Ferenț, Darius-Antoniu; Manci, Ioan (2023), Analysis of the Russian-Chechen conflict from a military perspective, Intelligence Info, 2:2, 80-92, DOI: 10.58679/II34710, https://www.intelligenceinfo.org/analysis-of-the-russian-chechen-conflict-from-a-military-perspective/
The Russian-Chechen conflict burst out on September 6th, 1991, when the Chechen Republic proclaimed its independence from the Russian Federation. This action of the Chechens was not recognized by the authorities in Moscow, as it violated the provisions of the Russian Federation’s Constitution. Chechen leader Dudaev took a number of political and social decisions that were not well received by Russia. He dissolved the Chechen Parliament and banned any opposition to its authority. In addition, a series of persecutions began against Russians living in Chechnya. Dudaev created paramilitary groups and hired mercenaries devoted only to him. The Moscow government refused to recognize Dudaev’s regime. The leaders of Chechnya refused to sign the Russian Federation Treaty, which displeased the Russians. Under these conditions, in December 1994, the Russian Army entered Chechnya to oust Dudaev. A bloody war followed, culminating in the fight between the Russians and Chechens for the capital of Chechnya, Groznya, but also with guerrilla actions carried out by Chechen paramilitary groups in the mountainous and hard-to-reach areas of their country. A peace treaty was finally signed in May 1997. Nevertheless, this proved to be short-lived, as tensions between Russia and Chechnya flared up again in August 1999, when armed groups of Chechens attacked villages in the Republic of Dagestan. Under these conditions, Vladimir Putin threatened with a new military intervention in Chechnya, which materialized in September 1999. Heavy fighting took place, ending with the Russian troops occupying the main cities in Chechnya. In spite of this, the Chechens did not surrender. They briefly seized some cities and committed numerous terrorist attacks during 2000. The forceful intervention of the Russian security forces and the elimination of the paramilitary groups’ leaders led to the gradual de-escalation of the conflict. In 2009, the Russian leader Medvedev declared that in Chechnya “life has normalized to some extent” (Chechnya profile – Timeline 2018).
Keywords: asymmetric conflict, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, military intervention, secession
Analiza conflictului ruso-cecen din perspectivă militară
Conflictul ruso-cecen a izbucnit la data de 6 septembrie 1991, atunci când Republica Cecenă și-a proclamat independența față de Federația Rusă. Această acțiune a cecenilor nu a fost recunoscută de autoritățile de la Moscova, deoarece încălca prevederile din Constituția Federației Ruse. Liderul cecen Dudaev a luat o serie de decizii politice și sociale care nu au fost văzute cu ochi buni de către Rusia. Acesta a dizolvat Parlamentul Ceceniei și a interzis orice opoziție împotriva autorității sale. În plus, au început o serie de persecuții împotriva rușilor care trăiau în Cecenia. Dudaev a înființat grupări paramilitare și a angajat mercenari care să îi fie devotați doar lui. Guvernul de la Moscova a menționat că nu recunoaște regimul lui Dudaev. Liderii din Cecenia au refuzat să semneze Tratatul Federației Ruse, ceea ce i-a nemulțumit pe ruși. În aceste condiții, în decembrie 1994, Armata Rusă a pătruns în Cecenia pentru a-l înlătura pe Dudaev. A urmat un război sângeros, care a culminat cu luptele dintre ruși și ceceni pentru capital Ceceniei, Groznâi, dar și cu acțiunile de gherilă duse de grupările paramilitare cecene în zonele montane și greu accesibile ale țării lor. În final, în mai 1997, a fost semnat un tratat de pace, care s-a dovedit a fi efemer, tensiunile dintre Rusia și Cecenia reizbucnind în august 1999, când grupuri înarmate de ceceni au atacat sate din Republica Daghestan. În aceste condiții, Vladimir Putin a amenințat cu o nouă intervenție militară în Cecenia, intervenție care s-a materializat în septembrie 1999. Au avut loc lupte grele la finalul cărora trupele rusești au ocupat principalele orașe din Cecenia. Însă, cecenii nu s-au predat. Aceștia au recucerit, pentru o scurtă perioadă de timp, unele orașe și au comis numeroase atentate teroriste în decursul anului 2000. Intervenția în forță a trupelor de securitate rusești și eliminarea liderilor grupărilor paramilitare a condus la dezamorsarea treptată a conflictului. În anul 2009, liderul rus, Medvedev a declarat că în Cecenia „viața s-a normalizat într-o oarecare măsură” (Chechnya profile – Timeline 2018).
