chechen military accord, signed in Grozny of July 30, 1995, as only a face-saving maneuver for the Russian army to withdraw its forces without officially acknowledging total defeat. The Chechens, obviously, do not believe that the Russian Armed Forces are capable of winning any armed conflict.
They had a very good reason to think so. After the disastrous November 1991 attempt to subdue the Chechen secession, the Yeltsin administration was too preoccupied fighting the Supreme Soviet in Moscow, headed by another well-known and influential Chechen, Ruslan Khasbulatov, to be able to maintain any credible forceful policy in dealings with Dudayev. Since legislative support for any military action in Chechnya was not forthcoming, the situation was more or less left to simmer in the hope that it would somehow solve itself.
In June 1992 the Russian authorities withdrew all Russian defense personnel and their families from Chechnya. Almost all the arms and military equipment of Russian army units in Chechnya were left behind. This included, according to semi-official estimates: 42 tanks (T-62M and T-72); 66 armored combat vehicles (ACVs) - BMP-1, BMP-2, BTP-70, BRDM-2; 30 122mm towed howitzers D-30; 58 120mm PM-38 mortars; 18 B-21 Grad MRLs; 523 RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launchers and 77 ATGW (Concurs, Fagot and Metis); 18,832 AK-74, 9307 AK-47 (AKM), 533 sniper rifles, 1160 machine-guns; 4 ZCU-23-4 Shilka, 6 ZU-23 and an unspecified number of Igla portable SAMs; 152 Czech-made L-39 trainer-bomber jets, 94 L-29, several Mig-15, Mig-17, An-2 airplanes and 2 Mi-8 helicopters.
The arms could not have been recovered without a major military operation, since the cadre (skeleton) units based in Chechnya could not defend themselves. But a major invasion of Chechnya, to free the besieged Russian garrisons and to organize a withdrawal of the armaments and the men, would have certainly led to armed clashes and loss of life. Such action would have been extremely unpopular in Russia, would have almost certainly been condemned by the Supreme Soviet and maybe even used to initiate a successful impeachment procedure to oust President Boris Yeltsin. So no one in the administration dared to provoke an armed clash in Chechnya with uncertain results. Therefore a tacit agreement was reached that allowed the Russian servicemen and their families to withdraw peacefully and Dudayev to get the arms.
This tacit agreement clearly followed the pattern of other Russian Armed Forces withdrawals from the former Soviet republics. In 1992 the Russian army was used to cutting its losses and retreating. But this time it happened on sovereign, internationally recognized Russian territory. However, in 1992, only several months after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the difference between former Soviet and Russian territory was in no way clear. Emotionally a great number of Russian officers did not see any difference. But the politicians, who should have known better, just shoved the problem onto the military to blunder through on their own.
While the legislature and administration in Moscow were locked in battle, the heavily armed and semi-independent Chechnya-Ichkeriya of Dzhokar Dudayev developed into a strange buccaneer republic, a source of illicit arms and drug trafficking into Russia and a safe haven for any common criminal. In 1993 General Dudayev used armed force to disband the Chechen parliament and since then ruled in Grozny as an authoritarian Lebanese-style warlord, his control over the majority of small Chechen towns and the countryside being nominal or nonexistent.
The civil airstrip north of Grozny developed into a unofficial international airport with up to 150 foreign-bound charter flights a month, mostly to Turkey. There were, obviously, no Russian government customs or passport controls, which made it a safe haven for smuggling. Official authorities still considered Chechnya an integral part of Russia, so the traffic through the secessionist republic was virtually unhampered, especially through Ingushetia.
It is often alleged that certain influential people in Moscow actively participated in large scale bank fraud and illegal oil export operations conducted through Grozny. It is also alleged that the Chechens actively bribed high-ranking Moscow officials and that this explains the obvious leniency of the Kremlin in dealings with Dudayev's illegal and corrupt regime.
But in the end basic Russian strategic and national security interests prevailed. The only railroad linking Russia with the Transcaucasus, which is of great strategic and economic importance was virtually blocked because it passes right through Chechnya. In addition, several important oil and natural gas pipelines that go through the secessionist republic also became unreliable. Because many influential Russian businessmen and bankers are extremely interested in developing economic ties with Azerbaijan, and in view of the Russian effort to channel Azery Caspian oil through Russian territory, the pressure to restore order in Chechnya was steadily increasing.
Since the failed November 1991 attempt to stop the Chechen mutiny, there have been many attempts to solve the problem through negotiation. Several times an agreement seemed almost inevitable. But time and again Dudayev blocked negotiations or denounced agreements. At the same time, Chechnya-Ichkeriya was obviously disintegrating, with warlords big and small taking over districts, towns and villages. As the anarchy increased, clans and large families formed armed groups to defend themselves and to harass the neighborhood, if need be. As a result there was a growing number of low-scale inter-Chechen armed clashes since late 1993.
The situation was becoming increasingly intolerable. Chechnya seemed to be in total disorder and fragmentation. General Dudayev was too weak and out of control to negotiate with and, for that same reason, ripe for an easy overthrow.
The Covert Operation To Overthrow Dudayev, 1994
After the Yeltsin administration and its supporters successfully used armed force to subdue the Russian legislature in October 1993, several high-ranking officials decided that the time to solve "the Chechen problem" had come. By mid-1994 it was decided to begin a covert operation to overthrow Dudayev, using the same tactics that were so successful in Abkhazia in 1993, where the Russian army unofficially supported the Abkhaz rebels by providing them with some arms and also firepower, air power and logistical support.
