The Chechen Conflict in a Historical Perspective Part II

By | October 22, 2021

After Stalin’s death in 1953, however, several deported ethnic groups were allowed to return, including the Chechens. In 1957, Chechnya – Ingushetia was officially restored, and many Chechens bought back their homes with compensation money they had received. Nevertheless, throughout the period leading up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Chechnya-Ingushetia was a multi-ethnic republic, with Russians making up 23% of the population. During this period, relations between the ethnic groups were relatively harmonious, despite conflicts over who had the right to houses and land.

5: The 1994 War

According to ITYPEMBA, the tragic history of the Chechens is important for understanding the present. The memories of it were played on by a power-seeking nationalist elite from the late 1980s. The Chechen Dzhokhar Dudayev, a former general in the Soviet army, came to the forefront of the Chechen nationalists’ demands for independence and later independence.

To begin with, Yeltsin, as the newly elected president, had actually supported Dudayev, because he had sided with Yeltsin in the power struggle with Gorbachev. However, when Dudayev declared Chechnya independent in 1991, Yeltsin made an unsuccessful attempt to establish a state of emergency in the republic.

In 1994, Yeltsin was stronger, and Chechnya was seriously on the agenda. The corrupt and authoritarian Dudayev regime was building up, had many opponents, and Russian authorities tried to fight the regime by supporting the internal opposition to Dudayev. Later, Russian security forces were deployed, without much success. But in December 1994, Russian federal forces moved into Chechnya from three sides: from Dagestan, North Ossetia, and Ingushetia.

6: Why so important?

Russia has spent enormous resources on retaining little Chechnya as part of Russia. Why? At an early stage, there was probably a real fear that letting go of Chechnya could trigger a domino effect, and that Russia would suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union – go up in its individual parts.

Although Chechnya is one of the poorest parts of Russia, there was also an economic incentive to retain control of the oil pipelines that ran through the republic. Furthermore, the power-political game in Moscow was decisive. A “quick and victorious war” would be a useful propaganda weapon for Yeltsin, who for a long time saw his power base threatened. Last but not least, there is much to suggest that the conflict had a violent outcome as a result of the poor relationship between Yeltsin and Dudayev: There was prestige in the case.

The result of the first war was a scorching defeat for the Russian federal forces. As during the Caucasus wars of the 19th century, the federal forces at least ten times as large had difficulty in handling the Chechen guerrilla tactics, and in the summer of 1996 the Chechen forces recaptured Grozny. The Russian authorities were forced to the negotiating table, and a peace agreement was reached in August 1996. All federal troops were to be withdrawn, and at the same time the parties agreed to postpone the question of Chechnya’s status for five years. But strong forces in the Russian defense and in the security forces wanted a rematch from the outset.

7: The parallels of history

Although the Chechen separatists won the war, the consequences were tragic. The republic was totally destroyed. In Grozny there was hardly a house left after all the bombing. Up to one hundred thousand lives were lost, mostly civilians. Russia therefore had to endure sharp criticism for the gross human rights violations. The Chechens, for their part, interpreted the war as another attempted genocide.

As in the 19th century, the struggles led to a radicalization of Islam . Islam, and then in the form of Sufism, had at first had a small place in the separatist rhetoric. In the fight against the federal forces, however, a more radical version of Islam, Wahhabism (see facts), gained a foothold among some warlords and their warriors. Not least because foreign holy war fighters showed up to fight side by side with their Muslim brothers. Puritan and literal Wahhabism considers Sufism heretical. It sees uncompromising war against “the unbelievers” as a sacred duty.

Inspired by this doctrine, the radicalized warlords – the most famous of them Shamil Basayev – revived the dream of building an Islamic state in Chechnya and Dagestan. Islamist training camps were established where military training was combined with religious training. In the post-war period, there were therefore strong actors on both the Chechen and Russian sides who wanted to resume the war.

8: New war / enemy images and terror

President Aslan Maskhadov’s (1997 election) attempt to build a moderate Chechen state after the war was in many ways doomed to fail. Maskhadov had neither the economic nor the military capacity to rebuild the republic or to defeat the radical warlords. Chechnya therefore developed into a lawless territory, and Maskhadov was forced to make increasing concessions to the radical opposition. In early 1999, sharia law was introduced throughout the territory.

In August 1999, Basayev invaded Dagestan, as a first step in the plan to establish an Islamic state in Chechnya and Dagestan. This caused the Russians to go to war again. In addition, Chechen terrorists were blamed for the bombings of apartment blocks in Moscow and Volgodonsk in September.

The Chechen Conflict 3