by Ib Faurby, Royal Danish Defence College in
co-operation with Märta-Lisa
Magnusson, University of Southern Denmark.
Published in: Baltic Defence Review, No.
2, 1999, pp. 75-87. Copyright: Baltic Defence Review and the authors.
On New Year's Eve 1994 a large Russian force tried to storm
Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The attempt failed and a drawn out urban battle raged
until the Russians two months later claimed to be in control of the city. That, however,
was premature. One year later a Chechen force entered the city for a few days, and in
August 1996 the Chechens retook Grozny in an offensive which paved the way for the
Khasavjurt Peace Agreement which lead to the withdrawal of the Russian forces from
The purpose of the following is to give a brief outline of the battles of Grozny and
discuss why the numerically and materially superior Russian forces had such difficulties
in conquering and holding a medium size city.
1. The Setting
In November 1991 the Chechen President, Dzhokhar Dudaev declared Chechnya to be
independent. Russian President Boris Yeltsin reacted by sending Interior Ministry troops
to Grozny, but the mission failed due to opposition from Soviet President Mikhail
Gorbachev and the Russian Supreme Soviet. One year later, Russian troops deployed to
contain the North Ossetian/Ingusjetian conflict moved towards the Chechen border, but
stopped when Dudajev mobilised his troops for defence of Chechnya. Then followed a period
of half-hearted Russian economic blockade of Chechnya and a power-struggle in Moscow
between Yeltsin and the Russian Supreme Soviet, which more or less left the Chechens to
themselves. However, the Duma elections in December 1993 strengthened the nationalists and
communists in Russian politics and Yeltsin moved politically in a more nationalistic as
well as authoritarian direction. Yeltsin appointed a number of ministers and advisers with
a hawkish and decidedly anti-Chechen attitude to influential positions. At the same time
Chechnya became increasingly isolated, and domestic Chechen politics degenerated into
violent confrontations between Dudajev and a number of armed opposition groups.
Furthermore, the international game about how oil from the Azerbaijani fields in the
Caspian Sea should be transported to the international marked made the Russian government
anxious to get full control over the Baku-Novorossijsk pipeline which runs through
Chechnya. Originally, the Russian leadership thought it could gain control over Chechnya
by supporting the pro-Russian opposition to Dudajev with money and weapons, or at least
that the opposition with covert Russian support could create a military
stall-mate, legitimating a Russian peacekeeping intervention like the one in
the North Ossetian/Ingusjetian conflict in 1992.[ii]
However, the oppositions attack on Grozny in late November 1994
failed miserably, and it was revealed that Russian soldiers, secretly hired by the
security service, the FSK, had taken part in the attack and some of them been taken
prisoners by Dudajev. Russia and the Russian army had been humiliated. In that situation
Yeltsin quickly decided to make a full-scale military intervention in Chechnya in order to
re-establish constitutional order as it was officially said.[iii]
Sunday December 11, 1994 at 07.00 the Russian forces commenced their attack. What the
secretary of the Russian Security Council, Oleg Lobov, expected to be a small
victorious war had started. It lasted for 21 months and ended in a complete military
failure for Russia.
To the extend that there was a plan for the conquering of Chechnya, it had four phases:[iv]
Border troops should surround Chechnya while the air
force surveyed and controlled the air space over the republic. On the ground three groups
of army and Interior Ministry troops should move in from North West, West and East towards
Grozny and surround the city leaving an opening towards the South through which the
Chechen forces can leave the city. Grozny was not to be stormed. This phase was expected
to take three days.
Securing of Grozny through occupation of presidential
palace, other government buildings, television and radio stations and other
important objects. This phase was expected to take four days.
Clearing the lowlands through pushing the Dudajev
forces into the southern mountains while establishing a pro-Russian government in the
liberated areas. This phase was expected to take between five and ten days.
Elimination of pockets of resistance in the southern
mountains. It was expected that this phase could be quite long.