Originally, the idea to use the Chechen opposition to overthrow Chechen President Dzhokar Dudayev came from Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai. General Aleksandr Kotenkov, Deputy Nationalities Minister and a senior member of Shakhrai's political faction, took on the practical task of supplying money and weapons to the opposition.
Obviously, Shakhrai and Kotenkov had been given approval by President Boris Yeltsin. They supplied the "united Chechen opposition" with considerable quantities of arms and cash. Later, Russian Mi-24 "unidentified" attack helicopters began flying close support combat sorties to help the opposition. But even this failed to bring results. Two attempts to blockade and storm the Chechen capital Grozny, at the end of August and again in mid-October, ended in failure. The rag-tag Chechen opposition gladly took the money and the arms, but never had any serious intention of risking their lives for the sake of Moscow's interests.
In October, Shakhrai lost control of the secret operation in Chechnya. A new attack on Grozny was planed and organized by the Federal Counterintelligence Service, and overall control was passed on to Nationalities Minister Nikolai Yegorov. Allegedly, the powerful chief of President Yeltsin's security service, Aleksandr Korzhakov, was also involved. The Chechen opposition was provided not only with Russian tanks but with active duty Russian officers as well.
However, during the November 26, 1994 attack on Grozny, opposition fighters again fled. The tanks with Russian officer crews were left exposed without infantry support on the streets of the capital and forced to surrender. After that, Yeltsin was left with no choice but to send the regular army into Chechnya.
Only a full-scale operation in Chechnya could prevent an investigation of the previous covert missions. Apparently, the administration has already achieved this goal. A year later, after all the fighting and carnage in and around Chechnya, even the harshest critics of President Yeltsin and his administration have virtually forgotten the blundered covert operations in August-November 1994. Besides, on December 13, 1994, the Duma passed a resolution granting amnesty to all participants in the events in the Caucasus, apparently including even the highest levels of the administration and Yeltsin himself. In this respect the war has fully achieved its aim.
The Russian Army Moves On December 11, 1994
Russian Defense Minister Army General Pavel Grachev has publicly acknowledged that the planning of the Chechen operation started only one month before "D" day. And these could have been only very tentative plans, since all in Moscow were awaiting the successful outcome of the last attempt to take Grozny using covert means on November 26, 1994. The political decision to go into Chechnya was finally made on November 29, 1994, after the extent of the November 26 disaster had become apparent. After that, the staff of the North-Caucasian Military District (NCMD) was given orders to plan and prepare the operation. First orders to begin force concentration were actually issued only in early December 1994, a week before "D" day.
By December 11, 1994 a task force of NCMD, Interior Ministry (MVD) and mobile force airborne units was loosely assembled at bases in Mozdok, Beslan and Vladikavkaz. It consisted of 23,700 men (19,000 Army, 4,700 MVD), 80 tanks, 208 ACVs, and 182 guns and mortars. The enemy armaments at the beginning of the Chechen campaign were later officially estimated by the Russian defense ministry at 98 tanks, over 150 ACVs and up to 300 guns and mortars.
This enemy heavy armament assessment at the beginning of the campaign is approximately two times bigger than the estimates of arms left by the Russian army in Chechnya. This can be in part explained by the Chechen resistance taking over a large part of the equipment the Russians gave to the Chechen "united opposition". But mostly it is apparently the result of the Russian military's deliberate overestimation of enemy capabilities to explain its own blunders. Privately, high-ranking Russian generals agree that the bulk of the heavy armaments that the Chechen fighters used in battle was precisely the equipment the Russian army had left them. In any case, the Russian military command failed to concentrate an "overwhelming" force that could have melted away organized Chechen resistance.
The Chechen campaign should have been a showcase of rapid deployment and success by Grachev's mobile forces, but it turned into a disaster. Low manpower in the Russian army has reduced all tank and motorized-rifle divisions to near cadre state so they can not be used in combat operations as whole units. The Russian armored columns that moved on Grozny on December 11, 1994, were in essence salami-style combined task forces hurriedly put together from small bits and pieces of different army and airborne units. Many of the soldiers had never fought or trained together because the Russian army, for lack of funds, has held no large maneuvers in the last three years. The Chechen fighters were much better motivated and knew the country they were fighting in.
Understaffed and undertrained tank and mechanized units often suffered heavy losses. At the same time mobile paratroopers often refused to attack enemy strongholds in their airborne, aluminum-armored light tanks. In December 1994 and January 1995, Grachev's mobile force dream of a single airborne regiment capturing Grozny in two hours went sour.
There was no pressing military necessity for the Russian army to march into Chechnya in December 1994 so unprepared and at the wrong time of year, when fog and low clouds hampered effective air support. There was time to prepare an offensive, since the Chechens possessed no capabilities to march to Moscow and to win a battle for the Kremlin while the Russian army was preparing to go into Grozny. But General Grachev, under attack in the press for alleged corruption, would not stop the operation and risk his position when many in the Kremlin believed that the Dudayev regime would collapse when the first Russian tank hits the streets of Grozny. Maybe Grachev himself believed in such an outcome.
Marching On Grozny In December, 1994
Elements of the 76th airborne division, the 21st airborne brigade and the 19th Vladikavkaz-based motorized-rifle division moved into Chechnya from the Beslan and Vladikavkaz bases through Ingushetia. The march was hampered by local anti-Russian Ingush demonstrations. The morale of the troops was low; they were unprepared for action and did not understand why they were being sent into battle. When the columns reached Chechen territory their progress was also impeded by the Chechen armed resistance, mostly various types of irregular units.
