By Abdullah Khan
"Weakness and Cowardice never saved anybody"
"You have won. We have defeated the rebellious Dudayev regime"
"We have no foreigners among our ranks, Muslims are one nation and Muslim countries are one homeland"
"Killing of Chechens by Russians is no more Russia's internal affair than the killing of Jews in Germany was Germany's internal affair"
"Moscow to the Islamists of Dagestan: Surrender or Be Exterminated"
Historical Background of the Conflict:
After capturing Imam Mansur, the Caucasian resistance against the Russians continued under the leadership of Ghazi Mullah, an Avarian Dagestani Islamic scholar who called for the replacement of the "Adat" (customary Caucasian laws which differs from tribe to tribe although they contain some similarities) with the Islamic law "Shariah" (Fenari 4). Ghazi Mullah succeeded in gathering the Islamic scholars of Dagestan in Ghimiri (Dagestan), where they acknowledged him as an Imam (Islamic leader). He used to tell the Caucasians that "Your marriages are unlawful, your children are bastards, while there is one Russian left in your lands" (Fenari 3) . Later, he launched a new resistance campaign against the Russians. After several victories, Ghazi Mullah, his disciples and his supporters had to retreat in front of the much larger Russian troops to South Chechnya and later to his headquarters in Ghimri were he was surrounded and later killed by the Russians with fifty eight out of sixty disciples who were with him during the siege (Fenari 5).
One of the two disciples who escaped the massacre of Ghimri was Imam Shamil, the leader of the famous thirty years Caucasian resistance to the Russians. "Shamil was no stranger to war with Europeans. While performing Hajj [Pilgrimage] in 1828, he had met with Emir Abd Al Qader, the leader of the Algerian resistance against the French, who shared with him views on guerrilla warfare" (Fenari 6). From 1829 to 1859, Imam Shamil and his followers launched a full scale resistance campaign against the Russians in the Caucasus and, with the exception of the Ossetians (the only ethnic group in Northern Caucasus whose majority are Orthodox Christians, however, today, there is a significant percentage of Ossetian Muslims that reaches 33% in North Ossetia [Russian Federation] and 25% in South Ossetia [Georgia]) (Bremmer and Taras 113) whose majority were the historical allies of the Russians in the Caucasus, all of the Caucasian ethnic groups united under his banner. In 1858, the Ingush were driven from their villages by Russian occupiers and therefore they revolted and requested support from Imam Shamil, who came down from the mountains for their aid. Shamil was defeated and had to retreat to the mountainous villages where the Russian seized him. Several villages started to move to the Russian side rather than submitting "to siege and inevitable destruction" (Fenari 10). In June 1859, Shamil was forced under Russian pressures to lay down arms. Later he was banished to a small town near Moscow and in 1869 the Russian Tsar allowed him to finally leave to Mecca and Madina where he died in 1871. Since 1859 Imam Shamil surrendered to Russians, but the Caucasian resistance continued under Kunta Haji who died in a Russian jail in 1867, Sheikh Deni-Arsonov (a Chechen from Ken-Yurt who was killed by the Cossaks in 1918), and Imam Najmudin and Sheihk Uzun Haji who were able to repulse and finally defeat Denikin's White forces in 1919 (Bennigsen and Wimbush 26). Uzun Haji "proclaimed liberated Chechnya and Northwestern Dagestan to be a "North Caucasian Emirate". The resistance continued, Islamicly oriented, under the leadership of Mohammed Balakhany who was able to defeat an entire Red army brigade and who took the head of the Daghestani Cheka, Safar Dudarov, as a prisoner of war in the summer of 1920. However the resistance came to a temporarily halt when Imam Najmudin was captured in 1925 (Bennigsen and Wimbush 26). Revolts took place again in Chechen territories in 1929 and in 1930s when both Russian chiefs of Ingush and Chechen secret police were killed by the supporters of Kunta Haji (Bennigsen and Wimbush 26).
