Monday, 23 November 2009

The War in Chechnya 1999-

Ramzan Kadyrov’s declaration of a total cessation of hostilities in Chechnya in late March 2009 was one of many announcements made over the years. The difference now is we were supposed to believe it and support him.

Fewer than 70 separatists remain; at least that’s what President Kadyrov is saying. Up to 30, 000 troops are required however to fight them, maybe more and there’s no talk of pulling them out or of replacing them with pro-Russian Chechen units.

The ‘insurgency’ will be over by April, ambitious words from a subordinate ruler with strong links to Russia. Ironically, the Kremlin (Russian government) remained silent; it neither confirmed nor denied Kadyrov’s evaluations. By July 2009, the ‘insurgency’ was still very much alive.

The Russian army announced its own withdrawal in April. The Kremlin had hinted this the same month. The Kadyrovite administration, which takes its orders from Moscow, may not be up to scratch in containing the Mujahideen once the Russians leave. But are the Russians actually invincible?

It should come as no surprise then that four soldiers were slain in a week; three by a Russian soldier who turned on his own comrades in April 2009. The fourth died via a roadside explosion. The latest deaths bring the official grand total to 4, 912 since 1999. Actual fatalities are likely to be twice as high.

In July 2009, nine Chechen police were killed in another ambush, this time in neighbouring Ingushetia, where much of the fighting now occurs. In another gun battle two police officers and two soldiers were killed. This was three months into the cessation of hostilities as announced by the Kadyrov. In late July 2009, another four Chechen police were killed via an explosion at a concert.

In August four police were killed in an explosion in Grozny while another four were slain a week later making eight police killed in a fortnight.

Russia currently has 100, 000 troops in Chechnya including 40, 000 active soldiers and 60, 000 logistics personnel. The number of Russian police and Special Forces has not been disclosed.

Chechnya in contrast is comprised of 1.2 million people, while Russians make up 23% of the population. The majority of residents are Sunni Muslim and the country chose to embrace Islam voluntarily between the 16th-19th centuries.

The country has been at odds with the Russians since the 1700s with both sides enjoying their fair share of victories and losses over the centuries. Between 1785-91, an uprising led by Sheikh Mansur against Russia inflicted a serious and heavy defeat against Catherine the Great. It was not until the 1830s however, the first full scale war between them erupted lasting until the 1860s.

That was the legend of Imam Shameel, a Non Chechen by birth, who led Chechnya against the Russians for over thirty years. By the war’s end, 18, 000 Russian soldiers had been killed.

First Chechen Russian War 1994-96

Chechnya remained under Russian rule until 1994, three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This war lasted from 1994 until 1996. On the Chechen side, President Dzokar Dudayev, was killed in 1995, via a rocket attack on his underground headquarters.

The first war in 1994-96 resulted in a total victory for the Chechen forces after the latter completely encircled and overwhelmed the Russian garrisons in Grozny and fully re-occupied the capital forcing a Russian withdrawal.

The Russian army at the time was sent in to subjugate the Chechen troops in the mountains and hills and suffered heavy casualties on the ground. The Russian government underestimated their adversaries.

In that war, widely regarded as the first Chechen War, the Russian Army lost 5, 500 lives according to official sources from the Kremlin. It’s likely the real figure is much higher, just like the fatalities in the present conflict may not be revealed with accuracy either out of embarrassment.

The war ended in 1996 and the Russians withdrew in humiliation and disgrace. Chechnya temporarily achieved independence and implemented Shariah law. The Russians relished a return match and received their opportunity three years later in 1999.

The initial hostility between the two nations was based on creed, now it is over oil. Grozny has up to 60 oil wells alone. Its mineral wealth makes it too attractive to be let go, especially since it is Muslim and has expressed a desire to embrace Shariah law as its constitution.

It was in October 1999, the Kremlin sent in the army and air force a second time to occupy Chechnya after a spate of bomb explosions in Moscow that killed several civilians.

The then Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, declared war on Chechnya: his second in office against the Chechen State. He resigned shortly and handed over the reins of power to current head of state, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB official and black belt martial artist.

Russian planes pounded Chechnya with ruthless carnage on October 29th 1999. A refugee convoy which included five clearly marked Red Cross vehicles was targeted and destroyed killing more than 25 civilians and wounding 70 people.

On the Russian side it has not been so bright either, 60 Russian helicopters have been lost to date. In one attack alone, a MI-26 was shot down and 127 soldiers were killed. The high point of the war according to some was in 2002-3.

The Economist reported up to 30 Russian soldiers were being killed each week and a total of 2000 Russian servicemen were killed the same year. The official figure for Russian military losses for Chechnya for 2002-3 was 4, 749 killed.

Similar to the US after 2001, the Russian government provided no evidence of direct evidence of Chechen involvement before issuing a proclamation declaring Chechnya as the aggressor and ordered a full scale invasion of another independent country.

At first the US, the UN and their allies looked on and made comments, the condemnation of human rights violations came much later as did questions of the legitimacy of the accusations as a pretext for the military option and the resulting conflict between them.

