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Chechnya

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Chechnya is a breakaway republic in Russian North Caucasia seeking independence from Russia.

Table of contents

Geography

Demographics

History

Chechen society has traditionally been organized around many autonomous local clans, called teips[?]. Even today, many Chechens consider themselves loyal to their teip above all, one reason why it has been difficult to forge a united political front against Russia.

Imperial Russian forces began moving into Chechnya in 1830 to secure Russia's borders with the Ottoman Empire. The Chechens resisted fiercely, led by national hero Imam Shamil[?], but Chechnya was finally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1859.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin granted the Chechnya-Ingushetia region status as an autonomous republic within the Soviet Union in 1936. During World War II, the Soviet government accused the Chechens of cooperating with the Nazi invaders. On orders from Stalin, the entire population of the republic was exiled to Kazakhstan. Over a quarter died. The Chechens were allowed to return only in 1957, four years after Stalin's death in 1953.

Recent History

Since Chechnya declared independence in 1991, Russia has attempted to re-take the country twice. Russia refuses to recognize Chechen independence. Many ethnic minorities exist in the Russian Federation alongside a predominately Russian culture, and commentators speculate that if Russia permits Chechen independence, then other groups might also push for independence. The civil wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia serve as a example Russians do not want to follow.

On October 27, 1991, Dzhokhar Dudayev[?] was elected president of Chechnya. He declared independence on November 1, 1991. Under Dudayev's rule, the Chechen economy fell apart as organized criminal gangs acquired progressively more power. In 1992, Dudayev broke ties with Ingushetia. The Russian government supported a failed coup designed to overthrow Dudayev in 1994.

First Chechen War: 1994-1996

Russian forces overran Grozny in November, 1994. Although the Russians achieved some initial successes, the Russian military made a number of critical strategic blunders during the Chechnya campaign and was widely perceived as incompetent. Led by Aslan Maskhadov[?], the Chechens conducted successful guerrilla operations from the mountainous terrain. Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared a unilateral cease-fire in April 1995.

In June, 1995, Chechen guerrillas occupied a hospital in southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk[?], taking over 1,000 hostages. Russian forces attempted to storm the hospital twice and failed. The Chechens were allowed to leave after freeing their hostages.

This incident, televised accounts of Chechen soldiers torturing and executing captured Russian soldiers and Chechen collaborators, and the resulting widespread demoralization of the Russian army, led to a Russian withdrawal and the beginning of negotiations on March 21, 1996.

President Dudayev was killed in a rocket attack on April 21, 1996. Negotations on Chechen independence were repeatedly postponed by the Russians due to alleged terrorist attacks, and finally tabled in August, 1996.

Maskhadov was elected President in 1997, but was unable to consolidate control as the country devolved into regional bickering among local teip leaders and organized criminal factions.

Second Chechen War: 1999-Present

Renegade Chechen army commanders reportedly financed by Osama bin Laden led a band of soldiers into Dagestan[?] in August, 1999. On September 9, 1999, Chechens were blamed for the bombing of an apartment complex in Moscow and several other unexplained explosions in Russia. Despite a lack of evidence, Russia's new prime minister, Vladimir Putin, ordered forces back into Chechen territory on these pretexts. Currently, most of Chechnya is occupied by the Russian military, who have installed a puppet government of Chechen collaborators into local government offices. Chechens who work in government jobs are very often assassinated by the Chechen rebel forces.

Many Chechen rebels have retreated into Kerigo Gorge[?] in Georgia. Russia accuses the Georgian government of willingly harboring terrorists and demands that the Georgian government take action against the Chechens. Several Chechens have been detained by Georgian authorities, but Russia claims that these are empty gestures, and has repeatedly warned Georgia that if real measures are not taken soon to control the Chechen rebels, it will invade and control them itself. Many analysts believe that Russia is waiting for the United States to invade Iraq first, so that it can label the Chechens as terrorists, and justify an invasion of Georgia on the same grounds as the United States claim in Iraq.

Putin announced that the Chechen war had ended in early 2002, but Chechen forces still effectively control a large portion of the mountainous southern regions of the country and regularly skirmish with Russian troops. Collaborators are also regular targets. Russian withdrawal is unlikely, due both to widespread outrage over the Moscow theater siege and to the notorious corruption of the Russian army.