In 1940 and 42, two revolts took place in Chechnya. The first was led by Hasan Israilov, "a former Journalist" and the second was led by Mairbek Sharipov (a former Communist Party member) (Bennigsen and Wimbush 30). On 23 February 1944, the entire Chechen- Ingush population was deported to Siberia and Northern Kaskhstan with other "punished peoples" of North Caucasus, Middle Volga, and Crimea due to the accusation of "collaboration with the Germans" by Stalin and the Stalinist junta. However, history records show that the Germans never reached Chechnya. The massive deportation included "408,000 Chechens, 92,000 Ingush, 75,000 Karachays, 43,000 Balkars, and 200,000 Crimean Tartars" (Rashid 55) (all are Muslim ethnic groups who had historic roles in confronting the Russian, whether Tsarist or Communist, invasion to Muslim hands and who had a significant historic role in spreading Islam in European Russia and Eastern Europe especially the Crimean Tartars). The Chechens were loaded up in train cars and each family was permitted to carry only twenty kilos of baggage (Kangas 1). The Chechens were rehabilitated under Krushchev in 1957, however trials for the Soviet opposition members (most of them were members of Sufi orders and Islamic movements) took place in "1958, 1963, and 1964 in Makhash Kala, Grozny, and Nazran" and in 1975 V.G. Pivarov, a leading Soviet Sociologist wrote: "More than half of the Muslim believers in Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Republic are members of murid [Sufi] brotherhood"(Bennigsen and Wimbush 47). Noteworthy, that the resistance to the Russian / Soviet rule had never stopped even during the deportation of almost all the Chechen nation (the leaders of the resistance operated from Siberia and Northern Kazakhestan, as well as from the Caucasus mountains to undermine the Soviet rule and they gave birth and raised figures like Dzohar Dudayev, Aslan Maskhadov, Salman Bassayev [father of Shamil Basayev] who ultimately won the Chechen independence in 1996). Also, since the last century, the resistance against the Russian/Soviet presence in Northern Caucasus, including Chechnya, was termed "terrorism" and its members were called "extreme fanatics" (Bennigsen and Wimbush 47).
Conclusion of the Historical Background:
The Beginning of a New War (1994-1996):
The "covert attempt failed and was soon made public" and "this humiliating failure was probably the spark that ignited the large-scale Russian military involvement" (Finch 2 and 12). The official intervention in Chechnya was pushed by Yeltsin's "power" ministers (ministers who have the armed forces at their disposal namely: Grachev, the Minister of Defense (MOD), Yerin, the Minister of Internal Affairs (MVD), the Federal Border Service (FSG), Lobov, the Secretary of the Security Council, Stepashin, the Chief of the Federal Security Service (FSB; formerly KGB), and Korzhakov, the Chief of the Presidential Security forces) (Finch 12). On December 7th, Yeltsin gave Dudayev's men 48 hours to lay arms down and receive limited amnesty (Geibel 2). However, Dudayev and his men where more confident about their capabilities after defeating Russian proxies. On December 11th 1994, "Russian forces entered Chechnya in three-prong attack, from north, west, and south" (Geibel 2) and another phase of the Chechen-Russo confrontation began.
The Chechen-Russo War (1994-1996):
The Political Factors:
Another "internal" political reason was due to the consequences of the failure of the Moscow-backed opposition to seize Grozny. "The FSB's 'black operation' to unseat Dudayev had been an embarrassing failure, and its director, Sergei Stepashin, feared possible investigation" (Finch 3) and therefore a large-scale "retaliation" had to be conducted to restore the "lost might". Charges of corruption were very close to Pavel Grachev, the Defense Minister, (one month prior to the Russian assaults a famous Russian journalist who was investigating high-level military corruption was murdered. Rumors and allegations that Grachev was covering up for his subordinates who plundered the military department, became much less doubtful) and therefore he had to demonstrate "martial prowess and personal loyalty to the president" (Finch 3). The MVD (Internal Forces) considered the situation in the North Caucasus a threat to the Russian security and may deteriorate to another Caucasian war and therefore it was essential to eliminate the "separatist" movement led by Dudayev.