The Chechen plan was to avoid set battle with the advancing Russian
troops in the open terrain but to slow down their advance through pin-point and ambush
attacks in forests and hilly terrain primarily against the Russian rear and MVD troops. A
first set battle was planned to take place a few kilometres outside Grozny. However, this
should not be a drawn-out battle either. The purpose was to delay the Russian advance in
order to gain time for preparing the defence of Grozny, where the Chechens planned for the
Order of Battle
It is extremely difficult to give a precise account of the forces involved in the
Russian-Chechen war. Not only are the sources problematic and contradictory. Most of the
Russian units were composite units and even so not always fully manned. Terms such as
regiment, brigade etc. should not necessarily be understood as full units. Even greater
difficulties are connected with getting a reasonable picture of the rather casually
organised Chechen units with impressive names.
According to Defence Minister Pavel Grachev the original Russian force consisted of
23,800 men approximately 19,000 from the Army and 4,700 from the Ministry of the
Interior. The force had 80 battle tanks, 208 APCs and 182 artillery pieces. However,
during the following weeks reinforcements were brought in from all Russian military
districts until the number reached 58,000 in March 1995.[vi]
Most of the air assets came from the 4th Air Army in the North Caucasian Military
Districts but were supplemented with air crafts from other parts of Russia. The total
number of air crafts is unknown, but it was very large. Army Aviation provided 55
helicopters during the initial phase of the war.[vii]Although
it is difficult to give a precise picture of the Russian order of battle, it is nothing
compared to the difficulties in describing the Chechen forces. The sources give all kinds
of figures from 1,000 to 45,000 men. One of the reasons is, that there were relatively few
organised military units. At the same time a considerable number of Chechen men took up
arms when Russian troops moved into their local area, but went back to their daily chores,
when the Russians left the area.
Another difficulty is, that besides the organised forces of the Dudajev regime, there were
the forces of the non-Russian financed opposition to Dudajev. Almost all of them joint in
fighting the Russians as soon as the war began. Finally there is the uncertainty about the
number of non-Chechens from abroad who came and fought on the Chechen side. Several
Russian sources have fanciful reports about thousands of muhajeddins from Afghanistan and
female snipers in white tights from the Baltic countries. In fact there were relatively
few mujaheddins in Chechnya and no western journalist ever saw any of the amazons from the
Baltic states. At the time of the invasion the organised Chechen units were probably only
- President Dudaevs National Guard consisting of about 120 men.Shamil Basaevs
so-called Abkhasian Battalion of around 350 men
A tank unit (called regiment) with between 12 and 15 working tanks
An artillery unit of approximately 80 men and 30 light and medium
heavy artillery pieces.
A motorised Commando Battalion" of approximately 250 men
and lead by Ruslan Galaev.
And finally, the Chechen MVD force of maybe 200 men.
The Chechen air force consisted of about 15 L-29 or L-39 trainers all of which were
destroyed on the ground in the first hours of the war. What was
important, was the huge amount of light arms and ammunition possessed by the Chechens. A
considerable part of that dated back to the chaotic withdrawal of the Russian forces from
Chechnya in June 1992. Some claim that the Chechens forced the Russians to leave their
stocks, others that they were handed over to the Chechens as part of a formal or tacit
agreement between Defence Minister Pavel Gratjov and President Dudajev.[x]
These figures about the Chechen forces are not only uncertain but also highly
controversial. Russian sources generally give much higher figures for Chechen tanks, APCs,
and - particularly - air planes. Thus, for example, the chief of the Russian Airforce,
Colonel General Petr Denykin, claimed that his forces had destroyed 266 Chechen planes.
Although it is true, that the Chechens had more than the approximately 15 trainers
the planes had not been maintained and the Chechens had only a handful of pilots.