Chechen fighters attempted to organize night-time partisan raids to stop the advance of the Russian columns, but these attacks were poorly planned and the Russian soldiers were able to fend them off. However, the advance of the western columns was slow.
The most effective Chechen action in December was a surprise Grad MRL attack on an advance column of ACVs of the 106th airborne division and 56th airborne brigade near Dolinskoe that killed 6 officers (including 2 colonels) and 13 enlisted men.
The advance of troops in the north was much more efficient than through Ingushetia. Elements of the 8th Guards Corps from Volgograd, under General Lev Rokhlin's command, and the ill-fated 131st Maykop-based motorized-rifle brigade sped through territory controlled by anti-Dudayev forces from Isherskaya up to Chervlenaia, taking control of the railroad and important bridges on the Terek river, the only significant water-way obstacle for troop movement in this region.
Unhampered by hostile civilian demonstrators and meeting very little armed opposition, the Russian troops crossed the Terek at several points, forged their way through the low ridge of hills known as the "Terski" mountains and began to descend on Grozny, semi-encircling the enemy stronghold from north-west to north-east. There they encountered growing resistance from Chechen formations.
The first objective of the operation -- to block Grozny in preparation of a final assault on Dudayev -- was not accomplished. The Northern army group was still struggling to reach the outskirts of the city, while the Western task force was bogged down ten miles away. Only the Russian Air Force took advantage of several days of clear weather in early December and, according to Air Force Commander-in-Chief General Petr Deynekin, totally destroyed all Chechen airplanes on the airstrips near Grozny -- not only the hundreds of trainer jets that belonged to a former military flying school, but also six Tu-134s and other civilian aircraft (in sum, over 250 planes).
Russian officers and generals were reluctant to go into serious combat, being unsure of the possible political ramifications of massive losses of servicemen and civilians. They obviously feared that public protest could forever destroy their military careers. So on December 21, 1994, days after the start of campaign, General Grachev stormed into Mozdok to chew out the Russian officers and to get things going again.
The commander of the NCMD, three-star general Colonel General Aleksei Mitukhin who had been in charge of the operation was pronounced "ill" with back problems on December 18, flown to Moscow to a hospital for treatment and later dismissed from service. The deputy commander of the NCMD Lieutenant General Todorov (in charge of the slow-advancing Western army group), the NCMD chief of staff and other NCMD high-ranking officers also was dismissed.
Colonel General Eduard Vorobyov, first deputy commander of the Russian Ground Forces, on December 17 arrived in Mozdok, where the operational staff was based, and took over command of the operation on December 18 "on a temporary basis," as he said later. Talking to reporters on January 26, 1995, he said that "after studying the situation" he reported to the Chief of General Staff, General Mikhail Kolesnikov, that "the operation is unprepared and can not be executed because of deficiencies in means and forces." He said that "according to army intelligence reports, Dudayev's units outnumber the Russian forces, the improvised "combined" regiments and brigades arriving for battle from different military districts are totally not battle worthy, and bad weather reports mean that constant and effective air support for the troops was virtually impossible." So further offensive action should be postponed.
On December 20, General Grachev phoned Vorobyov and officially asked him to take over command of the Chechen operation and to continue the advance, Vorobyov refused. On December 21, at a meeting of staff in Mozdok General Grachev publicly demanded that Vorobyov resign from service, and he promptly handed in his letter of resignation. General Grachev also introduced the new commander of Russian forces in Chechnya -- Lieutenant General Anatoly Kvashin from the General staff. A new chief of staff of the Russian forces in Chechnya was appointed, Lieutenant General Leonty Shevtsov.
I spoke with Vorobyov the day after he submitted his resignation. He told me that he received a number of phone calls of support from leading Russian generals, although many also called "to express their regret" that he had taken such a foolish step. However, in both cases he said that his personal fate is not as important as the fate of the country and of the army, which is being decided in Chechnya. In the fall of 1995 retired General Vorobyov decided to run for parliament, sharing the party ticket with Egor Gaydar and Sergei Kovalev, who played the most prominent roles in opposing the war.
Vorobyov's resignation was a sign of the growing dissent among Russia's military chiefs. In December 1995 Grachev decided to dismiss three deputy defense ministers, Boris Gromov, Valery Mironov and Georgy Kondratyev, who were accused of dissension over the Chechen campaign. Several months later one more open military critic of the Chechen war, General Aleksandr Lebed, was also dismissed from service.
Meanwhile on the battlefields of Chechnya, Grachev's wrath and verbal assault on the Russian officers, of which he's a first class expert, did make a difference. The Russian troop commanders acted more energetically and began to close in on Grozny. In the north the Russians took Pervomayskoe, Tolstoy-Urt and then Grozny's civilian airport, Groznoe-Severnoe. The Chechen fighters resisted but were outgunned and outmaneuvered by the better armed and better disciplined regular troops. The Chechens had some tanks but no self-propelled heavy howitzers. Their better motivated fighters answered to orders coming only from their immediate field commander (often a tribal warlord), which made regular staff work for the Chechen general staff chief Aslan Maskhadov a nightmare.
When fighting in the open, the Chechens were basically no match for the Russians. In a surprise south-east dash from Tolstoy-Urt, a column of Russian troops, led by elements of the 104th airborne division, captured the former Soviet military base and airstrip at Hankala at the eastern outskirts of Grozny, also overtaking the main Rostov-Baku highway and cutting direct access into Grozny from Argun. This loss was so important that the Chechens even counterattacked from Grozny and Argun, using tanks, but were beaten back.
