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The First and Second Chechen Wars Comparison Report (Assessment)


The region known as Chechnya is approximately 1,100 kilometers long and 32 to 180 kilometers in width (Gammer 2006). The ethnic and linguistic composition of the population of this region probably makes the range of the Caucasus the most varied area in the world. The area is home to more than seventy native ethnic groups the largest of which are the Chechens (Gammer 2006). According to statistics for a national Soviet census of 1989 the population numbered almost 1 million people (Gammer 2006).

This land of the Chechens is a quadrilateral located in the North Eastern region of the Caucasus and is demarcated by the Terek and Sunja rivers in the West and the North (Gammer 2006). Most of Chechnya is located within the forest zone and prior to Russian conquest it formed a dense primeval forest even as recently as the beginning of the 21st century (Gammer 2006).

Due to this factor the region imposes a combination of two of the most difficult and complicated modes of war on any regular army pitching a battle in the mountain and forest terrain. In all battles between Chechens and the Imperial Russian and Soviet Armies, the locals showed great mastery in using these strategic features to their advantage (Gammer 2006). In the wars that took place in the 1990’s the Chechens proved their ability to adjust to modern conditions by exhibiting skill in urban warfare with Russian Federal forces.


Before their first encounter with Russia, Chechens shared similar culture with all other ethnic groups in the Northern Caucasus region. Despite of their minor ethnic and linguistic differences all these groups defined themselves as mountaineers and also considered themselves as kin to each other (Gammer 2006). Because of this with minor variations they led a similar lifestyle, wore similar clothing and had similar traditions and customs. They were classified by some anthropologists as the nomadic-patriarchal type.

The people of this region though not nomads mainly relied on livestock rearing as their main source of livelihood. Their societies existed along patrilineal lines into extended families, clans, tribes and tribal confederations (Gammer 2006). These served with varied emphasis at each level due to the fact that the focal point of identification and mutual responsibility were at the basis of the political, social and economic structures (Gammer 2006). Due to this nature of organization there was extreme vigilance over individual freedom and the strong rejection of any authority external to the kin group (Gammer 2006). Due to this strong bond in the community a case of murder was often solved by vendetta.

The community was mainly a martial race and they were primarily raised to be warriors. This was evident by the frequent mutual raids that were part and parcel of their existence. In such feuds it was uncommon for people to be hurt as the primary objective was the capture of cattle and livestock (Gammer 2006). Such raids also had cultural significance as they served as initiation for young warriors. This is evident in the selection of the wolf as their national emblem. Despite the strength of the Lion and Eagle such animals normally attack the weak; the wolf is the only creature that dares to attack a stronger animal (Gammer 2006). The wolf’s lack of strength is compensated by audacity, courage and adroitness. That being said the report will now delve into the issues behind the first war.

Reasons Behind the Attack in the First War

The first war between Chechnya and Russia took place between 1994 and 1996 and came about due to the Russian military-political and financial elite’s transformation of the Chechnya into a corruption riddled enclave (Sakwa 2005). It is reported that this group of Russians used the country for money laundering, sale of oil products, weapons and narcotics (Sakwa 2005). Due to this tactic the concept of independence had been used to mask the criminal speculations being carried out by the powerful elite. As a result this elite group was robbing Chechen citizens and enriching Chechen and Russian post Soviet elites (Sakwa 2005).

In response to this position the leaders of Ichkeria were prompted to gamble with the very existence of the Chechen nation. In an effort to conceal the traces of corruption and several crimes committed, civil war was provoked in Chechnya (Sakwa 2005). The Russian troops intervened under the pretext of disarming the warring parties. Following these actions the restoration of constitutional order in Chechnya became a tragedy for its citizens and ended with a massacre unprecedented in contemporary history (Sakwa 2005). This is evident on observing the actions of the Federal troops and the Ichkerian army in Grozny, Bamut, Argun, Samashki, Shatoi, Komsomolsk and in several other locations. This trend saw practically all battles in Chechnya end with massive destruction of villages, towns and inhabitants (Sakwa 2005).

