Case Study: Chechnya and the Caucasus
Lecture held at the International Conference "Ethno-Radicalism and Centralist Rule
- Case Studies", organised by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI),
Sandbjerg Estate, 17 to19 October 1997. Manuscript updated in 1998.
A summary can be found at www.ecmi.de/activities/ecr_case_studies.htm
By Helen Krag, University of Copenhagen.
Copyright: the author.
Introduction: The war in Chechnya
Russia's war in Chechnya 1994-96 was, so most Russians
and Chechens today agree, a severe mistake. Probably all wars fought by central powers
against regions in upheaval, minorities or ethno-radical movements can be said to be
mistakes in the final run. It can be seen as a sign of political maturity to admit it.
Admitting, though, does not change the severe consequences. Russian and Chechen observers
agree that appr. 100,000 (± 20, 000 depending on source) civilians were killed during the
20 months of regular warfare in Chechnya and Chechnya was left in ruins to such a degree that international media
compared post-war Grozny (the Chechen capital) of 1996 to the post-WWII-Dresden of 1945.
When on 11 December 1994 troops were sent into Chechnya followed by a full scale armed attack on the
Chechen capital Grozny in January 1995, the Russian government openly demonstrated its willingness to solve by
force a longstanding political disagreement with regional Chechen government structures.
It is no secret that this model of conflict resolution resulted in an extraordinary
catasptrophy in terms of deaths, wounded, orphans, displaced and homeless families,
destroyed towns and villages and the like. The war also changed much of Russian societal
attitudes towards the use of force, and it added significantly to the vulnerabilities of
The "ethnic" factor in transition and conflict
development in the Caucasus
So-called "ethnic conflicts" became a major
trend in the break-up of the USSR. They have accompagnied the transition process fromits
beginning a decade ago. The Caucasus is the most conflict stricken region in this respect,
and thus offers itself for closer scrutiny concerning general and parallel dynamics in
conflict development, especially with concern to the issue of ethnic mobilization visavis
In this respect Chechnya is no isolated case, neither in geographical nor in geopolitical
terms. Simultaneously, it has to be stressed that the war in Chechnya not only or not
simply confirms a genera