Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 48

December 11 was the 12th anniversary of the start of the first Chechen war. On that date in 1994, then President Boris Yeltsin sent 40,000 federal troops backed by armor and aviation units into the breakaway republic, ostensibly to “restore constitutional order.” As Kavkazky Uzel correspondent Sultan Abubakarov described in an article published on December 11 marking the anniversary: “From the first days of the hostilities, the Russian army in Chechnya widely used attack aircraft, heavy artillery and armor to launch strikes at residential areas of the city of Grozny and other population centers.”

Abubakarov quoted an unnamed former Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) parliamentary deputy as saying: “Actually, by the spring of 1994, it was already understood that the Kremlin was preparing to use military force in Chechnya. The constant small provocations, the imposition of economic and air blockades, the preparation of armed formations of the so-called ‘opposition’ – supplying it with weapons, armor and the rest – clearly indicated that Moscow did not want to compromise.” The ChRI ex-parliamentarian added: “The ChRI leadership, Djokhar Dudaev, did everything possible to halt the impending disaster, to prevent the outbreak of bloodshed. They tried to come to an understanding, but it was all in vain. The Kremlin needed a small victorious war to raise Yeltsin’s authority. In addition, certain rather high-level military officials were very interested in a war. Recall the quick withdrawal of troops from Germany. Military property worth millions and billions of dollars was stolen there. And afterwards, the generals wrote all of this off [as Chechen war losses].”

He concluded: “Dudaev repeatedly said that a 20-30 minute conversation with Yeltsin would be enough to resolve all of the existing problems and contradictions. But he wasn’t given the chance. Negotiations with the Russian side were set to take place in Mozdok on December 12, but on Sunday, December 11, troops were introduced into the republic. I am still convinced that it was the Kremlin’s greatest mistake. We are still feeling the results of that policy today. Hundreds of thousands killed, maimed and disappeared. Shattered cities and villages, destroyed infrastructure and a continuing war, whose slogans are far from those of the ‘first war.’ If, at that time, a majority of the republic’s inhabitants considered our struggle a national liberation war, today many are leaning toward the religious factor, believing that there’s a war going on between two religions – Christianity and Islam.”

In an item published by Prague Watchdog on December 11, Umalt Chadaev detailed the attacks by federal and pro-Moscow Chechen forces in Chechnya in the days that preceded the start of the full-scale Russian military intervention on December 11, 1994.

“On November 23 [1994], Russian aviation subjected the city of Shali and a tank regiment deployed on its outskirts to an aerial rocket bombardment,” Chadaev recalled. “Two days later, the Sheikh Mansur (Severny) Airport near the city of Grozny was also the target of an air strike. On the morning of November 26, armed detachments of the so-called Chechen Temporary Soviet (headed by a former officer of the USSR Interior Ministry, Umar Avturkhanov, the mayor of Chechnya’s Nadterechny district) attacked Grozny with the support of Russian helicopters and tanks. Dudaev’s units destroyed the opposition forces, which entered the capital, annihilating some twenty units of armor and taking approximately the same number of tanks, whose crews were made up of officers of elite Russian divisions – the Taman and Kantemirov [tank divisions]. On November 30, the Russian air force subjected the city of Grozny to a missile strike. On the same day, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a secret decree, ‘On Measures to Establish Constitutional Law and Enforce Laws in the Territory of the Chechen Republic,’ which provided for the introduction of a state of emergency and the disarming of Dudaev’s units. On December 1, a delegation of Russian State Duma deputies arrived in Grozny. During the same day, Grozny was subjected to another air strike.”

For its part, the separatist Chechenpress news agency recalled the start of the first Chechen war in an item posted on its website on December 10. “The main battles were launched on the approaches to the Chechen capital and in the city itself,” Chechenpress wrote. “After several weeks of fighting, the city of Grozny presented a horrifying picture: an entire sea of ruins, among which were scattered the bodies of thousands of Russian soldiers, which had been eaten by wild dogs and cats; endless rows of burned out armor in the streets. The bombardment and artillery fire went on around the clock, without letting up; there was fierce combat in all districts of the city.”

Chechenpress cited an estimate made by Sergei Kovalev, the veteran human rights activist who at the time of the first Chechen military campaign was the Russian government’s human right ombudsman and was in Grozny with other anti-war Russian parliamentarians at the conflict’s start. According to Chechenpress, Kovalev put the number of Russian troops killed in Chechnya during the first two months after December 11, 1994, at around 10,000. Aslan Maskhadov, who at the time of the first Russian military campaign was the chief of staff of the ChRI armed forces, estimated that around 12,000 Russian servicemen died during the first two months of fighting and that 1,200 Russian soldiers were taken prisoner. Chechenpress also cited an estimate made by Dmitri Volkogonov, the late Russian historian and general, that the Russian military’s bombardment of Grozny killed around 35,000 civilians, including 5,000 children and that the vast majority of those killed were ethnic Russians.

Meanwhile, the Agentstvo Natsionalnykh Novostei (ANN) quoted from a statement released on December 11 by Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov about the start of the first Chechen war. “Ordinary inhabitants, average citizens, did not want this carnage, and they indeed have no guilt in what took place,” said Kadyrov, who fought on the rebel side against Russian forces during the first war. “We were forced to go through ordeals that left an indelible mark on the memory of the people. I want to express my deep condolences to those who were victims of this drama, which touched practically every family, every home. Our enlightenment cost us dearly; praise to the Most High that all of this is now behind us. Thanks to the courage and wisdom of the first president of the Chechen Republic Akhmat-hadji Kadyrov and the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, we managed to stop this…war and proceed to peaceful construction, overcome disagreements and arrive at a mutually advantageous cooperation and accord.”