It has been widely reported that the Russian invasion of Chechnya in 1994 was largely due to the role of the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin (Evangelista 2002). According to the reports it is believed that the above statement is true because the President could have opted to win, lose or avoid the war altogether. This is supported in the memoirs of the president in which he accepts responsibility for not shirking away from the Chechen campaign even when orders appeared to go against his decisions (Evangelista 2002).

In a similar fashion the vast majority of the Chechen population did not support the Dudadev regime but was drawn into the war as a result of the actions carried out in their nation by the Federal army (Sakwa 2005). For this reason the Chechen war can only be considered a just war when we look at the people who became the victims of this violence. Between September and November 1994 two socio political clans were fighting for power, one of which enjoyed the support of the Kremlin (Sakwa 2005). After the full scale intervention by Russia in December 1994, the war was transformed into Russian-Chechen war from a civil war (Sakwa 2005).

Despite all the efforts made by both the Russians and the Chechens the war was one that was mainly fought over issues surrounding ethnicity (Sakwa 2005). At center of these battles was Mafia styled political clans competing for power. The conflict ceased to be an internal affair within Chechnya due to the fact that all political forces in Russia were drawn into the battle. This was due to the fact that the Russians were also trying to mould the situation to serve their individual purposes (Sakwa 2005). As the war became even more internationalized the separatists began to garner significant support especially from groups in the Middle East.

In the end the protracted military intervention into Chechnya brought about significant human and material losses. Due to this publicity the world’s attention was once more turned to Russia and aggravated already existing power crisis and the Russian society (Sakwa 2005).

Reasons Behind the Attack in the Second War

According to reports by Evangelista the second round of the war between Moscow and Chechnya was prompted by an attack across the Chechen border into Dagestan (2002). This attack was reported to have occurred during the first few days of August in 1999 and involved between 300 and 2000 troops (Evangelista 2002). These troops were led by field commanders such as Shamil Basaev and Khattab, an Arab fighter who was known to be married to a Dagestani woman (Evangelista 2002).

In response to a request for assistance from the leadership of the Dagestani region, Moscow sent a group of interior ministry troops to the districts of Tsumadin and Botlikh on the 4th of August the same year (Evangelista 2002). Though local Dagestani armed forces resisted the invasion well, to Moscow’s surprise they were soon supported by Russian army troops (Evangelista 2002). It should be noted that this was not the first military action involving the Wahhabis in Dagestan (Evangelista 2002). In May 1997, a force of Dagestanis in association with a sect took control of several villages where Khattab’s wife was born. Again in December 1997 a group of Chechen guerillas joined the Wahhabi force to attack an armored Russian brigade near Buinaksk (Evangelista 2002).

Due to the above mentioned fact the August incursion looked like another little step towards the creation of a united Chechen-Dagestani Muslim state, this being the explicit goal of Basaev and his allies (Evangelista 2002). However, the Dagestanis spurned the Chechen incursion and spurned the Wahhabi fundamentalism that threatened to undermine their own Islamic based traditions and governance. Despite of this the Russians continued to make massive aerial attacks in early September followed by a ground invasion (Evangelista 2002).

Following the ground invasion it appeared that the Russian troops would stop at the Terek River and make attempts to create a positive example in pro-Russian Nadterechyni district. However, the Russian troops continued progressing slowly all the way to Grozny (Evangelista 2002).

The main difference between the two wars is that unlike the first was that was led entirely by Boris Yeltsin and almost ended in his impeachment, this war was a popular one. The popular support for this war came from the fact that apart from its defensive origins and second from the fact that the defeat of the Chechen invaders coincided with a series of terrorist bombings on Russian territory (Evangelista 2002). These attacks in September saw four apartment buildings blown up in Dagestan, Moscow and in Volgodonsk. Following these attacks suspicions naturally fell upon the Chechens.

