Russia's forgotten war and conquest of Chechnya.
Updated: Aug 26, 2022
On August 26 1999, Russia invaded Chechnya and started the second, and the last Chechen – Russian war.
The first Chechen war started when Chechnya declared independence from Russia in 1994 and lasted for two years. Various figures estimate the number of Chechen civilian deaths at somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000. Nearly half a million people (40% of Chechnya's prewar population) had been internally displaced. However the Russian army wasn't able to win the war and a ceasefire was reached between Russia and independent Chechnya in 1996. In those years where Chechens were finally free from the Russian yoke after centuries of occupation, they immediately established a parliamentary democracy and had a free and fair elections in 1997.
However this newly established democratic Chechen republic was once again in Moscow's crosshairs, which was determined to re conquer Chechnya at all costs.
In 1999 four apartment blocks in four different Russian cities were hit by explosions which resulted in the deaths of 293 people. Russia blamed the explosions on "Chechen terrorists" and used it as a pretext to start a new war with Chechnya. The mystery of who bombed the Russian apartment houses in 1999 has not been solved to this day. And to the extent that there is evidence as to the perpetrators, it points not to Chechen terrorists but to the Kremlin leadership and the FSB.
1999, the night of the bombing of the Russian apartment houses in Moscow
Many journalists and experts both in and outside Russia blamed Putin and the FSB (successor of the KGB) for the bombing. The most notable were the Russian whistle-blower Alexander Litvinenko and the journalist Anna Politkovskaya who directly blamed the Russian FSB for the Russian apartment building explosions. Both Litvinenko and Politkovskaya were later murdered, presumably by the same FSB. Whether the bombing was carried out by Chechens, or by the FSB, it provided the perfect excuse for Putin and Russia to launch an invasion at Chechnya, which had been planned for a long time even before the bombings, and to conquer it and subdue the Chechens once and for all. Like some of the US wars in the past, this war was also about the control of oil. In the case of Chechnya, at stake was one of the most oil and natural gas rich regions of the former USSR, including refineries and a major oil pipeline. The risk of losing control of this pipeline, in particular, posed a major strategic dilemma for the Kremlin and Putin. The war and fighting left the Chechen capital, Grozny, devastated. In 2003 the United Nations called Grozny "the most destroyed city on Earth". Early in the war, Russia declared the city, home to almost half a million people, to be a free fire zone, calling on anyone who lived there to leave their homes, and reduced it to rubble by relentless shelling.
Russian soldiers relaxing in the ruins of Grozny. February 4, 2000.
Both sides practiced war crimes and atrocities. The Chechens, in trying to pressure Russian society to stopping the war, launched a series of terrorist attacks aimed at Russian civilians which were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Russian civilians. This backfired as the terrorist attacks galvanized Russian society and Russian public opinion for the war and was used by the Kremlin to whip up the war frenzy in Russia, which was waning, into new heights. The second Chechen war lasted officialy until 2005 but conflicts and fighting continued until 2009. The Chechen death toll estimated to be anything from around 80,000 to over 100,000 people. Russia conquered all of Chechnya completely and installed a brutal puppet regime headed by a dictator which mercilessly continues to oppress the Chechen people up until today.
These days no one even remembers the Chechens, and how their attempt to simply win back their independence from Russian domination was brutally crushed by Putin's reconquest of their lands. Their names only come up these days when it concerns LGBT rights, or ISIS and radical Islam terrorist groups. In this way Putin won twice, because he not only subjugated and conquered Chechnya, he also managed to wipe out its memory and history from the public eye's and people's general knowledge.
Putin's conquest of Chechnya, and the lack of any push back against it from the international community, convinced him he could do whatever he wanted, and that if he could get away with destroying Chechnya, he could get away with anything.
This emboldened Putin and led to the invasion of Georgia in 2008, annexation of Crimea in 2014, the bombing of Syria, and current brutal military campiagn against Ukraine. Sources: https://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/05/19/how-putin-became-president/ http://www.russialist.org/archives/4077.html#1 https://www.hrw.org/news/2000/02/29/war-crimes-chechnya-and-response-west