Russia (Chechnya) (1999 – first combat deaths in current phase)

Tasneem Jamal Europe

Updated: June 2015

The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The Russian Federation and the Kremlin-supported Republic of Chechnya versus the Caucasus Emirate and militant Islamist groups, including smaller splinter groups in surrounding republics. The Caucasus Emirate is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the Russian Federation, and their respective allies. It is believed to have links to al-Qaeda and to receive funds from  Islamic extremist groups.

What (started the conflict): The modern conflict is directly linked to the mass deportation to Siberian work camps at the end of World War Two of almost the entire Chechen population, who were accused of supporting Nazi Germany. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, separatist groups in Chechnya sought to create a sovereign Islamic nation under Sharia law. The First Chechen War lasted from 1994, when Russian forces intervened, until 1996. In 1999, Chechen fighters launched attacks in neighboring Dagestan and conducted five major terrorist attacks in Russia, prompting the Second Chechen war. Fighting largely ended by 2001, but low-level conflict extended into 2013.

When (has the fighting occurred): The most violent fighting between the Russian Federation and Chechen separatists occurred over the course of two wars between 1994-1996 and 1999-2001. There have also been intermittent fighting and terrorist attacks on Russian soil and against government institutions throughout the northern Caucasus.

Where (has the conflict taken place): Most fighting has taken place in Russia’s Northern Caucasus, a mountainous area in southern Russia, between the Caspian and Black seas. Since the Second Chechen War, terrorist attacks on Russian soil have occurred frequently, against government buildings and civilians.

Summary
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Background
Arms Sources

Economic Factors

Summary

2015 While there was minimal violence in Chechnya, Chechen fighters battled Russian troops in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine. Relations between the Chechen regime of Ramzan Kadyrov and Russia remained tense, deteriorating with the killing of a Chechen man by Russian forces in Chechnya and the arrest by security officials in Russia of five ethnic Chechens for the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (Reuters).

2014 Despite threats of a rise in attacks during the Sochi Olympics, there was little armed conflict reported in Chechnya this year, and the overall level of overt violence remained low. The most significant instance of violence took place in December, resulting in 25 deaths. The separatist group, Caucasus Emirate, has seen a change in command with the death of Doku Umarov. The new leader is Aliaskhab Kebekov.

2013 The lowest yearly totals of both civilian and military casualties were reported in Chechnya, as Russian-backed forces extended their crackdown on a weakening Islamic militancy. The Russian Federation continued to support Ramzan Kadyrov’s government and provided substantial funding for infrastructure and development in and around the capital, Grozny. After calling for attacks during preparations for the Sochi Olympics, Chechen insurgents claimed responsibility for two attacks in the Russian city of Volgograd that claimed 20 civilian lives. Between 100 and 1,000 Chechen fighters have reportedly gone to Syria to fight Assad.

2012 The level of violence in Chechnya was similar to that in 2011. In March presidential elections Vladimir Putin won 67 per cent of the vote, becoming the first person to hold the office of president for three (non-consecutive) terms. Former President Dmitri Medvedev was appointed Prime Minister. Suicide bomb attacks and confrontations between militants and security forces caused most deaths. Changed tactics increased insurgent success against government forces. Seven hundred people were killed in the northern Caucasus; 82 were killed in Chechnya, including one civilian.

2011 Amid widespread claims of election fraud, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party secured a slim majority in the Duma in national December elections. In Chechnya, official results gave United Russia 99.5 per cent  of the support, with 99.4 per cent voter turnout. Human rights groups claimed that Moscow continued to ignore reports of abuse by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s government, including extrajudicial kidnappings and police torture, in exchange for Kadyrov’s clamping down on Islamist insurgents. The Islamist insurgency continued in the North Caucasus, particularly in the Republic of Dagestan. The UNHCR and Russia’s online publication Caucasian Knot reported that nearly 700 people were killed in the first 11 months, most in Dagestan. Most terrorist acts also took place in Dagestan.