The Economic Factor:
Although that huge drop occurred, Grozny was still an important economic region for Moscow as it became, over years, a key oil pipe juncture and a very important "oil refining center supplying consumers in North Caucasus" (Ebel 1). Grozny was also a juncture for natural gas fields in Russian and Central Asia. Today, the rich oil and gas fields of Tengis (Kazakhstan) and Caspian Sea (Dagestan) can be exported to Europe and US through the Russian port of Novorossisk on the Black Sea. The shortest and easiest ways for both pipelines are through Chechnya. For the Tengis pipeline, the route that will transfer the crude oil to Novorosissk will be through Atyrau-Komsomolsk-Tikhorestsk and it will pass through North Chechnya. For the Caspian Sea pipeline, there is a pipeline which was built "from Tikhretsk through Grozny to Baku to deliver crude oil for Baku refinery complex" (Ebel 2). The same pipeline can be used to export the Azeri-oil to the Western buyers through Chechnya and Russia. In September 1994, "Azerbaijan (a state which the US claimed that its territories are of strategic interests to the US and a state which demanded to join NATO) signed what it called 'the deal of the century-an $8 billion deal with a broad consortium of Western oil companies" (Meier 1). Russia made sure to obtain a 10% cut of the deal, however it expected much more than that through trafficking and licensing fees. For the Tengis oil deal, Kazakhstan had signed a great deal with Chevron and other US oil firms to develop its oil fields and therefore if Kazakh oil passed through passed through Russian-controlled Chechnya, Russia will gain, again the trafficking fees. "All told, these foreign deals [with former Soviet Republics] total nearly $28 billion, far too much money for a cash-strapped Russia to ignore for the sake of risking another blotch on its inglorious record on human rights" (Meire 2).
The Military Situation:
From the beginning of the operation the Russian stages proved to be a failure. The Russian troops faced an enormous public resistance in North Caucasus even before reaching the Chechen borders. "On 12 December, the armored vehicle column on the Vladikavkaz axis was held up by the local populace" and the column in Kizlar, Dagestan was faced and stopped by civilian protestors (Celestan 3). Therefore, both columns were delayed. The only column which was able to reach the Chechen borders was the one coming from Stavropol (inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians and Cossacks), however it was confronted by fierce Chechen resistance. To avoid a full-scale new Caucasian war, the column in the Kizlar axis and the Vladikavkaz one had to retreat to enter Chechnya from the north (through Stavropol). By late December, the Russians had reached Grozny, although the stiff - however incomparable - military resistance. Instead of retreating from the city as the Russians presumed, Dudayev and the Chechen army "reinforced their position in the city" (Galaev 3). Similar to what used to happen in the historical confrontations between Chechnya and Russia, hundreds of North Caucasians, together with other Muslim volunteers from all over the world, rushed to defend Grozny. On December 31st 1994, The Russian assault on Grozny took place. After a fierce Chechen resistance, the Russian troops retreated, however it continued shelling the city from outside "to reduce the number of buildings that could be used as fighting positions" (Celestan 4). It was a devastating defeat for the Russian army. "In the 131st Motorized Rifle Brigade only 18 out of its 120 vehicles escaped destruction in the city fighting and almost all of the brigade officers were killed." (Celestan 4). Fighting continued to be going and on 19 January 1995, the Grozny-40,000-strong Russian army "captured the burn-out remnants of the presidential palace" (Celestan 4) and by the end of this month, 25,000 civilian Chechen were killed in addition to the destruction of Grozny and 1000 houses in the country side (Galaev 4). On April 8th 1995, the Russian forces captured the small town of Samashki where "the Red Cross announced that approximately 250 civilians were killed during the assault" (Celestan 4). Sergei Arutiunov, a Senior Fellow in the Russian Academy of Sciences, compared the massacre to that of "Khayton in Belarus, Lidice in Czechoslovakia, and [that the name Samashki] sounds more sinister than My Lai in Vietnam" (Arutiunov 6). Major Raymond Finch, an officer in the American Foreign Military Studies Office wrote after the massacre: "Russian tactics were beginning to resemble those expressed by an American officer in Veitnam: 'In order to save the village, we had to destroy it.'" (Finch* 4). That statement was applied to the village of Bamut whose civilians had evacuated it due to the Russian massive shelling (Khodier 4). The Russian army failed to enter the village, which was protected by 1000 Chechen fighters confronting 10,000 Russian soldiers. When the Russians did enter Bamut after 10 months of fierce fighting, there was no village, but just remnants of a village and dead bodies. By May of the same year, the Russian "official figure of Causalities stood at about 1,200, but is likely to be much larger. Even this figure compared with the [official] 13,000 lost during ten years of war in Afghanistan is shocking" (Galaev 5).