The Russian invasion force consisted of three groups. The Northern
group advanced from Mozdok, the Western group from Vladikavkas and Beslan through
Ingusjetia, and finally, the Eastern group moved in from Dagestan. The troops advanced in
columns with the airborne troops first, then followed the other army units and finally
came the MVD units. From the air the advancing troops were supported by Mi-24 helicopters
and SU-25 close support planes.[xi]
Even before they reached the Chechen border they were met with civilian resistance in
Ingusjetia and Dagestan which confused and delayed the troops. Once inside Chechnya they
met sporadic armed opposition even in the areas north of the Terek River, which
traditionally is the most pro-Russian part of Chechnya. Finally bad weather hampered the
advance and limited the air support. It was not before the last days of December that the
Russian forces reached the outskirts of Grozny.
The air campaign started before the ground invasion on December 11th. In the period from
November 29th to December 2nd Russian planes had attacked the two airports in Grozny with
the purpose of eliminating all Chechen air planes. In parallel with the ground invasion,
the air force attacked other Chechen air fields, bridges, major roads, a tank repair
facility and the television tower in Grozny. Also several towns were attacked in this
phase among them Shali and Urus Martan, which incidentally had been political bases of
non-Russian financed opposition to President Dudajev.
With no Chechen air force and only limited Chechen air defence, the Russians had from the
start of the war total air superiority which was used in an indiscriminate bombing
campaign, which particularly in Grozny took a heavy toll among the civilians - including
the many Russians - living there.
The military invasion, and the indiscriminate air campaign in particular, quickly changed
the nature of the war from the declared disarming of illegal formations into a total war
on the population of Chechnya. This undoubtedly strengthened the Chechen will to resist
and was thus an important factor determining the nature of the war.
4. The New Years Offensive
The Chechen forces did not leave Grozny through the opening towards the south as
foreseen in the Russian plan. On the contrary, they used the opening for bringing in
reinforcements to the city.
On December 26th Yeltsin decided in a meeting of the Russian Security Council that Grozny
should be stormed immediately even if the military leaders wanted another two weeks to
prepare the attack. Since the invasion the Russian forces had been reinforced with units
from the Leningrad, Volga and Ural Military Districts. The total strength had now reached
38,000 men, 230 battle tanks, 353 APCs and 388 artillery pieces. According to a hastily
composed plan the attack should take place along four axis converging on the city centre
while two Spetsnaz groups deployed by helicopters should disturb the Chechen rear south of
The Chechen defence of Grozny was lead by the Chechen Chief of Staff,
Aslan Maskhadov, from the basement of the so-called presidential palace. An important role
was played by field commander Shamil Basaev and his Abkhas Battalion. They
were joined by other units as well as a large number of smaller groups.
The defence was organised district by district and each district had
a number of groups, which operated quite independently. A typical group could consist of 8
to 10 men armed with one or two anti-tank weapons, a light machinegun, one or two sniper
rifles and the rest of the men equipped with Kalashnikovs. Some groups, however, were
smaller. The Chechens knew the city and were very mobile moving through passages,
back alleys and even sewers. They communicated by cellular phones.[xiii]
The attack commenced on December 31, but again the Russian plans fell
to pieces when confronted with reality. The advancing Russian troops met with unexpected
opposition. The advancing tanks and APCs were not protected by dismounted infantry and
thus became easy targets for the Chechens who were able to attack with their anti-tank
weapons from prepared positions in the buildings and ruins of the city.
The Chechen leadership decided to let the Russian forces move into
the build-up areas of the city and fight them there, where the individual units could be
surrounded, isolated and were without effective artillery or air support. The isolated
tanks and APCs would then be attacked with anti-tank weapons in quick hit-and-run actions.
In several cases the Russian columns were lured into narrow streets where first the front
and rear vehicles were destroyed and then the rest of the column thus caught in an ambush
from which they could not escape.
Of the advancing Russian groups it was only the northern under the
leadership of general Lev Rokhlin, which reached the centre a few hundred meters from the
presidential palace, where the Chechens had their headquarters. The 131st Independent
Motorised Infantry Brigade (the Maikop Brigade) took the railway station. The other groups
from east and west newer reached the centre. In the following battle around the railway
station almost the whole 131st Brigade was wiped out. It lost 20 of its 26 tanks and 102
of its 120 APCs. Its commander, Colonel Ivan Savin and almost 1000 officers and men died
and 74 were taken prisoners. As for the two Spetsnaz groups south of the city, they
surrendered to the Chechens after having tried to survive without food for several days.
