Russian marines, one of them wearing a WW2 German helmet, overlooking Grozny. First Chechen War. Fall, 1994.

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[continuing where I left off]

After trying to take the Chechen capital of Grozny for months with too small of a task force in the winter of 94-95, the Russians brought in a new general, who changed tactics, ordered the leveling of the entire center of the city (to eliminate all elevated sniper and RPG positions) and finally succeeded. That general got nominated for the Hero of the Russian Federation medal, but refused to accept it for moral reasons (having to wage war against what he thought of as their own people). The Ichkerian Army and rebels then just cached their weapons and gear and blended in with the civilian population, while some continued to fight in the mountains.

The Russians then brought in SOBR and OMON, as well as the “kontraktniki” – older guys who signed up for money, because there were no other employment opportunities, for counter-insurgency operations. In addition, they established a pro-Russian government Chechen police force. The rebels and their foreign “Mujahideen” allies continued to harass them and stage devastating ambushes and raids. Many cities and towns were raided and briefly taken over, with the “Feds” having to retake them. There were many raids on Grozny itself, with some of the rebels sneaking into the city, bypassing the Fed check-points, while other rebels already being there, blended in with the civvies, just gearing up and fighting on moments’ notice. A groups of Chechens lead by the infamous terrorist Shamil Basayev, had also staged terrorist attacks within Russia-proper, culminating with the Budyonovsk Hospital Hostage Crisis, where the terrorists raided a Russian town and took over its main hospital, taking many hostages. After a failed storming by the spetsnaz (who were in just as shoddy of a shape as the rest of Russia and its military back then), the terrorists were able to negotiate a safe passage back to Chechnya for themselves and a number of hostages. It was a huge disaster.

The War became hugely unpopular with the public. The Russian press was very free back then and the level of unedited coverage was unprecedented. It became a big political liability.

In the Summer of 96, right after the main Fed forces holding Grozny had left for a big mop-up operation in the mountains, the rebels staged another huge raid, affectively occupying the city, with the Federal forces broken up, isolated into small pockets of resistance and besieged. The relief efforts from the big Russian base in an airport outside of the city, had limited success breaking through and rescuing the trapped troops and civilians.

Russian politicians began to negotiate peace, often behind the military’s back and sometimes, ended up giving the rebels a strategic advantage, by doing stuff like disclosing locations and calling off air-strikes, just when the Federal forces were making some progress. Eventually, they signed a peace agreements, giving Chechnya de-facto independence, with the matter of its status within the Russian Federation to be reviewed in a few years. The Russian forces were withdrawn from the republic and prisoners were exchanged, although some captured Russian conscripts were kept as slaves.

In one disgusting PR move, the infamous Russian oligarch politician (later anti-Putin dissident – now deceased), Boris Berezovsky, had actually staged a “capture” of a company of Russian conscripts on the Chechen border, so that he could then “gloriously” arrange for their release for the TV cameras.

Any way, a lot of people in the Russian military basically think that the politicians sold out and betrayed them.

A few years later, in the Summer of 1999, the aforementioned warlord/terrorist Shamil Basayev and his Arab buddy Al Khattab, decided to invade the Russian Federal Republic of Dagestan from the neighboring, then-independent Chechnya, in order to create some kind of a trans-Caucasian Islamic Emirates Sharia state. They had some sympathizers among the locals and expected to be greeted as liberators, but most of the multi-ethnic, moderate Muslim people of Dagestan had actually armed themselves and fought back. The Islamists managed to capture some towns and villages, before the Russian military got there. There were up to 5,000 Chechen, Arab and other Islamic militants who participated in this invasion, which ended up triggering The Second Chechen War and Chechnya being brought back under Russian federal control. The Russian military was still in a pretty bad shape for that one, but they were better prepared and had learned most of their lessons. Several major Chechen warlords and their clans had switched sides, including the powerful clan of the current president of the Chechen Autonomous Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.

In the inter-war years, many Chechens began to think that the whole “independence” thing was not such a great idea. Maskhadov’s rule was characterized by failure to rebuild, weak central rule, lawlessness, inter-clan fighting, arbitrary implementations of Sharia Law (including public executions, beatings and killings of women accused of things like cheating, dressing too slutty, etc) and an economy based on illegal activity, such as drugs, human and weapons trafficking. In one instance, Maskhadov brought it a British telecom company to build a communications infrastructure. This resulted in three British workers getting kidnapped for ransom by a rogue clan and after negotiations with the British didn’t work out, these workers being found beheaded. Many people were kidnapped for ransom (or simply as slaves) from the neighboring Russian regions.

Putin’s strategy of divide and conquer was brilliant. He approached the Kadyrov Clan and made them a deal: we will let you run the Republic without much interference, just as long as you tone down on the whole Islamist shit and the illegal economy, and ultimately answer to Moscow. We will give you billions of dollars to rebuild and it’s no problem if you pocket some of it. This had proved to be extremely effective. Right now, the Republic is rebuilt and pacified – there hasn’t been any major fighting or terrorism in Chechnya in a long time. Instead, the North Caucasus “jihad” has moved to the neighboring regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia, where Russia is fighting the insurgency using the local authorities, supplemented by the Fed’s extremely competent, rebuilt and revamped (to their former Soviet glory) MVD and FSB spetsnaz operators. There is some kind of action almost on weekly basis, but the jihadists are losing – badly. Their leadership is being wiped out.

Getting back to Chechnya and Kadyrov… the guy is rather ruthless and has been accused of various human rights violations/abuses, but ultimately, he is no worse than either Dudayev or Maskhadov and is running things much better. Even though the local elections are always accused of being fixed, the fact of the matter is, just like with Putin, he enjoys the support of a majority of the population. Russian nationalists and most opposition hate him, blaming Putin for giving him too much money and power. Then again, most of these people would have liked to see the Chechens simply wiped out. Oh yeah… there’s evidence to suggest that the high-profile Moscow assassination of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, which the Western press routinely blames on Putin, was Kadyrov’s work. She routinely criticized him and was working a big new story, which would have exposed more of his alleged “abuses”, right before she was whacked.

The Americans had studied Russian tactics used to finally pacify Chechnya and ended up implementing them in Iraq – using the same divide and conquer strategy, playing off the sectarian and clan-based divisions, plainly buying off certain factions to work for them against the other factions. It wasn’t the “Surge” that did it. Similar stuff is being used in Afghanistan too. The Americans throw a lot of money at different warlords, paying some of them not to attack supply convoys and FOBs, while paying others to fight for the “Coalition”. There is actually a big budget allocated for this.

Any way, this is what downtown Grozny is looking like these days:

Biggest mosque and the most impressive skyline in the Northern Caucasus.

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