Cuvinte cheie: conflict asimetric, război de gherilă, terorism, intervenție militară, secesiune
INTELLIGENCE INFO, Volumul 2, Numărul 2, Iunie 2023, pp. xxx
ISSN 2821 – 8159, ISSN – L 2821 – 8159, DOI: 10.58679/II34710
© 2023 Darius-Antoniu Ferenț, Ioan Manci. Responsabilitatea conținutului, interpretărilor și opiniilor exprimate revine exclusiv autorilor.
Analysis of the Russian-Chechen conflict from a military perspective
Doctoral Candidate Darius-Antoniu Ferenț (Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca), firstname.lastname@example.org
Lecturer PhD Ioan Manci (Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca)
The present work aims to identify, analyze and understand the causes of the Russian-Chechen conflict, analyzing the actors from the perspective of their needs, interests and relationships. Also, the steps undertaken aim at identifying the lines of the rift, analyzing the pillars of the conflict, presenting the geographical map of the conflict and establishing the types of war present in the Russian-Chechen conflict. In order to obtain relevant data, the scientific apparatus used in the analysis of the topic includes the historical method, structural and comparative analysis, and tools that favored scientific objectivity.
1. The Caucasus – a powder keg
Following the collapse of the Soviet empire, a nationalism exacerbated by religious conflicts manifested itself in the Caucasus region, which weakened the independence of the states in this area (Georges Duby 2015, p.322). The Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region, mainly inhabited by ethnic Armenians, declared its independence in the winter of 1991, but Armenia did not recognize the region’s independence. Armenia did not condemn the military actions of the Nagorno-Karabakh separatists launched on the territory of Azerbaijan, actions that led to the fragility of this country and the creation of a state of political and social insecurity, which culminated in the fall of the political leaders in Baku , and the power being taken over by Gaidar Aliev. He drew close to the Russian Federation and signed the security treaty with the Commonwealth of Independent States.
In the North Caucasus, in the Republic of Georgia, the Abkhaz occupied a port on the Black Sea (Sukhumi) in the fall of 1993, after having managed to withstand the military actions taken by the Armed Forces of Georgia. In this same ex-Soviet republic, the Ossetians campaigned for the formation of their own state, an independent country that would unite North Ossetia (part of the Russian Federation) and South Ossetia (located within the borders of Georgia). Within the Russian Federation, on September 6th, 1991, the Chechen autonomous Republic proclaimed its independence. Consequently, the Russian Armed Forces entered Chechnya in the winter of 1994 to restore constitutional order.
2. The causes of the conflict between Russia and Chechnya
There were two armed conflicts between Russia and Chechnya: the first between 1994-1996 and the second between 1999-2009. The causes that led to the outbreak of the two conflicts are of a historical, political and economic nature.
a). The entrenchment of the idea of independence in the collective mind of Chechens due to the region’s turbulent history.
At the end of the 18th century, the Tsarist Empire conquered territories in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya. In the face of the Russian invaders, a resistance group was formed and led by the Chechen Sheikh Mansur. This leader unified the population of the North Caucasus (Chechens, Ingush, Dagestani, etc.) against Tsarist Russia, having about 20,000 fighters under his command (Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning). Even though Sheikh Mansur was defeated, the Chechen people’s desire for freedom never died. At the beginning of the 20th century, amid the Russian Civil War, Chechnya and other states in the North Caucasus proclaimed their independence under the name of the North Caucasian Emirates. This new form of state organization did not last long, the Emirate being abolished in 1921 as a result of the Communists’ victory in the conflict with the Tsarist Army. In the area of the North Caucasus, the Mountain Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was formed, which also included Chechnya. This autonomous republic in the North Caucasus area proved short-lived. In 1924, Chechnya became an “autonomous district within the Federation” (Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, p.10).
b). The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was seen by the Chechen population as an aggressor state. This image was also inherited by the Russian Federation after 1991.