The storming of Grozny had utterly failed and the failure forced the
Russians to withdraw, re-evaluate their opponent and change operational plans and tactics.
This was one of the most critical phases for the Russian forces during the whole war. The
soldiers moral was near collapse and large parts of the officers corps on the
verge of disobeying orders.
In the meantime new reinforcements were sent to Chechnya, including
marines from the Pacific, the Northern and the Baltic fleets as well as Spetsnaz and MVD
units. The forces were regrouped into storm groups at battalion and lower levels and a new
offensive commenced on January 3rd .
Now the battle of Grozny became a systematic offensive similar to the
Soviet Armys conquering of cities during the Second World War. Sector by sector of
the city was taken after initial artillery and air bombardment and infantry battles from
house to house. Some of the heaviest casualties were again taken by the Russian civilians
still left in the city. Although President Yeltsin again ordered one of his stops for air
bombardments of the city - this time from midnight between the 4th and the 5th of January
- the pause lasted only a few days.
The Chechens put up an impressive resistance but were gradually
pressed out of the city. In one of the few examples of Russian precision bombing two
concrete-piercing bombs hit the presidential palace and destroyed several floors. On the
night between the 18th and 19th of January Maskhadov moved his staff from the basement of
the presidential palace to a hospital on the south side of the Sunzha river a few
kilometres further south-east. The following day the Russian forces stormed the
presidential palace. However, already during the New Years battle President Dudajev
had moved his headquarters to Shali, 25 kilometres south of Grozny.
On the day where the Russian forces took the presidential palace,
President Yeltsin declared that the military phase of the operations in Chechnya was
almost completed and that responsibility for establishing law and order in Chechnya was
transferred to the Ministry of Interior. Deputy Minister of the Interior, Colonel General
Anatolij Kulikov, was appointed commander of the combined federal forces in Chechnya.
Three days later the Russian forces managed to close the
hole in the southern part of central Grozny and thus preventing the Chechens
from reinforcing the city. The Chechens established a new front along the Sunzha River in
the south-eastern part of Grozny and for a while there was again a front in the war.
The Russian forces commenced with heavy air and artillery bombardment of the Chechen
positions on the south side of the Sunzha River, which made the Chechens give up this last
part of Grozny. Shamil Basaev withdrew almost all of his men from the city and on March
7th the Russians could finally declare full control over Grozny.[xiv] That, however, proved to be wishful thinking.
The battle of Grozny had been exceptionally costly, and it was the
civilian population, which had taken the majority of the casualties. Sergej Kovalev, the
Russian Dumas commissioner for human rights and President Yeltsins adviser on
human rights, who had been in Grozny during part of the fighting, estimated the number of
dead to 27,000.[xv]
At the same time the Federal Migration Service put the number of displaced persons at
268,000. The official Russian figures for soldiers lost in the battle of Grozny was 1,376
killed and 408 missing.[xvi]
The actual figure could very well be higher. The Chechen losses are not known.
After the fall of Grozny the war turned to the lowlands and other cities and towns. That
part of the war is outside the topic of this article. However, Russian control of Grozny
was far from complete. Violent episodes continued, particularly at night. The pro-Russian
governments first under Salambek Khadiev and later under Doku Zavgaev lived
almost under siege in Grozny. The Zavgaev government had during later Chechen
attacks - to take refuge at the Russian headquarters at the Khankala air base, which gave
him the nickname: Doku Aeroportovich.[xvii]
During the early months of 1966 the Russian forces - under the
programme called peace and concord - conducted a very violent campaign against
Chechen towns and villages trying to shell them into submission and often
payments to the local Russian commanders.
Then on March 6th between 1.500 and 2.000 Chechen, fighters who had infiltrated into
Grozny, launched an attack. Some of the fighters just arrived on the morning train from
Gudermes dressed up as militiamen. They were joined by several members of Zavgaevs
militia. The fighters gained control over a considerable part of the city some
sources say one-third, other three-quarters. That, however, is not important.