After 2001, the concerns disappeared once the Russians joined the ‘war on terror’ alliance and offered the use of their airspace. Since then the War in Chechnya has become part of the ‘war on terror’, with Chechens as terrorists and no longer as ‘rebels’.

Western governments and the US have since given the Russians free reign to bombard and annihilate the heart and soul of the Chechen people since 2001, although like the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, things are not going smoothly here either.

Some analysts have suggested the true total of Russian fatalities in ten years of war is closer to between 11, 000- 14, 000 killed. A figure hotly denied and contested by Moscow.

The ‘insurgency’ in neighbouring Ingushetia is regarded as a separate issue with no direct relevance to Chechnya, even when Chechen fighters are actually involved as reported by the Russian media and all casualties and fatalities from the Russian army are recorded as slain soldiers outside of the Chechen conflict.

Unlike the US Army and its coalition partners, the Russians are not afraid of actual combat, direct and face to face with the Chechens on the ground, both in the mountains and in the villages, towns and cities. The Russians are brutal, but cowards they are not.

The Kremlin to this day maintains a handful of ‘Muslim terrorists’ (a few thousand Chechen rebels) are the source of Chechnya’s problems and most of its people are happy and content under Russian rule.

On the war front itself, Russian troops were despatched to Chechnya and advanced to Grozny, the capital in the first month after days of heavy aerial bombardment and the destruction of civilisation.

Unlike 1994-96 the Russian Air Force was sent in first to clear the way for the army of occupation to have a smooth entry.

On 6th December 1999, Russian aircraft dropped a leaflet on Grozny giving the people five days to escape. It said, ‘You are surrounded. All roads leading to Grozny are blocked. Those who remain will be viewed as terrorists and bandits. They will be destroyed by artillery and aviation. There will be no further negotiation. Everyone who does not leave the city will be destroyed. The countdown has started.’

All of Chechnya came under Russian occupation by February 2000. Once inside, the Russians were hard pressed and the Chechens initialised the second stage of the war; the guerrilla phase.

As of March 2000, the official figure of Russian fatalities stood at 1, 836 killed and 4, 984 wounded. The same month, one lethal ambush left 43 Russian soldiers and policemen dead, a mere six months into the war.

The Chechen Army then achieved a series of marvellous victories on the ground. In one operation alone, the Russian army lost 84 paratroopers to a surprise ambush, a rare disclosure of such a colossal figure in the first week of March 2000.

The deceased soldiers belonged to the ‘76th Russian Airborne Division’ and were wiped out on the mountains of Southern Chechnya ‘because fog did not allow the deployment of attack aircraft’ according to the Kremlin.

The Russian government admitted the paratroopers had been killed and said it had occurred in a six hour battle with Chechens, but also said some fatalities were by ‘friendly fire’. Two days later, 20 Russian commandos were slain in yet another ambush. Captain Viktor Romanov and Colonel Mark Yevtukhin, were among those killed.

Another surprise attack left 26 Russian servicemen dead. Two ambushes alone resulted in the deaths of 110 Russian servicemen in a single year. The dead included Major-General Mikhail Malofeyev; an army commander.

In May 2000, 18 Russian soldiers were killed, in another 32 soldiers were slain, a total of 50 dead in two ambushes within a month. By May 2000, General Valery Manilov announced 2, 251 Russian troops had been killed. The war was just eight months old.

Fifteen months into the war on February 2001, Interfax, the Russian News Agency, recorded an official casualty figure of 2, 728 killed and 7, 971 wounded. Their adversaries, the Chechens, gave a much higher number, 24-27, 000 Russian soldiers dead.

This was in surprising contrast to a public announcement by Vladimir Putin, then President, of 2, 600 Russian soldiers dead in November 2000 and in January 2001, the figure was raised to 2, 700 killed.

This means an average of 100 Russians were being slain on the ground every two months. In September 2002, official figures showed 4, 500 Russian soldiers had been killed.

Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister, announced in January 2001, military operations were complete and turned to the anti-terrorist branch to deal with the Chechens. It had still taken fifteen months for the Russians to achieve it.

A very large battle commenced between Russian and Chechen forces in early May 2001. The 2-day battle cost the Russian army 15 men and the Chechens the same number.

The fighting started when the Russians besieged the town of Argun, 10 miles east of Grozny. Argun was to become a centre of conflict more than once during the war and perhaps pass from one side to the other just as much.

The same month, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a Kremlin spokesman, said at least 3, 000 Russian servicemen had been killed in Chechnya to date.

In mid April 2001, a series of mine explosions and clashes with Chechens left 21 Russian soldiers dead in one 24-hour period across Chechnya.

In August 2001, the Chechens achieved one of their greatest triumphs ever by defeating the Russians in Vedano and assumed control over part of the small district town. The Kremlin denied the announcement and without providing evidence to the contrary continued to maintain the town was still under their control.

The same month, 11 Russian and Chechen police were killed by another ambush. The Russians seemed to have no answer to the hit and run tactics of their adversaries or account for the heavy losses month after month.

The following month, a Russian military aircraft was successfully brought down by Chechen ground fire resulting in the deaths of nine soldiers including a senior commander.