During the Soviet occupation, Chechens had a rough life, being subjected to deportations to Central Asia and Siberia, and the local values and traditions suffered due to forced Russification and the Kremlin’s anti-Islamic policy. After 1943, the “genocide ordered by Stalin” broke out (Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, p.20), which affected both the Chechen population, and other ethnic groups. The purpose of the deportations ordered by the communist leader was to destroy the Chechen population and degrade their Islamic faith. In addition, the communist authorities took measures to “close 800 mosques” (Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, p.20). Ethnic Russians were brought to Chechnya in order to increase their number among the local population.
a). The administrative-territorial organization of the Russian Federation after the breakup of the USSR.
The new administrative-territorial organization was made “taking into account, first of all, the economic, administrative and security interests of Russia and less of those of the population in the region” (Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, p.5).
b). Proclamation of independence of Chechnya.
The Republic of Chechnya began its local revolution in the summer of 1991, declaring its independence on September 6th, 1991. The authorities in Moscow wanted to preserve the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, p.25), because the North Caucasus is an area of strategic interest, due to Chechnya’s oil resources and the region’s geography. Russian political leaders stated that the Chechnya’s proclamation of independence may destabilize the North Caucasus region, given that paramilitary groups had formed in the area.
a). The Russian Federation wanted to keep Chechnya because this region is rich in oil resources. Moreover, oil and gas pipelines coming from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan pass through the territory inhabited by Chechens.
b). Residents of Chechnya were unhappy because they could not use certain facilities: “many facilities, ports, especially, could not be used by local residents” (Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, p.17).
The rift lines in the Russian-Chechen conflict
In the Russian-Chechen conflict, five lines of rift appeared, all contributing to the outbreak of the conflict and to maintaining tense relations between the Chechens and the political leaders in Moscow, for a long period of time:
a). political rifts: Chechnya proclaimed its “de facto” independence from Russia. The Russian Federation did not accept the secession of Chechnya from its territory. Dudaev dissolved the Chechen Parliament and stopped the activity of the opposition. Therefore, the anti-Dudaev opposition sided with the Russians, supporting the actions carried out in Chechnya by the leaders in Moscow.
b). economic rifts: Russia has control over Chechnya’s resources, and the local population lacks access to many facilities.
c). territorial rifts: the administrative and territorial organization of Russia is in contradiction with the interests of the ethnic groups present in the area of the North Caucasus (including the Chechen population).
d). cultural rifts: the idea that the Russian Federation is an oppressive state became ingrained in the collective mind of Chechens, as throughout their turbulent history, the Chechen population has been persecuted by both the Tsarist Empire and the Soviet Union. In addition, the USSR had anti-religious policies, through which it sought to disintegrate the Islamic principles of the Chechen people.
e). ethnic rifts: Chechen leader Dudaev launched a series of persecutions against ethnic Russians living in Chechnya.
3. Typology of the Russian-Chechen conflict
In the framework of the Russian-Chechen conflict, five types of war were manifested:
a). Secession War: it is a type of war in which confrontations are fought between factions and the state, belligerents engage in armed combat, and diversion is widely used. The factions fighting the state want to break away from the territory of the respective state (Gheorghe Văduva 2008, p.29). Chechen paramilitary groups wanted the secession of the Republic of Chechnya from Russia and carried out military actions against the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. The Chechen leader, Dudaev and his supporters were dissatisfied with the status of Chechnya within Russia: For all the former autonomous republics during the USSR, the status of independence was established, as constituent republics of Russia. Chechen leaders wanted the formation of an independent state, no longer dependent on Moscow’s politics (James Hughes 2001).
b). Asymmetric warfare: it is a type of conflict in which the two belligerents use different tactics and weapons, due to an imbalance of forces and means existing between the two combatants, which makes it impossible for the weaker side to be able to apply the tactics of the stronger one. (Manci and Preja 2014, p.142).