The aim was not to conquer and hold the city, but to demonstrate that
neither Zavgaev nor the Russians were in control. It took the Russians two days to
assemble the necessary air borne troops, tanks and artillery to initiate a
counter-offensive. On the third day the Chechen fighters withdrew carrying with them a
number of captured weapons. The Chechen fighters simply melted away after
having proved their political point.
"This sustained attack on Grozny from several directions with
that size of forces has brought about a new dimension in the Russian-Chechen
conflict wrote the OSCE Assistance Group in Grozny in its situation report.[xviii]
The action humiliated the Russian forces and Zavgaevs
government. It was probably no coincidence that the attack took place shortly after
Defence Minister Grachev had been on an inspection in Grozny and immediately before a
scheduled meeting in the Russian Security Council to discuss the situation in Chechnya.
Together with President Yeltsins problematic standing in the
public opinion surveys, here only three months before the presidential elections, the
Chechen storm on Grozny undoubtedly influenced Yeltsins decision to launch a
so-called peace initiative on the 31st of March. It lead to a more or less rigorously
observed cease-fire in the run-up to the election. The Russian, however, took up fighting
again as soon as Yeltsins re-election was secured.
But then on August 6th 1996, three days before Yeltsin were to be
inaugurated for his second term as president, the Chechens launched a new attack on
Grozny. Again more than 1.500 Chechen fighters lead by Shamil Basaev - moved in by
trucks and cars in a carefully orchestrated assault. Some took up positions on the
approaching roads, guarding against Russian counter-attacks, while more fighters worked
their way on foot towards the centre of the city.
Within hours they had overrun the key districts, laying siege to the Russian posts and
base and advancing on the government compound in the centre, in spite of the fact, that
the Russians had about 12.000 troops in and around Grozny.
Russian troops in Argun and Gudermes were also surrounded in their garrisons. To a Moscow
radio station Maskhadov said: The actions in Grozny have a single aim to show
that the war in Chechnya is not over yet.[xix]
The immediate Russian reaction was to fire from tanks and mortars
outside the centre of the city and from helicopters hovering over it on buildings where
the Chechens were thought to take cover. Chechen fire brought down four helicopters. It
was not before the morning of the second day that the Russian commander organised a column
of tanks and APCs to move into the city in an attempt to rescue the Russian units which
were trapped by the Chechens. Another column was sent in the following day. But as had
been the case during the New Years offensive 19 months before, they ran into
ambushes and many tanks and APCs were blown up by the Chechens.
On the fifth day 900 men of the 276th regiment tried to take the
centre of the city. In two days they lost 150 dead and 300 wonded.[xx]
It looked as if the Russians had learned nothing.
The following day, Aleksandr Lebed, secretary of the Russian Security
Council, flew to Dagestan and drove into Chechnya where he met Maskhadov. Their talks lead
to a cease-fire, and further talks to the Khasavjurt Agreement, which ended the war and
lead to a total withdrawal of the Russian troops from Chechnya. On January 27th, 1997
Maskhadov was elected president of Chechnya in an election which the OSCE declared to be
free and fair.
It is that election as well as the Khasavjurt Agreement Russian Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin recently has declared illegal.
In spite of overwhelming superiority in men and material, it took the Russians almost
three months to gain military control over Grozny, a city a little smaller than Tallinn,
and the degree of Russian control was not, as has been shown, all that definitive.
The central question to ask is thus: Why did the armed forces of the former superpower
have such great difficulties with conquering Grozny? That question is, of course, part of
the larger question: Why did Russia loose the 1994-96 war against Chechnya?
Explaining Russian failures one could start with a quote from Leo Trotsky: The Army
is a mirror of society and suffers form all its ills usually at higher
temperatures. Explanations for Russias failures in Chechnya have to be found
at all levels from the political decision-making in the Kremlin via military planning to
the lack of motivation and moral among the troops.
