Russia’s Unlikely Ally: Chechnya

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Chechnya is arguably one of the most infamous republics of Russia, having been involved in two wars with the superpower in very recent history, only dating back to 1994 and ending as early as 2009. This war was extremely violent and can be compared to the Russo-Ukraine War today.  In 2003, the United Nations called Grozny, their capital, the most destroyed city on Earth. How come Chechen forces are today fighting on Russia’s side against Ukraine?

To analyze this, we need to go back to the fall of the Soviet Union. The Chechen people did not favor the Soviet Union considering they removed all resemblance of culture in their land, particularly Grozny, and transformed it into a normal Russian city. So, after the reign was toppled, a former Chechen general named Dzhokar Dudayev decided to gather a group of militants and throw out the remaining communists. He succeeded and declared the independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in early 1991, one of the earliest republics to do so. Gorbachev, the president of the crumbling “Soviet Union” at the time, would only formally dissolve the union into 15 independent republics. The issue here was that Chechnya was not one of them, unrecognized and officially part of the new Russian Federation.

Chechnya continued to stay practically independent as the new Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, had bigger issues at hand in the more important cities, dealing with crime and corruption. Chechnya had issues of its own as well. As non-Chechens were discriminated against, most of the Russians and other minorities in the republic moved, and this took a toll on the industrial sector of the nation. Dudayev also started ruling with an iron fist after a failed coup in March 1992 by a group of revolutionaries, completely dissolving parliament. Suddenly, Yeltsin’s administration realizes the potential natural resources to gain in the region and starts funding rebel groups against Dudayev. After another failed coup in late 1993, Russia decided to handle it themselves.

The order was eventually given to “restore constitutional order to Chechnya” and in December 1994 the war officially began. Fortunately for the Chechens, the Russian army was made up of poorly-trained conscripts and was no match for them. The problem was the mass bombardments on Grozny, leaving piles of corpses in its wake. Eventually, they retreated and the capital was lost, but they continued to pick fights with Russians in the mountains.

Two guided missiles would eventually be responsible for the assassination of Dudayev in April 1996 and the Vice President, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, took over. As Yeltsin boasted about his victory, the remaining army would be sidestepped by the government and eventually lost to invading Chechen forces. Russia had now accepted defeat and the Khasav-Yurt Accord was signed on August 30th,1996. The Russians would leave Chechnya and respect the boundaries, but not recognize their sovereignty. Further relations would be halted until 2001, conveniently when the next president of Russia would be elected.

The new president, Maskhadov, attempted to normalize Chechnya. There was a bad economy, no jobs whatsoever, and a split population. Warlords ruled the lands and Maskhadov had trouble asserting any dominance at all. At this time, many high-profile leaders were disillusioned and started working with Russians, in particular, Akhmad Kadyrov.

In 1999, Vladimir Putin was elected after the end of Yeltsin’s term. It was difficult to win the hearts of the Russian people, but he saw Chechnya as a way to do that. 

Shamil Basayev and Mujahideen commander Ibn Al-Khattab invaded the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan in the summer of 1999 because of their allegiance to Russia in the first war. The Russian counterattack was extremely rapid, exhibiting extensive use of indiscriminate bombardment and was largely successful, driving the militants back into Chechnya in just a little more than a month. Although, during that month, a series of apartment bombings rang out across Russia and was quickly pinned on Chechens by the government, although many people believe it was an inside job and this theory has a lot of evidence.

Putin’s pro-war stance was supported by the people as bombs rained down on Chechnya, starting the Second Chechen War. This invasion was much more brutal, seeing Russian forces making their way to Grozny with the use of bombardments, artillery, and gunpowder. Despite heavy Russian casualties, they were able to take Grozny in a quick manner.

Remember Akhmad Kadyrov? He was now installed as the head of a pro-Moscow administration, leading the people through power and fear. As 2000 came to a close, heavy fighting was finally over, but insurgency continued to plague the civilian population. Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow and other big cities would routinely continue in the following years. Akhmad Kadyrov was killed in an explosion at the Grozny Stadium in May 2004 and power was transferred to his son, Ramzan Kadyrov, who is still the leader of the republic. 

Ramzan was able to recruit an army of his own that quickly replaced the Russian soldiers stationed there, and the war would see a formal end on April 16th, 2009. Grozny was rapidly rebuilt with Russian money, and it is today considered one of the most developed cities in the entire Caucuses. Despite this, Ramzan continues to rule with an iron fist, and human rights violations are quickly shrugged off by Putin as the loyalty of the Chechens is integral to the stability of not only Chechnya, but also the other republics inside Russia. During the current war in Ukraine, Kadyrov sent his own army to fight Ukraine on the behalf of Russia.

From this, we can learn both what Russia has done in the past and what might become of Ukraine under a Russian victory.