Meanwhile the Western army group used the fighting to the north of Grozny and near Hankala to finally press its advance up to the city's outskirts. As a result, Grozny was surrounded on three fronts, leaving the south as the only clear outlet for the Chechens. A Russian General Staff officer said that this free corridor is to let the Chechens flee Grozny, but basically the Russian army simply did not have sufficient manpower to close it.
For the last days of 1994 the fighting died down. Both sides were preparing for the decisive Battle of Grozny.
The Battle of Grozny, January and February, 1995
General Grachev was in overall charge of planning the attack on Grozny that began on December 31, 1994, and led to heavy Russian army losses and a nearly complete breakdown of morale. Many officers in Chechnya confessed to me in mid-January 1995 that at the beginning of that month the Russian army was on the verge of refusing to obey the ridiculous orders of its commanders and the government.
On paper, the plan for taking Grozny seemed ideal and corresponded perfectly with the Prussian traditions of the Academy of the General Staff, Russia's premier military school. Four columns were to move in a sudden and coordinated attack on Grozny on New Year's eve and, having smashed the enemy, they were to meet at the Presidential Palace in center of town. The key to the plan, though, was that all four columns -- Army groups West, East, North and the Main Assault Force -- had to act and reach the center of the city simultaneously.
The Russian forces assembled near Grozny numbered 38,000 men, armed with 230 tanks, 454 ACVs, and 388 guns and mortars. The enemy forces were estimated by military intelligence at up to 15,000 men, 50 tanks, 100 ACVs, 60 guns and mortars, and 30 B-21 Grad MRLs. The overall balance of forces obviously seemed to favor the Russians.
However, today's Russian Army bears little resemblance to the old Prussian Army. The Main Assault Force managed to break into the center of Grozny, but the eastern and western groups barely moved at all. As a result, the enemy was able to concentrate almost all its forces against the Main Assault Force and smash it. General Lev Rokhlin's 8th Corps reached the city center from the north but was unable to save the units that had fallen into the trap because of stiff resistance. The weather was bad and air support was inaccurate and ineffective.
The Chechens did not mount a perimeter defense of the city. Instead, they cut off the ungainly Russian armored columns and attacked them from the rear as they moved through the streets of Grozny. "On January 2," a high-ranking Russian General Staff officer later admitted, "we lost contact with our forward units." These were the 131st motorized-rifle brigade that took the city's railroad terminal and the 81st motorized-rifle regiment that reached the Presidential Palace, both from the Main Assault Force.
On January 21, 1995 at the Sunzha front in central Grozny near the Presidential Palace, General Lev Rokhlin, commander of the North group, told me that General Anatoly Kvashin, commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, was in charge of the Main Assault Force.
General Kvashin in January 1995 in Grozny told me that he had been deceived by the commanders of groups East and West. He said that they told him they were advancing when in reality they were holding their positions.
Consequently, three high-ranking generals were removed from command in the western group. Major General Petruk p; commander of the 19th motorized-rifle, also in overall command of group West p; was accused of failing to support the 131st motorized-rifle brigade at the city's railroad terminal. The brigade was smashed, its commander killed. Petruk was replaced by Major General Ivan Babichev, commander of the 76th airborne division.
Major General Nikolai Staskov, deputy Airborne Forces Commander-in-Chief and commander of group East, and Major General Vadim Orlov, commander of the 104th airborne division, were accused of cowardice. The 104th did not move when the 129th motorized-rifle regiment from the Leningrad military district moved in to Grozny from the Hankala base on December 31, 1994. Subsequently, the 129th was beaten and retreated on January 1, 1995, without accomplishing its mission. However, officers and men from the 104th told me in mid January in Chechnya that their commander saved them by not ordering them to advance into Grozny, where they in their light tanks, protected by aluminum armor, would have been massacred.
One obviously does not need airborne units with their specially designed light equipment and special paratroops training when storming a big modern city with concrete buildings that can be turned into fortresses by a determined and highly motivated enemy. Well-trained and heavily armed infantry led by professionally trained officers are necesary, since in street fighting infantry platoon and company commanders, in close coordination with heavy howitzer and mortar units, determine the outcome of the fray. The last thing needed are lightly armored airborne tanks.
The paratroopers were used in Grozny as crack infantry, but their fighting units had to be supplemented with Ground Forces artillery and tanks, as well as special flame-thrower crews from the Chemical Forces. The same is true for the Interior Ministry troops and the Naval Infantry units. In the Interior Troops (Vnutrennie Voiska) many officers and men were more experienced in riot-control rather than in actual warfare. Some of the naval infantry officers were volunteers, who were taken off ships and sent into pitched street battles. The result of all these feverish improvisations was heavy losses of men and combat equipment after the initial plans for a parade-ground expedition went sour.
However, the Russian Army overcame the shock of initial losses and defeats and won the battle of Grozny. The Russian Army has never had a tradition of unquestioning discipline and strict organization. Our army is better characterized as tenacious in defense, stubborn and capable of improvising in the most difficult situations. It was these qualities of Russian soldiers and officers that saved the army after the plans hatched by Grachev and Kvashin fell apart.
In the first week of January, Chechen sources repeatedly reported that several small groups of surrounded Russian soldiers remained in the center of the city and would soon have to surrender. In reality, Dudayev's main force at that time was engaged in counterattacks against General Rokhlin's army group (the 8th corps from Volgograd), trying to drive it from the city. If Rokhlin's small force, about five thousand men, had been thrown back, Dudayev would have been able to declare a complete victory.