The war budget for Chechnya is a tremendous source of personal revenue for various officials who skim money designated for equipment and soldiers' salaries, and most of the Chechen soldiers' weapons are Russian made and rumored to have been purchased from Russian soldiers. For their part, the Chechen rebels control a lucrative illegal drug and oil smuggling trade, and routinely kidnap foreign aid workers and others for ransom. There is also strong evidence that local terrorist activity is suported with money and arms from international extremist Muslim terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda.

Both the Russian and Chechen armies have been widely criticized by human rights groups such as Amnesty International for alleged war crimes committed during the two Chechen wars, including well-documented accusations on both sides of rape, torture, looting, and the murder of civilians.

Colonel Yuri Budanov became the first Russian to be tried on charges of war crimes committed in Chechnya. He was brought to trial in late 2002 on charges of murder and abduction, after being accused of raping and strangling Heda Kungayeva, an 18 year old Chechen girl whom Budanov claims was a rebel sniper. In a controversial decision, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity on December 31, 2002 and committed to a psychiatric hospital for further evaluation and treatment.

The Moscow Theatre Siege

On October 23, 2002, a group of Chechen guerrillas seized the House of Culture for the State Ball-Bearing Plant Number 1 in Moscow, taking over 700 theatergoers and performers hostage in what has been called the Moscow Theatre Siege. They indicated that the hostages would be killed if Russian forces did not immediately withdraw from Chechnya, and that the building would be blown up if authorities attempted to enter the building. Russian commandos pumped sleeping gas into the building several days later, entered the building, and shot the unconscious terrorists. The gas, which the Russian government refused to identify to doctors, also killed at least 115 of the hostages. The incident triggered a shift in Russian policy towards Chechnya, with Russian President Vladimir Putin indicating the beginnings of a new, hard line approach and a United States style war on terrorism.

Following the Moscow theatre siege, Russia announced plans to intensify its campaign in Chechnya, cancelling scheduled troop withdrawals, surrounding Chechen refugee camps with soldiers, and increasing the frequency of assaults on Chechen rebel positions. The Chechens have responded in kind, stepping up guerrilla operations and rocket attacks on Russian helicopters.

Suicide Attack on pro-Moscow Government Headquarters

At about 2:30 PM local time on December 27, 2002, two car bombs were driven at high speed into the Grozny headquarters of Chechnya's Russian-backed government in an apparent suicide attack, killing at least 61 people, injuring at least 76, and destroying the Chechen government administrative building.

The next day, Russian counterterrorism officials accused President Mashkadov of conspiring with Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev[?] and an Arab named Abu al-Walid[?], said to be a member of a terrorist organization called the Muslim Brotherhood, to plan the attack. Mashkadov issued a statement condemning the attacks and denying any involvement.

According to Russian officials, the vehicles used in the attacks were a large, heavy truck and a smaller Jeep-type vehicle with Russian military license plates. The drivers wore Russian military uniforms and carried official passes which allowed them through three successive military checkpoints on their way to the headquarters building. A guard at the fourth and final checkpoint attempted to inspect the vehicles, and began firing on the trucks as they drove through the checkpoint towards the building.

Politics

Chechnya is a [[republic]. The president, Aslan Maskhadov[?], was elected in an internationally monitored election in 1997. Maskhadov left Grozny and moved to the rebel-controlled areas of the south with the onset of the Second Chechen War. President Maskhadov has been unable to influence a number of warlords who retain effective control over Chechen territory. Russia refuses to recognize the Chechen government. Most other countries do not officially recognize Chechen independence, in order to avoid jeopardizing their diplomatic relationships with Russia.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister is Akhmed Zakayev, appointed by President Maskhadov shortly after the 1997 election. After the theater siege, Russia demanded his extradition from Denmark, and later, the United Kingdom, but to date this has been denied.

Following their 1999 invasion, the Russians installed a puppet government based in Grozny and run by Chechen collaborators. The President of this government is Akhmad Kadryov[?]. Rudnik Dudayev[?] is head of the Chechen Security Council.

Reference

  • Much of the material in these articles comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.

External References



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