Dudaev and the Chechen paramilitary groups made professional use of confrontations and asymmetric tactics. Tactics such as the constant harassment of Russian troops in Chechnya and nighttime attacks by paramilitary groups were used. The Chechens had also chosen unconventional terrains for fighting, such as urban space and mountainous areas. Paramilitary groups used units and subunits on the streets of the Chechen capital, as well as portable anti-tank launchers, which proved to be far more effective than the medium and heavy mortars used by the Russian military. Chechen paramilitary groups have also used insurgency as an asymmetric strategy. The Russian Federation was superior in terms of the number of forces and assets (tanks, armored infantry fighting vehicles, towed howitzers), but the use of insurgent tactics brought victory to the Chechens. Russia had about 70,000 troops in Chechnya, as well as military equipment that the Chechens were lacking. The Chechen resistance was not based on very large numbers of people, but on structures, small and mobile fighting cells. In the first Russian-Chechen war, inter-arms actions (ground forces – air forces) were deficient, which led, along with the lack of professionalism of some Russian soldiers and unit commanders, to numerous failures and loss of human lives, and some of the Russian military equipment ended up in the hands of the Chechen paramilitary groups.
The Chechen paramilitary groups were difficult to identify and annihilate because they operated throughout the territory of Chechnya and regularly changed their area of action. Also, the mountainous relief of southern Chechnya and the forests represented a refuge for these insurgent groups.
c). Guerrilla warfare: “is based on small cells, which use actions focused on combat techniques, collected information, actions planned in detail, and on simple techniques of maneuver, surprise, infiltration and undermining the enemy’s morale” (Cristian Stanciu 2018, p.46). The Chechen paramilitary groups benefited from the advantage of knowing the battlefield, they relied on the surprise of the enemy, attacking in mountainous, forested areas, in the valleys, where the numerous Russian troops and mechanized infantry units had no possibility of maneuver. Thus, the Russian military units and subunits became sure targets and their advance towards the capital of Grozny was extremely difficult. Due to the constant harassment and surprise attacks, fear manifested itself among the Russian soldiers, many of whom refused to carry out the orders of their superiors.
d). Psychological warfare: “aims at discouraging the enemy, creating situations of panic, insecurity, false perception of reality” (Gheorghe Văduva 2003, p.75). Chechen paramilitary units have successfully used tactics specific to psychological operations, managing to diminish enemy morale and create a state of insecurity among the Russian army. Among the PSYOPS operations used were: taking hostages from among the Russian military, intimidating the adversary through constant harassment and surprise attacks at night. All the actions of the Chechen resistance groups were aimed at deterring and frightening the enemy, as well as distorting the reality, making it appear that the Chechen fighting forces are tactically superior, difficult to destroy, and the direction from which the attack is coming is difficult to identify.
e). Religious conflict: over the centuries, the Tsarist Empire, then the USSR, persecuted Islamic organizations in Chechnya. During the communist regime, the authorities in Moscow tried to destroy the religious values of the Chechens, but their action proved to be a failure. The Islamic brotherhoods in the region continued to exist during Soviet rule, and the study of the Koran continued to manifest itself throughout Chechnya. The actions of the Russians, through which they sought to destroy the Islamic faith and replace it with atheism, remained imprinted in the minds of the Chechen inhabitants. The entry of the Russian military into Chechnya further strengthened the Chechens’ desire to fight the invaders, and the Islamic Brotherhood actively supported Dudaev. Political leaders in the regions of Karelia, Yakutia and Kalmachia were concerned about a possible spread of the conflict in Chechnya to other Muslim-majority regions.
The organization of Chechen rebels in insurgent and guerrilla groups, the lack of communication between the parties involved in the conflict, the terrorist attacks committed by Chechen fighters, the creation of combat units made up of mercenaries to carry out asymmetric operations against the Russian army, constituted pillars of the conflict and made it difficult to solve the situation of insecurity and political and military instability in a peaceful and diplomatic way.
The Russian-Chechen War ended with a Russian victory, and government control was restored in Chechnya. Russia will continue to keep Chechnya as part of its territory, being an important area for the Russian authorities due to its oil reserves and geo-strategic position in the Caucasus region.
4. The main actors involved in the conflict
In the next section, I presented the needs, interests and positions of the actors involved in the Russian-Chechen conflict.
Needs: Ensuring national security and maintaining the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation
Interest: Keeping Chechnya within Russia and annihilating Chechen paramilitary groups
Position: Approved military intervention in Chechnya.