However, Rokhlin rallied his troops, and some men who, after splintering away from units routed during the first attack on Grozny, joined his force. His men, using "Stalingrad tactics," moved to street fighting, creating several strongholds in concrete buildings from which they were able to fend off Chechen counterattacks. Talking with me in Grozny in January, Rokhlin emphasized several times the Stalingrad tradition of his regiments, partly because the home base of his corps is located in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad.
Rokhlin is a pitiless battle-happy George Patton/Ariel Sharon type of a general. He was clearly not lost in Clausewitz's "fog of war" as many other Russian commanders were. His officers are accustomed to fulfilling any order from their commander without hesitation. Even though his wife and son were ill and he himself had severe throat problems during the battle of Grozny and could barely speak, Rokhlin refused to leave for treatment before the capture of the city. Having beaten back the Chechen counterattacks, Rokhlin's force went on the offensive, destroying the enemy and the city in their path, and took Dudayev's Presidential Palace - the main Chechen stronghold in town - a big concrete building with a nuclear bunker in its basement.
Rokhlin's offensive was enhanced by reinforcements rushed into battle by the General Staff. The most effective seemed to be the naval infantry units, the 165th naval infantry regiment from the Pacific Fleet and two battalions from the Baltic and Northern Fleets. The naval infantry entered the battle for Grozny in mid-January. During the campaign, their units were used as crack infantry at the most crucial positions along the front. On January 20, the soldiers of the 876th Northern Fleet assault battalion on their own initiative hoisted the Russian naval St. Andrew's flag above the entrance of Dudayev's presidential palace (higher than the official Russian National one!).
Group East was disbanded in early January and its troops subordinated to General Rokhlin's group North. The forces of the Main Assault Force that survived the New Year's massacre were also subordinated to Rokhlin.
As Rokhlin's group North pressed in from the north, group West under General Babichev stormed in from the south, using heavy artillery fire to smash the Chechen defenses and long-distance Shmel flame-throwers to destroy snipers. On January 21, 1995 the two groups linked up in the center of town.
The Chechens still occupied the south-east half of Grozny and established a new front line on the Sunzha river that divides the city. After several days spent regrouping and resupplying their forces, army groups North and West began a final assault on Grozny. Bridgeheads were established on the other side of the Sunzha. The Chechen fighters resisted with fierce counterattacks, mortar and sniper fire.
But simultaneously with the head-on assault, the Russian forces began an operation to encircle the south-east half of Grozny. New reinforcements allowed the Russians to form a new South-East group, including the 506th motorized-rifle regiment of the 27th division, which sent a contingent of men to joint U.S.-Russian maneuvers in Kansas in October 1995. This group moved in early February to block the last Chechen-controlled road into Grozny. Assaulted from all sides and virtually surrounded, the Chechens fighters had to evacuate Grozny. By February 5, 1995, the bloodiest battle of the Chechen war was over. This Russian success was assisted by strategic deception. The Chechens were fed "secret" information (also using Moscow newspapers) to the effect that the main Russian strike would come at Argun, Shali and Gudermes, rather than in the south-eastern half of Grozny, and that the South-East task force had been created to carry out the attack. So the Chechens reinforced their positions in Shali, Argun and Gudermes at the very moment when Russian forces were beginning their final assault on Grozny.
Grozny, where about 40 percent of the Chechen republic's population lived before the war, has been decimated and no one can tell when it will be rebuilt. The Chechen economy -- which for three years of semi-independence has been based on bank fraud, illegal export of Russian oil, large-scale smuggling and illegal weapons trade -- also lies in ruins.
Fighting In The Hills And On The Plains, March and April, 1995
Suddenly after the Battle of Grozny, heavy fighting in Chechnya came to a halt and a tentative cease-fire was signed. Moscow also replaced General Anatoly Kvashin as commander of the joint federal force in Chechnya with Colonel General Anatoly Kulikov, the commander of the Russian Interior Ministry's forces.
In mid February, 1995 General Kulikov met with a Chechen military delegation headed by Aslan Maskhadov, the chief of the Chechen general staff. These were the first serious negotiations since the beginning of the war. The lull in the fighting was politically motivated so that President Boris Yeltsin could appear with a "State of the Nation" address before a joint session of parliament in mid February, firmly stating that the military confrontation in Chechnya was over and that negotiations had begun.
Naturally, the ultimate goal of the government's Chechnya policy remained unchanged: to liquidate Dudayev's army and to return Chechnya to the Russian Federation. But the troops needed a break after two months of sustained fighting.
The Chechens established a new front on the Argun river, defending the towns of Gudermes, Argun and Shali. The Russian generals decided to wait until spring while regrouping and resupplying their forces. Spring meant more clear days and greater opportunity to exploit Russia's air power. In the meantime, the Russian Army would have time to pinpoint the Chechen positions and strongholds.
Also the army generals wanted to pass more of the responsibilities of fighting the Chechens to the Interior Ministry forces, which had participated minimally in the battle of Grozny and, as a result, lost only about 40 men in the first two months of the Chechen war, many times fewer than the army. The officers and generals of the Armed Forces resented being sent into battle with the Chechens while the forces of the Interior and Emergency Situations ministries remained in the rear counting their pay. With Kulikov the new commander of the united federal force in Chechnya, the MVD troops were obviously going to see more action.