On June 13th 1995, Shamil Basayev, an Engineer and a Chechen field commander, led a daring raid inside Russia. He wanted to force the Russians to withdraw from Chechnya, stop the bloodshed and to start immediate negotiations. Together with about 150 fighter, Basayev entered the Russian borders and aimed for Moscow, specifically, to the Kremlin (Finch* 11). However his convoy was discovered by the Russian police forces near Budennovsk (a city of 100,000 located 120 KM from the Chechen borders) where a battle took place and several Chechens were wounded. "Basayev would not abandon his men" and therefore he headed to the nearest hospital in Budennovsk (Finch* 5) where he captured 1500 civilian and policemen hostages for 8 days of "anxiety and surreal negotiations" (Finch* 5). Basayev released "some 150 pregnant women and children" and finally by June 18th, "In one of the most surreal events of modern media, the Russian prime minister began to conduct telephone negotiations with Basayev on live Russian TV" (Finch* 6). The Russian Prime Minister, humiliately, agreed to stop the combat and begin negotiations at once, after he demanded Basayev to "stop any further embarrassment to the Russian government . However, such negotiations broke down and after a few days fighting started all over again and the Russians did not keep their promises.
On April 21st 1996, the Chechen President Dzohar Dudayev was killed by an air-to-surface missile fired from a Russian Sukhoi SU-25 jet while it was bombing his mobile headquarters (Madson 47). He was followed by the Chechen leader Zelim Khan Yanderbayaev as a president and later with Aslan Masa'adov who was the supreme leader of the armed forces. In August of the same year, Shamil Basayev led another daring three -pronged operation in which he successfully retained the former capital, Grozny where he captured around 10,000 Russian soldiers. The Russians threatened again to massively bombard Grozny. However a successful peace initiative led by Alexander Lebed, the new Secretary of the National Security Council who wanted to avoid any further embarrassment and to be portrayed as the "savor of the 10,000 Russian soldier", a picture that will not hurt him in the presidential elections of 1996 in which he was going to participate, aborted the Russian threats. In November 1996, Aslan Masa'adov, the Chechen Prime Minister (back then) and Alexander Lebed signed a cease-fire agreement that was claimed then to be "the document putting an end to 4 centuries of hostilities". The Mas'adov-Lebed agreement was followed by series of agreements in which Russia accepted to pay reparations to Chechnya and to postpone the question of full independence to the year 2001. In the next day after signing the cease-fire agreement, the photo of Basayev and Lebed playing Chess in Grozny was published by Russian newspapers as well as Arabic ones. The Chechens had won the war and Basayev won the Chess game.