Needs: Ensuring the security of oil and gas pipelines in Chechnya
Interest: Ensuring economic stability and eradicating crime
Position: Supported the intervention of the Russian armed forces in Chechnya.
Needs: Increasing his personal prestige and his qualities as a great military commander
Interest: The Victory of the Russian Federation Army in the Russian-Chechen conflict
Position: Was commander of Russian military operations in Chechnya.
Needs: The Creation of an independent Chechen state
Interest: The secession of Chechnya from Russia and the creation of an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. The defeat of Russian troops in Chechnya.
Position: Hired mercenaries to fight the Russian troops sent to Chechnya. He proposed using asymmetric tactics to defend Chechnya against the Russian army.
The Security Council of the Russian Federation:
Needs: Ensuring the national security and territorial integrity of Russia
Interest: Elimination of Chechen paramilitary groups and restoration of constitutional order in Chechnya
Position: Made the decision to invade Chechnya.
Needs: Ensuring political, economic and social security in Chechnya
Interest: Removal of Djokar Dudaev from the leadership of Chechnya. Wanted Chechnya to remain a republic within the Russian Federation
Position: Supported the actions of the Russian authorities.
Needs: The formation of an Islamic and independent Chechen state
Interest: The secession of Chechnya from Russia. They wanted Dudaev’s victory in the Russo-Chechen conflict
Position: They supported Chechen leader Djokar Dudaev.
Chechen guerrilla groups:
Needs: The liberation of Chechnya from the occupation of Russian troops and the formation of an independent state
Interest: Instilling fear and disorder among the Russian military and defeating the Russian Army
Position: They attacked and harassed the Russian troops, operated in mountains and forested areas to be difficult to identify and neutralize.
Residents of Chechnya:
Needs: They wanted a better life
Interest: They wanted to be able to use certain facilities, for example port facilities
Position: They resisted the army of the Russian Federation.
5. The geographical map of the conflict
Analyzing this map, we notice that in the first Russian-Chechen war, the Army of the Russian Federation attacked Chechnya from three directions, the way of movement being towards the capital of the region, the city of Grozny: the North-West direction (from Kabardino-Balkaria), the North-East direction (from Dagestan) and the East direction (from North Ossetia). The Russian Armed Forces advancing from Dagestan occupied Gudermes, the second largest city in Chechnya, then forced the defense line of Grozny. In January 1995, Grozny was occupied by the Russian military, but Chechen paramilitary groups reorganized and recaptured the city in the summer of 1996. During the First Russian-Chechen War, the Chechen armed groups left Chechnya through the North-West, moving towards the city of Budennovsk, where confrontations with the Russian forces took place. Then these fighters returned to Chechnya through the North-East. In August 1996, the first Russian-Chechen war ended with the signing of a peace treaty, recognizing the “de facto” independence of Chechnya.
In August 1999, the Muslim paramilitary groups from Chechnya attacked Dagestan from the South-East, angering the Russian authorities. In 1999, the Russian military troops entered Chechnya. According to the map, the Russian army entered Chechnya in two directions: North-West and North-East (from Dagestan). The troops that entered Chechnya from Dagestan carried out military operations in the direction of Groznya, Argun-Groznya and Urus-Martan. Guerrilla actions, led by Chechen fighters, took place in southern Chechnya.
Following the analysis, I have identified the causes and pillars of the Russian-Chechen conflict, the rift lines and the five types of war that manifested in this conflict.
From the perspective of the military dimension of security, the Chechen paramilitary groups have professionally used the tactics specific to asymmetric warfare (the war of the weak against the strong). Using tactics such as constant harassment of the Russian armed forces, surprise night attacks, fighting in the locality and in the mountainous-forested areas, the Chechen rebels succeeded in hampering the military operations of the Russian combat units and causing them significant losses. Also, the paramilitary units and subunits made up of Chechens successfully used the tactics specific to psychological operations, managing to diminish the morale of the enemy and create a state of insecurity among the Russian military. Russia had tens of thousands of troops in Chechnya, as well as military equipment that the Chechens did not have, along with ground attack aircraft. The Chechen resistance was not based on very large numbers of people, but on small and mobile fighting cells.
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