Last week we explored the many changes Boris Yeltsin has made in
selecting prime minister''s that conform to his wishes, i.e., how
can he keep himself and his family in power (with all of the goodies
that flow therefrom), even after he''s no longer effectively working
in the Kremlin. This week it''s on to Chechnya and the 1994-1996 war
which led, directly, to the current crisis in Dagestan.
Chechnya and Dagestan are two of the 89 "regions" that make up
the Russian Federation. They are in the overall territory labeled
the "North Caucasus," an area that lies between the oil-rich
Caspian Sea and the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and
Georgia. This whole land mass, including the republics to the
east like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, has also been called
"Chaostan" for its inherent instability. Following is a brief
history of Russia''s involvement in the North Caucasus.
1722 - Peter the Great annexes Caspian Sea region of Dagestan at
the start of a 150-year military campaign to absorb the largely
Moslem North Caucasus region into the Russian Empire. Russia
starts settling armed Cossack volunteers there.
Mid-19th century - The legendary Shamil uses Islam to weld
mountain tribes of Dagestan and Chechnya into a formidable
fighting force. His ambition is to create a theocratic, Islamic
state, but he is eventually defeated by Russia''s superior numbers
and technology. He lives out his days as the honored guest of his
former foes in the imperial capital of St. Petersburg.
1917 - Russian revolution brings Communists to power and
ensuing civil war cements their hold over vast, multi-ethnic nation
later known as the Soviet Union. Islam and a traditional clan
system remain strong among peoples of the North Caucasus
despite persecution from the atheistic regime in Moscow.
1943 - With Nazi German troops camped near regional capital of
Grozny, Chechen separatists rebel against Soviet rule.
1944 - Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ( a Georgian) takes his revenge
by deporting the entire Chechen people and their ethnic cousins
and neighbors, the Ingushi, to Central Asia. Tens of thousands
1957 - Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev allows the Chechens back
to the Caucasus, setting up the Checheno-Ingush republic.
Sept. 5, 1991 - The government of Checheno-Ingushetia, which
supported a hard-line coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, resigns
under pressure from the pro-independence Congress of the
Chechen People, led by former air force general Dzhokhar
Oct. 1991 - Dudayev launches campaign to topple the Moscow-
backed temporary administration of the region. He wins the
backing of 80% of the electorate (in a disputed election) and
unilaterally declares his country independent. Russia rejects any
talk of independence but takes no action against Dudayev and
allows him to run Chechnya. Big mistake.
Nov. 1991 - Russian President Boris Yeltsin belatedly sends
troops to Grozny. Dudayev''s forces blockade them at the airport
and Yeltsin pulls them out after just three days.
Aug. 1994 - The opposition Provisional Council starts fighting to
topple Dudayev and says it is seizing power. Russia backs the
Nov. 25, 1994 - Moscow-backed rebels attack capital Grozny
with tanks and artillery. Rebels pull back the next day after street
fighting and Dudayev claims victory.
Nov. 29, 1994 - Yeltsin calls on both sides in Chechnya to
disarm. Russian planes bomb Grozny.
Nov. 30, 1994 - More bombing of Grozny. Russia sends troops
and equipment to the borders in massive show of force.
Dec. 6, 1994 - Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev meets
Dudayev. Both agree not to use force to resolve the crisis. [Both
Dec. 9, 1994 - Yeltsin orders his government to use "all available
measures" to disarm Chechen forces.
Dec. 10, 1994 - Russia seals off Chechen borders and airspace.
Dec. 11, 1994 - Three columns of Russian troops cross into
At this point it is necessary to stop the time line and look,
specifically, at what was said by Yeltsin after Russia invaded
Chechnya. I''m already hearing some of the same things about
Dagestan (admittedly a different conflict, but time will tell).
The military action launched on Dec. 11th was Russia''s largest
since the ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan which began in
December of 1979. Regarding the first day of fighting in
Chechnya, Yeltsin said that the troops had moved in "to help find
a political solution and to defend the people" of Chechnya and to
protect "the integrity of Russia." Regarding the issue of
territorial integrity, Yeltsin was in his rights. The world
recognized Chechnya (and Dagestan) as part of Russian territory.
Yeltsin also said that he remained hopeful that peace talks
planned for Monday could resolve the crisis without further
bloodshed, adding that he had ordered that no force be used
against civilians. Boris faced intense opposition to the use of
force in Moscow. Grigory Yavlinsky, head of a major reform
bloc said in the Russian parliament, "We''re against our children
being killed in Chechnya. We''re against democracy being
established using these methods." Chechen leader Dudayev said
they would defend themselves. The situation rapidly deteriorated.
The Russian army met strong resistance from guerrilla fighters
and suffered heavy casualties. Russia decides to blast Grozny (a
city of 400,000) to bits.
Feb. 1995 - Separatists abandon capital Grozny.
June 1995 - Rebels led by Shamil Basayev (more on him next
week) seize hundreds of hostages (what is to become the modus
operandi of the terrorists...that''s what they really are) in the
Russian town Budennovsk. Over 100 people died in a horrifying
embarrassment for the Russian government. Basayev and many
of the rebels are "allowed" to escape. Peace talks open, Russia
orders a halt to military operations, but the conflict goes on.
Jan. 1996 - Rebels seize hostages in neighboring Dagestan, then
move to the village of Pervomaiskoye just outside Chechnya.
Most rebels escape, but many are killed.
Feb. 1996 - Yeltsin says the Chechnya campaign was "maybe one
of our mistakes" but rules out withdrawal of Russian forces.
April 1996 - Dudayev is killed in a rocket attack (an
assassination) and replaced by vice-president Zelimkhan
May 1996 - Yeltsin and Yandarbiyev agree on truce at talks in
Moscow. The truce holds until the presidential election held 6
weeks later. Yeltsin visits troops in Grozny.
Aug. 1996 - Rebels seize Grozny. Yeltsin gives national security
adviser Alexander Lebed powers to resolve the crisis. Lebed signs
a truce on August 31 providing for a Russian pullout and
deferring the issue of Chechen sovereignty for five years.
Sept. 1996 - Russia starts withdrawing its soldiers.
Oct. 1996 - Aslan Maskhadov, former rebel chief-of-staff, is
named prime minister of an interim government. His platform
includes independence and some elements of Islamic sharia law.
Oct. 18 Lebed is fired by Yeltsin who accuses Lebed of blatant
Dec. 1996 - Six foreign Red Cross workers are murdered in
Jan. 1997 - Last Russian troops leave. Maskadov is officially
elected president with 65% of the vote.
The best estimate is that 40,000 died during the Chechen conflict.
Most of them were civilians.
Next week, Dagestan.
[Sources: Various wire service reports, Reuters for parts of the