Chechnya - The Country

By Boris Badenough


It seemed only a matter of time before the fiercely independent Chechen people would rise up against "Mother Moscow." Banished to northern Kazakhstan (along with the Tartars) by Stalin for being German collaborators, accordingly, the Chechens have a mean streak as wide as the mountainous border that divides their country. After they were repatriated, the Chechens, hardened and without any means of earning a living, set about forming the largest criminal gangs in the former Soviet Union. They were as far from the socialist, there-is-no-god, one-size-fits all Soviet model as one could be. First, Chechens are Muslim; second, they are more entrepreneurial than Donald Trump, and their loyalties are to one of the over 100 teips, or clans, that constitute Chechen society. For centuries, they have been considered by Russians as the toughest, baddest people in the former Soviet Union.

In Grozny, nervous Russian troops stopped and checked papers endlessly and regularly arrested any male Chechens they found hiding in their homes just to be sure.

Just prior to Russia's intercession into the rebellion, Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev bombastically boasted that a single paratroop regiment would need only a couple of hours to wipe out the rebellion. Boy, was he wrong. Two months later, Russia could say it had taken the rubble that once had been Grozny--but there was little of which to be proud.

Although the vastly superior Russian forces eventually took the Chechen capital in January 1995, they have faced a low-budget Afghanistan since. The Chechen insurgents--many of them former Soviet soldiers trained in mountain guerrilla fighting--have dug into the hills, and waged a long and fierce battle of attrition against an undisciplined, underaged band of Boris' best. And, in true Afghanistan form, the Russian army set up a puppet government, while the rebels regrouped in the hills. Since the Russians have decided to exterminate any and all Chechen fighters, there is little for the Chechens to lose. Although the daytime is ruled by Russian APCs and soldiers, the night belongs to the Chechens.

By most estimates there are about 1500 to 3000 Chechen fighters in three groups still fighting this pocket gazavat, or Holy War. Djokhar Dudayev ran his tiny rebel army from his "secret" base in Roshni-Chu, about 45 minutes south of Grozny until he was wounded by a Russian missile, which finally homed in on his satellite phone in a clearing 20 miles southeast of Grozny in April 1996. Reportedly, he was smuggled out through Azerbaijan via Turkey and hidden in a NATO hospital in southern Germany.

In February 1995, the Russian army needed 38,000 troops just to keep the lid on Chechnya, and the Interior Ministry had deployed an additional 15,500. Russian sources insist Chechen strength is far greater than what's being reported in the media. There continue to be gunfights, ambushes and massacres, as both sides side nervously finger their triggers. Just to make things interesting, Chechen military commander Shamil Basayev boasts that he will use nuclear materials to poison Moscow.

Yeltsin expected a quick victory when he first sent troops into Chechnya but the ill-trained Russian infantry has found the Chechens' desire for independence has made them formidable opponents. An aggressive drive by the Chechen fighters on August 6, 1996 (Yeltsin's inauguration day) reversed the war driving thousands of Russian troops and civilians out of Grozny. When Alexander Lebed was sent in by Yeltsin to work out a ceasefire, he found Russian soldiers had become weaklings due to being underfed, underclothed and lice-ridden. After the ceasefire went into effect, sporadic firing continued and Chechen refugees were bombed by the Russians as they fled the city. The Chechens want nothing short of outright independence while the Russians would like them to accept autonomy within the Russian Federation much like that negotiated with Tatarstan. As of September '96, Lebed and the Chechens had hammered out a peace process that should end major hostilities. Now where do they send the royalty checks for that oil flowing through Grozny?


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