Vladimir Putin who had just been appointed Prime Minister by Boris Yeltsin just a number of days after the attack on Dagestan used the opportunity to prosecute the war while it still enjoyed public support (Evangelista 2002). Just prior to the elections Yeltsin had resigned putting Putin in power and providing the much needed fuel to invigorate the docile Russian press and the pending election. Despite the fact that Putin did not expect the popularity of the war to last, the war dragged on for years and much of Chechnya was bombed into rubble (Evangelista 2002).

The citizens of the country escaped enmasse while many ended up in intermittent camps and mass graves. For a long time the country remained a dangerously insecure place with increased frequency of guerilla attacks, assassinations and abductions (Evangelista 2002). This was evident due to the fact that even after the assassination of Khattab in 2002, the intermittent terrorist incidents continued to prevail. In the war Putin managed to ‘Bang the hell out of the bandits’ but he also ultimately failed in his mission to resolve the situation in the Northern Caucasus (Evangelista 2002).

Leadership Style

Comparison of Leaders Reaction in First and Second War

Following the declaration to make Chechnya an independent state, Dudaev became a prime example of the chaotic mode of domination (Tishkov 2004). This situation in Chechnya provided the Russian president Yeltsin an opportune moment to boost his political popularity in 1994.

Yeltsin was the most apt character for the late post soviet political spectacle. He was reported to be a cynical populist who styled himself as the spontaneous and emotional Russian ‘Real Man’ (Kapferer & Bertelsen 2009). His network included a group of officials who were considered equally cynical and used the entire Russian territory as a private fiefdom (Kapferer & Bertelsen 2009). Through his neo liberal regime Russia was ruined and there was a major increase in social unrest.

Following a referendum in 1993, Yeltsin’s popularity grew and it was in this situation that he almost single handedly decided to proceed with the attack on Chechnya (Russell 2007). It is based on his decisions during the war that it has been said that Yeltsin may have chosen to win, lose or refrain from further action altogether (Evangelista 2002). This information is also mentioned in his memoirs where he accepts responsibility for remaining involved in the Chechen campaign (Evangelista 2002).

The main difference in the leadership styles between the two wars is seen in the fact that the Putin led campaign was popular among the Russian citizens (Ellision 2006). Putin’s rise to power came at a low point in Russia due to very poor economic performance. In addition to this it has been observed that the unprecedented attacks on four apartment buildings in Dagestan, Moscow and in Volgodonsk naturally placed suspicion upon the Chechens (Evangelista 2002). What is surprising in the war during Putin’s regime is the fact that instead of stopping in the pro-Russian region to pose as a good example, he proceeded all the way to Grozny. This action suggests a stubborn attitude in relation to the Chechen issue in Putin just as was evident with Yeltsin.

What were the resolutions during the war

Following prolonged conflict between the Russians and the Chechens, a resolution was passed on the Chechen crisis that called for a treaty outlining powers between Moscow and Grozny which would be enacted after new elections in the rebel territory (Seely 2001). The main purpose of this resolution was to put a footing on the Russian government negotiations involving Dudaev’s opponents (Seely 2001).

Shakhrai suggested that an interparty agreement between the two sides was not an option. He believed that Russia should have aimed at strengthening inter territorial integrity and state unity within the Russian federation (Seely 2001). Following this suggestion, the Russian Security Council soon adopted a similar resolution. This resolution was abolished by Yeltsin and instead proposed a power sharing agreement with Chechnya (Seely 2001). In the end Shakhrai’s policies were blamed for failing to resolve the Chechen crisis.

Comparison of the Chechnya and Tatarstan solution

The main difference between the solution in Chechnya and Tartastan arises from the fact that initial fears of the impending domination by the Russians were fuelled by economic issues (Toft 2003). It had been perceived that greater independence would provide the residents of the autonomous republic increased control over their trade and industry that they deserved.

In contrast to this position a sub ordinate republic within post independent USSR may have the effect of decreasing that economic control. This brings us to the point that unlike the issue of ethnicity in the case of the Chechen’s this issue was dominated by economics (Toft 2003). This indicated that the push for independence was not due to ethnicity. Reports Tartarstan was already producing 25 billion rubles worth of output annually and lacked a ministry of industry. This led Tartarstan to push for the status as a Union republic independent from Russia but bound by Russian law (Toft 2003).

