Russia: October 9, 1999



Russian artillery pounded Chechen villages on the north bank of the Terek river. Bombers went after known, or suspected, Chechen military bases. The Chechens have brought up units of their small regular army, as well as members of several warlord militias. The Russians are using much better trained infantry than they used in the 1993-96 war, but this just means that the Russians and Chechens will be more wary of each other. Operations will take longer, as you can't rush this kind of fighting without taking heavy losses. And neither side seems prepared to take that approach. Russia has two options; hold the northern third of Chechnya as a buffer zone to keep Chechens out of Russia, or go ahead and try to conquer all of Chechnya. The latter alternative could be very expensive, but would solve the problem of Chechen based rebels invading Dagestan.

October 8; Russian troops continue to pour into northern Chechnya. A front line has been established along the Terek river, with the Chechens holding the south bank and several villages on the north bank. The Russians say that in the last few months they have killed over 2,000 guerillas and terrorists in Chechnya and Dagestan, while losing 156 dead, including 20-30 inside Chechnya. Russia said that four of its troops had been killed in Chechnya during the past 24 hours.  Russia has cut off natural gas supplies to Chechnya, as well as all electricity. This was done because of non-payment for past deliveries, not because of the fighting. Russia has also set up a Chechen  government-in-exile, something that the Chechens feared would happen once Russia invaded. 

October 7; Why Chechnya: The Russians and Chechens have been fighting each other for over three hundred years. The first conflicts were when Russian troops were passing through the area to attack Iran in the early 1700s. The Chechens had been dealing with this sort of thing for over a thousand years. If you wanted to pass, you had to pay. Russian and the Chechens had the first of their many disputes over that issue. After that, the Russians settled Cossacks on the Terek river to keep Chechen raiders out of Russian lands to the north. But the presence of the tough Cossacks only enraged the Chechens. However, they found it convenient to submit, at least in theory, to Russian control. Then, as now, the control was a mutually agreed upon fiction. But, then as now, a charismatic Moslem leader came along to urge the Chechens to drive the infidel Christians out. Mansur Ushurma led such a Chechen rebellion from 1785 to 1791. Then came Imam Shamyl's "holy war" from 1834 to 1859. Another rebellion broke out in 1877, but only lasted into 1878. When the Russia civil war broke out in 1917, the Chechens, along with the other Caucasus peoples, declared independence from Russia. The newly created Soviet Union did not reconquer the Caucasus until the mid-1920s. The secret police were kept busy in Chechnya, until 1944. In that year Stalin, not trusting the Chechens so close to the front line, deported most of the population to Siberia. About a third of the 500,000 exiles died along the way, or once they got to their destination. The survivors were allowed to repopulate Chechnya in 1957. For the next thirty years, the Chechens tried to be good Soviet citizens. Many became professional soldiers, or professional gangsters. Their entrepreneurial talents made them useful when citizens or officials needed something that wasn't officially available. The Chechens were survivors. But in the meantime, many Russians had moved into the area. By the early 1990s, the Chechen population had increased to some 800,000. There were still about 400,000 Russians living in Chechnya. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the Chechens declared independence. The Russians would not let them go. Two years of talking was followed by two years of fighting. In 1996 the Russians agreed to leave the Chechens alone, and the Chechens insisted they were independent. Neither side meant what they said, but did agree to ignore each other as much as possible. 

The main reason Russia wants to retain some control over Chechnya is geographic. Northern Chechnya is the foothills of the Caucasus mountains. To the north is the great plains of Eurasia. To the south, Chechnya has the best routes for railroads, highways and pipelines in the area. And all of these were built in Chechnya, making it still, after thousands of years, the easiest way to get through the Caucasus. And for just as long, it has been something worth fighting over.




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