The political facts concerning the 1994-96 conflict suggest that the Chechens, civilians and fighters were victims of the rotten political corruption of the Russian political leadership. One may note that, since 1994, every time the Russian presidential elections is close, the economic situation is deteriorating and the politicians' corruption is exacerbating and publicly exposed, the Russian government launches a military campaign somewhere in the Caucasus (in 1990 it was Azerbaijan when the Russian/Soviet troops entered Baku during the dispute for power between Yeltsin and Gorbachev and threats to expose Gorbachev's "black' file by hard-line communists. In 1992-93, it was Abkhazia when Yeltsin was facing hard opposition from communists that drove him to bomb the Russian Parliament with tanks! And in 1994 and 1999 it was Chechnya and it is important to mention that all these countries are Muslim ones with a significant Islamic history and an important role in launching Jihad against the Russian rule and its forces). Ironically, after the campaign militarily fails as happened in 1994, the same leaders who launched the war become peace-makers and pull back the troops, again for being portrayed as savers of the Russian soldiers from "the Chechen/Caucasian blood bath" and therefore publicly supported in elections once more. That exactly what happened after the 1994-96 campaign when Yeltsin admitted that the Russian campaign against Chechnya was "a great mistake". The same thing is happening today when Russian attacked 2 Daghestani regions, Chabanmakhi and Karamakhi on accusations of "violation of laws". The two regions, which are inhabited by Avaris and Dargins (Daghestani ethnic groups), implemented the Sharia'a laws in early 1998 and were visited by Sergei Stepashin, the Russian interior minister in September 1998. The latter assured that he does not consider the inhabitants of the two districts as "extremists" and promised to solve the economic problems faced by the Dagestanis (Hasan 1). However in August 1999 and before the presidential elections of year 2000, the Russian army violently attacked the two regions "to establish order". The inhabitants of the two regions called for help from neighboring Chechnya and, as happened before in 19th century when the Ingush tribes called for the aid of Imam Shamil against the Russians, Shamil Bassyev, was there and started a military operation to aid the neighboring Dagestanis.
The mal-planning of the whole Russian operation against Chechnya in 1994-96 was clear from the first day. The announcement by Grachev that the operation would only take 9 days can reflect the misperception. Tsarist Russia fought Chechnya for decades and "there was no evidence that can predict that this the war would be easier" (Finch 3). "They failed to understand that in the past three years, the Chechen leader and his entourage had fostered the notion of Chechen independence, transforming the region from a Russian republic into a Muslim, well armed state, led by a committed core of dedicated fighters" (Finch 3). The Russian leadership ignored what Clausewitz called the "moral force" (the spirit which permeates the whole being of war) (Clausewitz 251). He (Clausewitz) accused the ones who ignore moral force of being foolish and indeed, they were (Clausewitz 251).
About the economic dimensions of the conflict after 1996, one can see that the Chechen economy is very much related to the Russian one. Therefore to become economically independent From Russia, Chechnya needs recognition economic assistance from the Muslim world. Another solution for the Chechen economic crisis is to cooperate or unite with an independent Dagestan and therefore the creation of the oil pipelines will turn both states (who have a small population) into the "Kuwaites" of the Caucasus, especially if Russia is out of the scene. That choice is far from being reached today due to the on-going military operations, however it is still a possible choice that can be strategically planned by the Chechen leadership. On the other hand, unless Russia has a total control over Chechnya and unless it establishes total stability under Russian dominance, such pipelines (Tengis and Baku) will never be built on Russian "claimed" territories. The pipelines can have another routes around Russia through Iran, Armenia, Turkey and Afghanistan and therefore Russia will loose a lot of financial resources. Noteworthy that the later in November 1999, US, Turkey and Azerbaijan signed an agreement to deliver crude oil from Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, however several oil firms objected to such route and therefore there are doubts about the success of the agreement.
Militarily, the Russians failed in Chechnya, basically, because Russian officials thought that the army was "entering Chechnya to bring to [about] 2,500 criminals hiding from the Russian justice" (Galaev 3). They also thought that they will be supported by the Russian public and the Caucasian one especially because of the "notorious image of the Chechens as the most powerful Mafia of the former Soviet Union" (Galaev 3).] However, the public acts in Valdikavkaz, Kizlar and even Moscow (on January 28th, 1995, an accord "on common actions in defense of peace and freedom against the slaughter in Chechnya" was signed by a number of right and centrists parties and movement and "with the exception of the right wing national patriots" the Russian major opposition forces supported stopping the war (Buzglin and Kolganov 4) had showed that the Russian leadership estimations were totally wrong. Actually the Russians in 1994-96 confronted, with few exceptions, the whole Chechen nation.
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