At the end of March, 1995, the sky was bright as the regrouped Russian army (spearheaded by the 165th naval infantry regiment from the Pacific Fleet) crossed the Argun river, easily broke the Chechen front near Argun-city and moved on at Gudermes and Shali. Squadrons of armored Su-25 Frogfoot attack plans constantly and vigorously assaulted the Chechen forces, leaving them no possibility of fighting in the open in an organized manner as a regular army.
The Chechens had virtually no effective anti-aircraft defense system - no radar stations, no medium-range SAMs. When the Chechens had expelled the Russian cadre units in 1992 they took their guns but not the more sophisticated radar or anti-aircraft equipment which they did not know how to use.
At the beginning of the conflict, the Chechens had several hundred portable surface-to-air, heat-seeking Igla missiles. However, they only managed to shoot down a couple of Russian Su-25 close-support jets and over a dozen army and MVD helicopters using machine-gun and ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" fire, besides damaging a number of other aircraft. The Soviet-made Igla has a built-in "identification of friend or foe radar interrogator" designed to prevent the loss of aircraft from friendly fire. During the fighting in Grozny, these "smart" weapons recognized Russian airplanes as friendly and could not be activated. It has been reported that the Chechens were never able to reprogram their missiles.
The Chechen morale began to break. In Shali and Gudermes the local population asked the fighters to leave so the Russians would not ruin their towns as they did in Grozny. As a result, the army took these towns without a fight.
In mid-April an MVD force operating on its own in south-west Chechnya cleared the major towns and villages of the Urus-Martan district mostly without a fight. Only in Samashki did the Interior Ministry 21st motorized-rifle brigade meet some resistance and suffer casualties.
Intensified attacks from the air and from Russia's heavy weaponry forced the remainder of the Chechen independence fighters to flee to the mountains. Dzhokar Dudayev's forces were slowly turning into a small, militant extremist sect along the lines of the Kurdistan Workers' Party or the Basque separatist movement.
Fighting In The Mountains (May-June, 1995)
In February, Russian forces completed the capture of Grozny and the Chechen's "temporarily" moved their command center to the town of Shali. In April, the Russians took Shali and Dudayev's headquarters were transferred to the mountain village of Vedeno which, between 1845 and 1859, was the fortified stronghold and capital of Imam Shamil.
In mid-May, after the cease-fire announced for the VE-Day summit with Bill Clinton in Moscow ended, the Russian army captured Vedeno after a pitched battle. The Chechen military commander Aslan Maskhadov attempted to regroup his command in the mountain village of Shatoi but was taken a month later in mid-June. The Chechens were running out of capitals.
The Russian Army founded the fortress town of Grozny in 1817. However, it was only in February 1859 that the Russian troops based there were able to overcome Chechen resistance, capture the fortifications they had constructed in the forests and the mountain canyons, capture Shamil's capital of Vedeno and then the imam himself, and so end the Caucasian war.
In the current conflict, the Chechens also fortified and stubbornly defended their capital and other strongholds. But they were so badly outgunned by the Russians that they could only slow the Russian advance, not check it. After the Russian army captured Shatoi, the mountainous region of Chechnya was effectively divided into several isolated pockets of resistance.
The Chechens were mistaken to think that the mountains would stop the advance of the Russian Army. Since Shamil's time, the Chechens have not fought in the mountains and are no better prepared for such fighting than the Russian forces are. It is impossible even to compare the battle readiness of the Chechens with that of the mountain Tajiks of Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley, who constantly fought with other Afghan tribes for decades before the Soviets arrived. Even then, the mujaheddin would most likely have lost the war if they had not been supplied with American Stinger missiles. The Chechens have no credible anti-aircraft defenses and Russian aircraft rule the skies with impunity.
During the successful mountain campaign in May-June 1995, the Russian Army outmanned, outmaneuvered and outgunned the enemy. When taking Shali, the Russians sent an armored column up the Argun river canyon that got ambushed. A company stayed behind to engage the enemy near the ambush and to simulate an attempt of head on advancing. Their heavy artillery hammered the Chechen defenses while the rest of the column used other, less defended routes to get to Shatoi.
At the same time, a paratroop battalion of the 7th airborne division was helicopter-landed behind enemy lines to the east of Shatoi and took the mountain town encountering little resistance. The Chechens tried to regroup and counterattack, but with other Russian columns converging on Shatoi from different directions, they soon decided to break off the engagement and scatter in the hills.
So, why then did the Russians perform so poorly in the early stages of the war? Why were small, poorly prepared, combined units sent into Chechnya in December, when the region is covered with dense fog that prevented Russia's air power from providing effective cover for its ground forces?
In early December, experts in the administration advised Boris Yeltsin to impose a blockade on Chechnya and then to assemble and prepare several strong attack groups. The idea was that, if negotiations failed to produce results, Russia would attack in force in the spring, smothering the enemy from the onset with an overwhelming military superiority. However, the politicians in Moscow decided to send an unprepared army into battle to cover up the disastrous covert operation using the Chechen opposition to dislodge Dudayev. The Russian military will not forget this.
Yeltsin also made one other serious public relations blunder: He never visited the men in Chechnya. Instead, he merely made a quick stop during his vacation in April in the North Caucasian towns of Nalchik and Kislovodsk. On April 10, I was in a Russian military field camp not far from the ravaged village of Samashki, when a report came that Yeltsin was conducting a helicopter sight-seeing tour a hundred miles to the west. The officers were openly outraged. "He should be here instead," they remarked.