2010 Despite the announced end of Russian counterterrorist operations and reduced fighting in Chechnya, there was an upsurge of violence in the North Caucasus, mainly in Dagestan. The U.S. Congressional Research Service reported 241 terrorist incidents in Chechnya, 412 in Dagestan, and 248 in Ingushetiya. In March, explosions in Moscow’s subway system killed 38 people and injured 60; Chechen separatist and Caucasus Emirate Emir Doka Umarov claimed responsibility. In August, Umarov announced his resignation as emir, but later reversed his decision. The death toll was estimated at between 700 and 900, most in Dagestan.

2009 Abductions, murder, and violence continued. The Kremlin announced the end of  counterterrorist operations in Chechnya. Two prominent human rights activists were slain: Natalia Estemirova, with the nongovernmental organization Memorial; and Stanislov Markelov, a lawyer working primarily on human rights and social justice cases in Russia. A bombing on the Nevsky Express train was reportedly the work of Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov.

2008 Sporadic violence continued in Chechnya. Civilian disappearances reportedly  declined. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that $5-billion (U.S.) would be spent over the next four years on Chechnya’s infrastructure. In June, the European Court of Human Rights found Russia responsible for human rights violations in Chechnya, including torture, disappearances and executions. In September, Ruslan Yamadayev, former MP and bitter rival of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, was shot dead outside the British embassy in Moscow.

2007 Chechnya saw a significant decline in hostilities and fatalities this year. More than 500 rebels surrendered under an amnesty agreement that ended in January. In July, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov declared that fighting in Chechnya had “finally and irreversibly” ended. According to human rights groups, many former rebels were guilty of widespread human rights abuses. Rebuilding efforts failed to provide adequate housing for many of the displaced.

2006 The intensity of the fighting in Chechnya decreased and Russia reduced the number of federal troops in the region. The security forces of pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov tightened control of the region. Two high-ranking rebel leaders were killed. Chechen rebels agreed to peace talks in July, but leader Doka Umarov later backed out. Russian officials extended an amnesty to rebels. By the end of the year, 374 rebels had reportedly surrendered. Unrest in neighbouring republics Dagestan and Ingushetiya continued.

2005 Fighting in Chechnya spread to neighbouring regions, particularly Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria. Islamist groups increasingly engaged in armed resistance to Russian forces and local police.

2004 Armed conflict killed hundreds. Although the Russian government signaled a willingness to work more closely with international bodies on a peace agreement and eventual reconstruction in Chechnya, its attitude hardened after a school massacre in Beslan and the assassination of the Chechen president.

2003 Chechen rebels maintained a guerrilla campaign against Russian government and military targets, and Russian security forces reportedly continued to abduct, detain and kill suspected rebels. Although Moscow heralded the October presidential election in Chechnya as progress toward peace, many questioned its legitimacy. An estimated 5,000 soldiers, rebel fighters and civilians were killed.

2002 Both sides stepped up attacks. The conflict gained international attention in October when Chechen rebels took approximately 800 people hostage in a Moscow theatre.

2001 Bombings, assassinations and guerrilla attacks occurred almost daily. Rebels launched a number of offensives. Representatives of the Russian government and Chechen rebels met for talks in November.

2000 In early February, Russian forces captured the Chechen capital, Grozny, forcing rebels to retreat to a stronghold in the southern mountains and rely primarily on guerrilla tactics. Hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed.

1999 A new phase of the Russia-Chechnya armed conflict began when Russian troops launched attacks against the breakaway republic of Chechnya after two invasions—attributed to Islamic rebels—of neighbouring republic Dagestan. By December, the Russian military had captured several key Chechen towns and controlled almost all the lowlands of northern Chechnya. Later attacks targeted the area in and around Grozny. Between 2,000 and 5,000 were killed.

1996 The Russian-Chechen Truce Agreement was signed, ending the war that began in 1994 when Russian troops invaded Chechnya and killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people, most civilians.