It has been suggested that Tartarstan’s quest for equal status was greatly enhanced due to the political maneuvers that were undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev in early 1990 (Toft 2003). It has been said that at the time Gorbachev was in the process of engineering major political and economic reforms to preserve relationships that held the USSR together. When Gorbachev’s move backfired and Russia declared itself an independent state, Tartarstan took the opportunity to declare itself sovereign in August 1990 (Toft 2003).

The Human Rights Status in the First and Second War

After the onset of the first Chechen war the United States opted to support President Yeltsin (Forsythe 2009). The main reason for this initial support can be attributed to the fact that the US hoped the support would curb human rights abuses by the Russian army in the process (Forsythe 2009). Unfortunately this was not to be and the crisis escalated. This report was supported by a statement from the Russian human right commissioner who stated that the Russian troops were violating human rights on a massive scale during the attacks and urged the international community to intervene (Forsythe 2009).

Following this statement the US president issued a statement asking for patience with Russia in light of their unwavering support in relation to the Chechen invasion (Forsythe 2009). In response to this the Russian State defense committee expressed his astonishment to the western complicity in light of the serious human rights violations taking place (Forsythe 2009). It was argued that though the Russian regime and Dudaev were responsible for this affair, the Russian government had broken several international legal requirements during in its use of armed force against civilians and the use of prohibited weapons including cluster bombs (Forsythe 2009).

Despite these and similar statements there was continual and unabated use of force against civilians in Chechnya. As the number of casualties and the death toll rose, Russian public opposition to the war increased fuelled mainly by the reports from the then independent media (Forsythe 2009). The Kremlin however continued to insist that human rights abuses were not taking place in Chechnya and largely made attempts to block international coverage of the war (Forsythe 2009).

The international response toward the first and second war

It has been stated that the international response to the cries for assistance to reconstruct Chechnya were seriously inadequate (Jaimoukha 2005). Due to this poor response, there were factitious times in Chechnya with several organizations sprouting to the left and right (Jaimoukha 2005). This led to a seriously uncontrollable situation with a series of kidnappings and murders of western nationals which had started to reflect badly upon the Chechen leadership (Jaimoukha 2005).

Following this the administration began to make attempts to stamp out lawlessness and insubordination and went a step further to create the Chechen professional army (Jaimoukha 2005). The poor handing of the resolution of the initial crisis an attack in 1997 in Dagestan was blamed on the mavericks within the Chechen republic. This action drew condemnation from Grozny which took the action as a deliberate action aimed to undermine the peace treaty currently being negotiated (Jaimoukha 2005).


This report has focused on the presentation of information relating to the Chechen crisis. In the report it has been observed that the crisis emerged due to ethnic issues and later degenerated into a war between Russia and Chechnya. Following this initial war a second uprising began which led to the realization that the initial war was not appropriately addressed by both Russian republic and the International community.


Ellison, HJ 2006, Boris Yeltsin and Russia’s Democratic Transformation, University of Washington Press, Printed in the USA.

Evangelista, M 2002, The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union? The Brookings Institution, Washington D.C.

Forsythe, DP 2009, Encyclopedia of Human Rights, Volume 1, Oxford University Press, New York.

Gammer, M 2006, The Lone Wolf and the Bear: Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance f Russian Rule, C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., London.

Jaimoukha, AM 2005, The Chechens: A Handbook, RoutledgeCurzon, Oxon.

Kapferer, B., & Bertelsen, BE 2009, Crisis of the state: War and Social Upheaval, Berghan Books, Printed in the USA.

Russell, J 2007, Chechnya – Russia’s War on Terror, Routledge, New York.

Sakwa, R 2005, Chechnya: From Past to Future, Wimbledon Publishing Company, London.

Seely, R 2001, Russo-Chechen Conflict, 1800-2000: A Deadly Embrace, Frank Cass Publishers, Oxon.

Tishkov, VA 2004, Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Toft, MD 2003, The geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

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