It was in 2002, an interesting thing happened. A ‘Mufti’ or as reported by the Western media, the ‘Chief Mufti’ of the Chechens along with other senior members switched sides and then fought on the Russian side.

Akmed Kadyrov, became the darling of the Kremlin and won a landslide election victory at the polls the following year. The fact that the Mujahideen were denied election candidature and stripped of the right to vote was not otherwise mentioned.

Kadyrov appealed to his former friends to lay down their arms and announced rewards of amnesty and jobs to those who chose Russian Christians over fellow Chechen Muslims. Despite his overture, few Chechens accepted his call, his defection was sufficient as a sign of his loyalty to them.

The war continued and so did Russian worries. The defections of several Chechens did little to stop mass Russian funerals from the battle ground. The Chechen forces achieved yet more fruitful victories.

In March 2003, 24 Russian marines were slain in another deadly attack. In April 2003, the Pro-Moscow Chechen Interior Ministry confirmed it had lost five army vehicles in a week alone.

In other attacks, 16 soldiers died in an ambush on 14th July and four weeks later on 13th August 2003, another five Russian soldiers were killed in Chechnya by a bomb planted under their armoured car.

On August 22nd 2002, a Russian military helicopter carrying 115 Russian soldiers and some unauthorised civilians crashed killing all people on board. One of the heaviest losses ever sustained in the war. The Chechens claimed to have brought it down; the Russians said it was mechanical failure.

By November 2003, attacks on Russian servicemen and pro-Kremlin police in Chechnya, was now a regular occurrence and was often fatal if not always partially successful.

This was somewhat of an early embarrassment to the Pro-Moscow former Chechen independence army member, Akmed Kadyrov, who had been appointed the territory’s President a month earlier.

He was assassinated in an explosion in May 2004. His son, Ramzan Kadyrov, then his deputy, assumed the vacant chair following his father’s death and holds that office to this day.

Within days, the Chechen forces success reached new heights. Three armoured cars carrying Russian soldiers and police were ambushed and destroyed killing 14 soldiers and three policemen. By June 18 Russian soldiers, 3 Russian Police and 4 Vostok troops were dead.

The Vostok, a Russian-supported Chechen military unit, had exchanged fire with the Chechens and lost four men. Today, the Vostok maintains a low profile and even the Russian military boasts about it less.

While things were quiet on the Chechen front in June, neighbouring Ingushetia saw 62 military and security personnel perish between June 21st and 22nd. Ingushetia is still a source of anxiety and conflict for the Russians.

About 20 Russian soldiers were killed in July 2004 ranging from landmine explosions, skirmishes, battles and ambushes in Chechnya. On 22nd August 2004, in one attack alone, 25 Chechen Police and 26 Russian soldiers and 3 members of Kadyrov’s special guard were slain.

By January 2005, a Russian helicopter was brought to the ground, a team of Spetsnaz, another Pro-Russian Chechen army, looking for Muslim ringleaders, had met and emptied their munitions on one another with unknown casualties to both sides and several unexplained deaths occurred with both groups blaming the other.

It was by no means the first time Pro-Kremlin Chechen militias loyal to Moscow had fought each other, but it was the first to be publicised and brought much confusion and hostility to Vladimir Putin from the World Media.

In January 2005 alone, an FSB officer (Russian intelligence) and eight Russian soldiers were dead by Chechen Mujahideen. In March 2005, a police lieutenant working for the Russians was killed. Eight people; four Russian soldiers and four Russian police were killed in April 2005.

In May 2005, the Russian government announced it had 80, 000 Russian soldiers in Chechnya, an increase of 5, 000 since 2003. This did not include the 14, 000 Pro Russian Chechen troops and police also active there.

Vladimir Putin announced Russia achieved a breakthrough in Chechnya on September 19th 2005 with the killing of Akmed Avtorkhanov, the main Chechen commander. Russia had earlier killed Aslan Maskhadov in February 2005. Maskhadov had been the more dangerous as an ex-Russian army officer and propagator of Shariah during his Presidency in the 1990s.

On February 3rd 2006, six Russian soldiers were killed by Chechen forces. In February 8th, two days later a bomb ripped through a barracks for pro-Russian Chechen soldiers, killing 12 men. A year later in February 2007, the Russians lost 15 00 lives in a single attack. An assault denied by the Russians.

By June 2008, the Russian government announced suicides, accidents and offences claimed 33 Russian soldiers’ lives in the Russian army- 20 were by suicide alone. In total from January-June 2008, 208 Russian soldiers were killed through adversities like the ones above.

The war has since seen a vacuum of silence in the World media since Kadyrov was handed the lives and jurisdiction of the Muslim nation to do as he desired. Chechens, while projected as ‘Al Qaeda terrorists’, are still Russian property nonetheless.

Unlike the US and its allies, the Russian military also still uses an enormous number of ground troops as well as airpower, pilot less drones and missile attacks to launch offensives against the Mujahideen in the open.

The land war is something the US and their allies fear the most. It is an equal face to face gruelling scenario where the Chechen Army and their allies have the upper hand and greater invigorative spirit.

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