Despite the war, the military parade on May 9 in Moscow was entirely traditional with freshly painted tanks from divisions in the Moscow region, and even, right-angled columns ("boxes") of cadets from Moscow's military academies, all wearing new uniforms and freshly polished boots. Parade participants did include veterans of the war in Chechnya, but they did not stand out. The traditional Russian military parade made many onlookers believe that this still is a soulless military machine fully and unquestioningly faithful to whichever Kremlin boss is on the viewing stand.
But in Grozny in April, less than a month before, I saw another kind of parade. Five companies of soldiers and officers had formed next to the Grozny-North airport terminal to welcome First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets and then Interior Minister Viktor Yerin. Soskovets and Yerin gave several dozen decorations and medals to servicemen who had distinguished themselves in battles against the Chechens, and then the companies marched past them. Their lines were not very even and none of them had the same uniform. It was camouflage of different shades and colors, from black-grey to light green. Some were in peaked hats, others in red or black berets, or simply in knitted black round ski caps bearing the inscription "Italy." They were unshaven and the armored personnel carriers they departed on after the parade were dirty, but this was a combat, not a parade-ground army.
Most of the generals, officers and soldiers whom I met in Chechnya thought that they had won this war and were proud of it. But President Boris Yeltsin, who sent them into battle unprepared in December 1994, has neither influence nor support in the army. Of course, only a fraction of the Russian Army is fighting in Chechnya. But they have been sent there from virtually every military district in the country, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. Eventually, they returned to their bases and told their stories to the rest of their comrades in arms. The attitudes of the army in Chechnya have now become the attitudes of all the Armed Forces.
Preparation For Further Action
In mid-June, 1995, all major military operations in Chechnya ceased. The Russian forces even partially withdrew from populated areas, in preparations for a change of tactics. Small outposts in villages are vulnerable. Chechen women can cut them off by rushing at and surrounding the Russian soldiers, knowing that they will not harm them. Such action allows Chechen fighters to penetrate the village and take Russian troops hostage. It is even possible that in some Chechen towns, the military authorities will tacitly allow a return to the lawlessness of the 1991-1994 period so that local civilians could invite Russian forces to return.
The cease-fire accord and military disengagement agreement signed on July 30 was not a capitulation or the beginning of Moscow's gradual recognition of an independent Chechnya. True, the Russians did allow the Chechen fighters who were trapped in the mountains to filter through Russian lines into the lowlands, but this by no means can be considered a unilateral concession.
In order to control the upcoming elections, and even to simply collect food and money, the Chechen warlords must control the region's major population centers. But in the lowlands, major Chechen units are exposed and there is nowhere for them to hide from Russian air power, artillery and tanks.
During the course of the June offensive, federal units advanced far into the Caucasus Mountains and, from the military point of view, there was little sense in advancing further. Neither the Russian Army nor the Interior Ministry has any special mountain troops. Advancing further would have been quite difficult, and supply lines would have become increasingly difficult to manage. Maintaining a coherent front line in mountainous conditions was also impossible and the Chechens would certainly have penetrated Russian lines anyway. Vindicated by the fighting around Shatoi and Vedeno, they might have been able to begin a guerilla campaign.
However, the mountains of Chechnya form a relatively small region, about 100 kilometers by 50 kilometers. Of course, the Chechens know these hills well, but the limited resources of the few mountain valleys make it unlikely that they would be able to long support a partisan army or even to sustain an aggressive and constant terrorist campaign without substantial help from abroad in the form of weapons, ammunition, supplies, medicine and money. Otherwise, a serious guerilla campaign will never even get started.
In addition, some of Chechnya's mountain people do not support Dzhokar Dudayev and many who do are unwilling to risk having their villages become targets for Russian air strikes. In short, the Chechens, like the Kurds, also need bases abroad where the Russian air force cannot reach them. In the final analysis, it seems that it is up to foreign countries to determine whether or not there will be a guerrilla war in the Northern Caucasus.
The West, of course, has condemned the fighting in Chechnya, but it is unlikely to begin secretly supplying weapons to the enemy as it did in Afghanistan. A strong and stable Russia is in everyone's interests. There seems no possibility of Chechen guerilla bases operating with impunity on Georgian or Armenian territory when Russia itself has military bases in these countries. The situation in Azerbaijan is less clear, although it seems unlikely that the cautious Geydar Aliyev would risk an open conflict with Russia or incursions by the Russian Army analogous to what we have seen recently between Turkey and Iraq. But from Russia's point of view, the most important question is Iran. Cooperation with Teheran could help mute Iranian support for Moslem guerrillas both in Tajikistan and in Chechnya. Clearly, the controversial nuclear reactor sale to Iran is not just a lucrative export contract for Russia.
Regardless of the peace negotiations, the Russian Army remains the dominant military force in the region. Russian forces have not relaxed and are ready to engage and rout any Chechen unit, especially since they still massively outman and outgun their opponents. In April, the Chechens retreated into the mountains because they had been defeated in the lowlands and in Grozny. But they were unable to resist for long from the mountains and their main strongholds there -- Vedeno, Shatoi and Nozhai-Yurt -- were fairly quickly taken. In June, the Chechens began serious peace negotiations because they were no longer able to continue the war. Several months later, they are no match for the Russian Army.
While the talks in Grozny continued, despite flare-ups in the fighting and various mutual protests, the Russian generals replaced exhausted units, concentrated some of their forces in major garrisons, and handed many check-points over to the MVD. They are still in a position to quickly block off and capture any Chechen town or village, especially in the lowlands. The Russians' main goal in Chechnya remains as before: to split the Chechen opposition into those who can be pacified and therefore deserve encouragement, and those who are unreconcilable and will continue to bear the full brunt of the Russian Army.