The decision to start the military campaign was taken hastily, without the necessary
analysis and planning. It was taken by President Yeltsin and a small group of "power
ministers" and advisers. Likewise, the decision to storm Grozny on New Years
Night 1994 was taken by the same political leadership in spite of the fact, that the army
wanted another two weeks to prepare for the attack.
The military leadership was divided. Many officers were opposed to the war
including Boris Gromov, Deputy Minister of Defence, and Aleksandr Lebed. Less publicly
even the Chief of the General Staff, Mikhail Kolesnikov, was sceptical. The Commander of
the North Caucasus Military District, Colonel General Aleksej Mityukin, and the second in
command of the land forces, Colonel General Eduard Vorobev, refused to take command of the
The new Russian military doctrine was signed by Yeltsin in early November 1993.
According to the doctrine the most immediate danger of war came from social,
territorial, religious, national-ethnic and other conflicts.[xxii] However, the military doctrine gave no specific
guidelines for how this threat should influence Russian military planning and training.
There was much talk about the need for military reform, but almost nothing was done in
Many problems of the Russian armed forces were due to the increasing miss-mach between
structure and economy. Thus the equipment was not maintained, training and exercises not
conducted and officers and men not paid on time. During the initial march towards Grozny 2
out of every 10 tanks could not keep up with their columns due to mechanical failure.
Helicopters could not navigate in bad weather due to obsolete navigation instruments.
Since 1992 there had been no exercises at division level. Many pilots had only had 20 to
30 flying-hours per year. And so on.[xxiii]
Manpower was another crippling problem. There were not enough conscripts to fill the
units. Smaller age cohorts and increased possibility for avoiding military service as well
as plain desertion meant that most units were undermanned some were only cadre
units. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies no combat units were
above 75 per cent of their nominal strength. About 70 divisions were on less than 50 per
cent of their nominal strength.[xxiv]
This meant that the units to be used in Chechnya had to be composed by combining parts of
different units. Thus many units were send into battle without ever having trained
together. Furthermore, many of the privates were recruits, who had not yet finished their
basic military education. Some did not even know how to handle their personal
All these problems meant that co-ordination between the Russian troops in Chechnya was
extremely poor. This was the case not only in relations between army, air force and
MVD-troops in general; it was also the case in relations between single units in the
The troops had been told that they were in Chechnya in order to disarm illegal
armed formations and re-establish constitutional order. They did not,
however, have clear rules of engagement in the sense that this term is used in
the West. Many officers and soldiers simply thought that they had come to liberate the
population from an oppressive dictatorship. The resistance they met, not only from Dudaevs
forces but from civilians as well thus surprised them. As one Russian general put it:
Everyone from the generals to the privates were psychologically, organisational and
tactically unprepared for battle on their own territory and against an enemy of unclear
One of the most damaging Russian problems was lack of intelligence (in the sense of
militarily relevant information!). The Russian leaders had no understanding of Chechen
society. They had no understanding of the popular support for Chechen independence. They
did not understand that as soon as Russian troops crossed into the republic the majority
of Chechens would put their internal disagreements aside and fight under Dudajev as their
symbol of national independence. At the operational and tactical levels intelligence was
just as bad. That was often due to the most banal problems, such as for example lack of
maps of the area of operations.[xxvi]
Again and again the Russians were taken by surprise. Just to give an example: The
second-in-command of the 131st Motorises Infantry Brigade has told that the security
service (FSK) informed him, that it did not expect strong opposition during the New Year
offensive in Grozny.[xxvii]
The timing of the operation was also bad. Not only was the weather cold in Chechnya in the
December-February period, it was often also overcast which made the effective use of
helicopters and close air support planes difficult.
More fundamentally, however, it was an asymmetrical war between regular and irregular
forces. But the Russian planning had not taken sufficiently account of that. Later in the
war, the southern mountains served as bases for the Chechen fighters in the same way as
they had done for Imam Shamil during the Russian conquest in the 19th century. The
guerrilla war outside Grozny, in the lowlands, in the fool-hills and in the mountains is,
however, outside the scope of this article.