Type of Conflict

State formation

Parties to the Conflict

1. Government of Russia: Vladimir Putin succeeded outgoing president Dmitri Medvedev in the March 2012 elections, giving him a record third (non-consecutive) term. Medvedev is now Prime Minister. Throughout Chechnya there was widespread flagrant electoral fraud; in Precinct 451 Putin received all but one vote, with a reported voter turnout of 107 per cent.

Chechnya is administered by an appointed president and Moscow retains a presence with federal troops. The number of Russian troops has been reduced since 2009, when Russia declared an end to its campaign in Chechnya. While there were once as many as 100,000 Russian soldiers in Chechnya, most control now resides with Chechen security forces.

2. Kremlin-backed government of Chechnya: The government of Chechnya is currently led by Ramzon Kadyrov. Kadyrov was instated as President in March 2007after his predecessor Alu Alkhanov resigned. Kadyrov is the son of former pro-Moscow Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov, killed by a rebel car bomb in 2004.

Versus

3. Caucasus Emirate: Early estimates gave the Emirate 1,000 to 3,000 fighters, but later estimates put the number of active fighters at between 700 and 750. The distinction between the Islamist movement and the fight for Chechen independence became blurry after the death of former Islamist rebel leader Shamil Basayev in 2006. On October 31, 2007, Doku Umarov declared himself the first Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, an organization with the goal of establishing an independent Islamist Emirate in the Russian North Caucasus. Umarov announced that the Caucasus Emirate would replace the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya as the main opponent of Russia. The Emirate advocates a radical form of Islamic Wahhabism and endorses the enforcement of sharia law. The United States and the Russian Federation consider the Caucasus Emirate a terrorist organization. After the reported death of Doku Umarov in 2014, Aliaskhab Kebekov assumed leadership of the group.

4. Militant Islamist Groups: A growing number of militant Islamist groups are attacking local police and Russian military forces throughout the north Caucasus, including Dagestan, Ingushetiya, Kabardino-Balkaria and neighbouring territories. They are often organized as local jamaats or assemblies that act as parallel local governments enforcing sharia rule, although not all jamaats are actively engaged in armed struggle. Their stated goal is to establish sharia rule and an Islamic caliphate in the north Caucasus. Links to Chechen rebels are informal and fluid. In April 2011, a top al-Qaeda militant, Khaled Yusef Muhammed al Emirat (“Mohanned”), believed to be responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Russia’s North Caucasus, was killed by Chechen security forces.

Status of Fighting

2015 In April Russian federal troops killed a wanted Chechen man in Chechnya. The involvement of Russian forces from outside the region angered Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who ordered his security forces to shoot to kill Russian federal forces operating in Chechnya without his permission. The Russian Interior Ministry declared that Kadyrov’s instructions were “unacceptable.” (New York Times)    

A July New York Times report confirmed that at least three volunteer battalions of Chechen soldiers were fighting against Russia in Ukraine (New York Times). Chechen State Council chairman Taus Dzhabrailov reported that about 1,000 Chechen rebels, supported by 100 to 150 foreign fighters, remained in the region (Moscow Times).

2014 On December 4, an armed attack took place in Grozny, the Chechen capital. Amnesty International reported that the dead included 11 alleged instigators of the attack and 14 law enforcement officers. Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov threatened reprisals on the “terrorists” and AI reported that at least five houses belonging to relatives of the accused were burned down.

There have been reports of Chechen soldiers supporting both the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists in the Crimea conflict in Ukraine. Chechen fighters have also been identified in Syria and Iraq fighting alongside Islamic State fighters. While the number of Chechen fighters is unknown, estimates of the number in Syria range from 200 to 1,000.