While pressuring the "bad" Chechens, Moscow will simultaneously try to pursue dialogue and cooperation with the "good" Chechens, including some field commanders and maybe the Chechen Chief of Staff, Aslan Maskhadov. There are other possible "good" Chechens to promote: former Communist Party Chief and Chechen strong-man Doku Zavgayev and even the former Speaker of the former Supreme Soviet Ruslan Khasbulatov. The Kremlin still has not fully decided who will run Chechnya after Dudayev, but it is actively looking for an appropriate candidate.
Appointing A "Czar"
At the end of August 1995, President Yeltsin's representative in Chechnya, Oleg Lobov, was given sweeping executive powers in the region. He can issues orders to any Russian troops or security agencies there, as well as to local civilian authorities. He now has the rank of first deputy prime minister, giving him the right to affirm official government orders without first securing the approval of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. In short, Lobov has been made virtually a czar or viceroy in Chechnya. At the same time, he retains his influential position as Security Council secretary.
The appointment of a "czar" to coordinate Russian policy in Chechnya was long overdue. Since the fall of 1991, Russian policy toward Dzhokar Dudayev's regime has been extremely erratic. Negotiations alternated with forceful measures and back again without any discernible system. Everything depended upon which ambitious Moscow politician or influential Moscow agency had seized the initiative and taken up the challenge of solving the Chechen problem.
The most important result of this has been the inept and bloody intervention in Chechnya. Even during the fighting, the government agencies involved -- including the Defense and Interior ministries -- simply could not work together, which naturally increased the campaign's casualties. Commanders of Army and Interior Ministry units constantly quarreled with one another, and soldiers even shot at one another. Operatives of the Federal Security Service in Chechnya told me in April that they were reluctant to give intelligence information on the Chechen resistance to Interior Ministry officers, because "they don't do anything with it until after the Chechens have already figured out what we know and the information becomes worthless."
This lack of coordination bolstered the Chechen resistance. Even when the situation seemed hopeless from the military point of view, the Chechens continued to fight because they did not believe that Moscow had really decided to stand up for its geostrategic interests in the Caucasus at any cost. The majority of Chechens supposed, and many still do, that they just need to hold on a little longer and conflicts among Russian officials will force Moscow to withdraw its forces and admit defeat.
If a powerful coordinator of Kremlin policy in the North Caucasus had been appointed a year ago, many people would still be alive today. But the question remains: will Lobov be able to radically change the situation after such a long period of unsystematic, failed crisis management by various Russian officials and generals?
People tell a lot of malicious stories about Lobov. For instance, former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yevgeny Saburov told me that in the fall of 1991, when the country was on the threshold of great changes and it had to be decided what kind of economic reform to pursue, Lobov read an hour-long speech to a meeting of the Russian government on how to gather birch branches to feed starving cows on collective farms. Saburov said that that was the moment when he realized the government of then Prime Minister Ivan Silayev was doomed.
Lobov has very little experience in defense, national security and foreign policy. Having no idea what to do with the Security Council when it was thrust upon him in the fall of 1993, Lobov was apparently happy to let deputy secretary Vladimir Rubanov -- a former KGB operative and an appointee of Lobov's predecessor, Air Force Marshal Evgeny Shaposhnikov -- implement his own organizational ideas. Rubanov headed the group of Security Council representatives that Lobov sent to Chechnya a couple of weeks ago. Later, Lobov himself went there, accompanied by General Valery Manilov, another deputy appointed by Shaposhnikov.
Lobov is open to others' ideas and is capable of energetically working them out, although he is not always able to tell a good idea from a bad one. Therefore, the success or failure of his tenure in Chechnya will be largely determined by his advisers Rubanov and Manilov who, incidentally, also have no experience quelling secessionist rebellions. Still, the idea to hand over power in Grozny to Doku Zavgayev, an influential leader of Gendergnoy, one of the biggest Chechen clans, may be a step in the right direction.
New elections will not help Dudayev. If there were presidential elections in Chechnya, he might well win. But the elections will be to a convention which will work out a new constitution for the republic. This national assembly will be made up of representatives of several violently opposed factions, including various field commanders from the resistance, supporters of the pro-Moscow government and various local and tribal leaders. Dudayev will not be able to manipulate this assembly.
In 1993, he was forced to disband the Chechen parliament which had been elected under his control. Since that time, his authority has only extended to Grozny and the surrounding area. No single leader can control all the Chechen tribes without economic, political and military support from Moscow.
For the majority of Russia's ruling elite, an independent Chechnya is absolutely unacceptable because it contradicts Russia's long-term military, geopolitical and even economic interests. The Russian government wants Dudayev and his dream of an independent Chechnya dead. If Lobov and his aids fail, then a new viceroy will be appointed in Chechnya to try to keep the railroad and pipelines operational, to help the good guys, punish the bad and also to learn to distinguish between the two.
* * *
The number of people killed in the Chechen campaign is unknown. The official Defense Ministry reports put servicemen fatalities under 3000. The majority of officers (including brigade commanders) who fought in the campaign believe that this is an underestimation.
However, overall military losses may be higher, but not grossly so. The main problem is to figure out the Chechen losses. No one even has an approximate estimation. Several tens of thousands is all one can hear. Who of them was a fighter and who a civilian is still less possible to assess. One thing is definite, while the conflict continues the toll will rise.
© 2007 Chechen Republic Online