When looking at the battles of Grozny in particular, the Russians made many fundamental
errors. To what extend this was due to political pressure for a quick solution, a
catastrophic underestimation of the opponent or sheer military incompetence is difficult
to say. But it is surprising considering that there probably is no army in the world,
which has as much experiences in urban combat as the Russian army.
According to Russian doctrine there are two ways in which to take a city: If it is only
weakly defended it can be taken by surprise through a quick entry and occupation of
strategic positions. If, on the other hand, it is heavily defended, a much more systematic
approach is required. Then the conquering forces have to be organised in storm groups and
storm detachments and the ground troops are only to be brought into action in close
co-ordination with artillery and air bombardment.[xxviii]
It the New Year attempt to take Grozny, the Russian commanders were either under the
misperception that it was only a weakly defended city and that it could be taken by
surprise or as seems most likely under strong political pressure to move
before they were ready.
Particularly about the New Years offensive in Grozny one must emphasise the
poor tactical intelligence
- great problems of command, communication and control which lead to
lack of co-ordination between the units
no infantry cover for the tanks moving into the city or, when such
cover existed, it got separated from the tanks
lack of combat engineers to break through Chechen barricades
troops without prior training in urban combat
It was only after the catastrophic failure of the New Year offensive, that the Russians
switched to the other approach. But even so, they had great difficulties. This was partly
due to the fact, that most of the troops had no training for this type of combat.
Irrespective of all the other factors mentioned, the crucial factors, however, were moral,
motivation and discipline. That was what made the determining difference between the
Russian and the Chechen forces.
Turning to Chechen successes, they are, of course, in many cases just the other side of
the coin. The main strength of the Chechen fighters was their high moral and motivation.
Contrary to the Russian soldiers, the Chechens knew why they were fighting and what they
were fighting for. And that combined with fearlessness and a pre-modern concept of
honour was undoubtedly their greatest asset.
Other Chechen advantages are also the opposite side of the coin of Russian weaknesses. The
popular support, the terrain and the intimate knowledge of the local geography were
crucial factors. The Chechens fought a guerrilla war where the fighters could to
borrow a phrase from Mao Zedong swim like fish in the sea of the population. The
Chechens throughout the war exploited the fact that the Russians had great difficulties in
differentiating between Dudaevs fighters and non-combatants. Areas, which the Russians
claimed to have conquered, were soon to be re-infiltrated by Chechen fighters.
The Chechens also knew their Russian enemy from many years of
experience. President Dudajev had been a Soviet air force general, and Aslan Maskhadov had
been a colonel in the Soviet artillery. Many Chechen fighters had got their military
education as conscripts in the Soviet Army.
Where both strategic and tactical intelligence was a problem for the
Russian forces, the Chechens often seemed to have perfect tactical intelligence. In many
cases the Chechens were also able to listen in on Russian communications and occasionally
also sending false orders to the Russians. In several instances this interfered in the
communication between Russian units and for example in communication between forward air
controllers and pilots.
7. A new Russian-Chechen War
At the time of writing a new Russian-Chechen War is being fought and a new and very
different battle of Grozny is ranging. The Russian political and military leadership
clearly wants revenge for the humiliating defeat in the 1994-96 war. And they clearly want
to avoid a repetition of the failures of the earlier attempt to take Grozny, but the exact
nature of their plans has not yet been reviled.
The Russians have brought far more troops to the area than during the earlier war. The
estimates say about 100.000. That is four times as many as when they intervened in
December 1994 and almost twice as many as when the Russian troop strength, in the spring
of 1995, reached its peak in the earlier war. In the initial phase they took control over
the lowlands north of the Terek River. From there they gradually moved in on Grozny while
heavy bombings by air planes, helicopters and artillery was brought to bear not only on
Grozny but on a large number of towns and villages, claimed to be harbouring
It seems as if Grozny is to be completely destroyed and the defenders
worn down before Russian troops will move in. Russian Defence Minister, Igor Sergejev, has
stated that he expects to take Grozny by the middle of December, i.e. after six to seven
weeks of continuous bombardment. Other Russian officers have said, that Grozny should not
be rebuild after the war, thus indicating a wish to see the city completely destroyed.
However, according to official Russian figures, by mid November there
were still 5000 Chechen fighters left in Grozny, and even if the city is reduced to
rubble, it is far from certain that the Russians will be able to gain full control of it.
The only certain conclusions which can be drawn at this time is, that the second
Russian-Chechen war in the 1990s will be extremely costly in lives as well as in materiel
resources, and that the Russian-Chechen conflict will not be solved by military means. On
the contrary, the new war will only further embitter and prolong the conflict.
[i] Lecture at Baltic Defence College, November 1st, 1999
[ii] Pavel K. Baev, The Russian Army in a Time of Troubles. London:
Sage Publications, 1996, 142-143.
[iii] Charlotta Gall and Thomas de Waal, Chechnya. A Small
Victorious War. London: Pan Books, 1997, pp. 152-173.
[iv] Nesavisimaja gaseta, March 1, 1995 and Krasnaja svesda, March
[v] Interview with Usman Fersauli, July 1996.
[vi] Nesavisimaja gaseta, March 1, 1995 and Krasnaja svesda, March
[vii] Pavel K. Baev, "Russian Misuse of Air Power in the
Chechen war" in Carsten F. Rønnfeldt and Per Erik Solli (eds.), Use of Air Power in
Peace Operations. Oslo: NUPI, 1997, p. 77-93.
[ix] Dennis J. Marshall-Hasdel, Russian Airpower in Chechnya.
Sandhurst: Conflict Studies Research Centre, March 1996, p. 11. Se also Baev,
Pavel Felgenhauer, "The Chechen Campaign" in Mikhail Tsypkin (ed.), War in
Chechnya: Implications for Russian Security Policy. Monterey, Ca.: Naval Postgraduate
School, 1995, Chapter 3.
Timothy L. Thomas, "The Russian Armed Forces Confront Chechnya: II. Military
Activities 11-31 December 1994", Journal of Slavic Military Studies", Vol. 8,
No. 2, pp. 257-290.
Ibid.; Felgenhauer, op. cit.
Gall and de Wall, Op. cit., pp. 224-227.
On the Observance of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in the Russian Federation
(1994-1995). Report of the President's Commission on Human Rights. Approved at the
February 5, 1996 Session of the Commission. Moscow 1996, Section 1.
M.A. Smith, A Chronology of the Chechen Conflict. Sandhurst: Conflict Studies Research
Centre, June 1995, p. 33.
Gall and de Wall, op. cit., p. 337.
"Situation Report, Friday March 8, 12:00". Telefax from OSCE AG to CiO, March 8,
Gall and de Wall, op. cit., pp. 331-334.
Moscow News 23 December 1994 and 13 January 1995. Se also Raymond C. Finch, "Why the
Russian Military failed in Chechnya". United States Army Foreign Military Studies
Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. May 1997, p. 5.
Krasnaja svesda, 19 November 1993.
Baev, The Russan. .., op.cit., p. 69; Gregory J. Celestan, "Wounded Bear: The Ongoing
Russian Milirary Operation in Chechnya". United States Army Foreign Military Studies
Office. Fort Leawenworth, kansas, August 1996 .
The Military Balance 1994-95. London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies,
1995, p. 109.
"Russian Airborne Troops in Regional Conflicts", International Affairs. The
Russian Journal of World Politics, Diplomacy and International Relations, Vol. 43, No. 3,
Lester W. Grau, "Changing Russian Urban Tactics: The Aftermath of the Battle for
Grozny", INSS Strategic Forum, No. 38, July 1995.
Adam Geibel, "Lessons in Urban Combat. Grozny, New Year's Eve, 1994",
Infantry, November-December 1995, pp. 21-25.
Ibid.; Finch, op.cit.; for an official Russian military explanation, se Colonel General A.
Kvasjnin in Krasnaja svesda, 2 March 1995.