2013 Fighting between Chechen extremist groups and Russian security forces continued, although to a lesser degree than in the past. An attack by a female Chechen militant on a bus in Volgograd killed six civilians, while a similar attack in a train station killed 18 and injured 40. Following the bombings in Volgograd, security forces claimed to have killed Khuseyn and Muslim Gakayev, high-profile terrorists who had been wanted for 10 years. While there were few verified attacks on Russian security forces by Chechen rebel groups, a reported suicide bombing in September killed three police officers. Chechens and other fighters from the Caucasus have reportedly joined the fight against President Assad in Syria; estimates of the number of fighters range from 100 to 1,000. Moscow-funded military and paramilitary forces gained a stronger grasp in Chechnya and  surrounding regions. While the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs claimed that there were no terrorist attacks, local news sources disagreed.

2012 There were at least 96 conflict-related explosions (seven in Chechnya), representing a 50 per cent reduction from 2011. Two suicide bomb attacks killed four security forces personnel. According to Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, the militants’ new tactics–fighting in small and scattered groups–gave them new success against government forces. In February, the Chechen Ministry of Interior Affairs launched an operation against militants in Chechnya and Dagestan. Seventeen security forces personnel and six insurgents, including Commander Magarbi Timeraliev and Ibragimkhalil Daudov, leader of the Shariat Jamaat rebel group in Dagestan, were killed. Special operations were conducted regularly; bombs killed insurgents and security forces. Civilians were injured and killed.

2011 The Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus was most active in Dagestan. The UNHCR and Russia’s online publication Caucasian Knot reported approximately 700 deaths in the first 11 months, most in Dagestan. According to Russia’s Federal Security Service, there were 169 terrorist acts–110 in Dagestan–in the first six months.

In January, a suicide bomber killed 35 people and wounded 130 at the Domodedovo airport in Moscow. In February, Doku Umarov, leader of the Caucasus Emirate, claimed responsibility. In March, according to Moscow, a precision airstrike killed 17 militants. In April, top al-Qaeda militant Yusef Muhammed al Emirat (“Mohanned”), believed responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus, was killed in a sting operation in south Chechnya. In August, eight people, including seven policemen, were killed and 22 wounded by a suicide bombing in Grozny during Eid celebrations; this was the bloodiest single incident in Chechnya in recent years. In December, prominent anti-corruption journalist Khadzhimurad Kamalov, founder of an independent newspaper in Dagestan, was shot dead leaving his office.

2010 While Chechnya was relatively calm, bombings and other terrorist attacks increased dramatically in Dagestan and Ingushetiya. Dagestan faced daily violence. The U.S. Congressional Research Service reported 241 terrorist incidents in Chechnya, 412 in Dagestan, and 248 in Ingushetiya. March explosions in Moscow’s subway system killed 38 people and injured 60; Caucasus Emirate Emir Doka Umarov later claimed responsibility. In July, three Islamic militants stormed the parliament building in Chechnya, killing two guards and an official before being killed themselves. In September, a car bomb exploded in a marketplace in Vladikavkaz, the capital of the North Caucasus republic of North Ossetia, killing 19 and injuring 190.

2009 In April, the Kremlin reported that the anti-terrorist campaign was over. Yet violence continued, including suicide bombings—the largest on a train traveling between Moscow and St. Petersburg, clashes between Russian troops and Chechen rebels, abductions, and the slaying of aid workers and human rights activists.

2008 There was sporadic violence across Chechnya. Reconstruction efforts remained a priority in Chechnya’s demolished capital, Grozny. Human rights organizations reported violations by insurgents and government forces since 1999, including torture, execution and 5,000 disappearances. The number of disappearances declined this year.

2007 On July 9, Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s pro-Moscow president, declared that the fighting was “finally and irreversibly” over and that Chechnya was “the most stable region in the North Caucasus.” There was sporadic fighting in the south and the capital of Grozny. While several hundred fighters remained active, more than 500 former rebels surrendered in January under conditions of amnesty. Reports surfaced that demobilized rebels had committed numerous human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial killings and kidnapping. Chechnya and Moscow competed for oil resources, raising tensions.

2006 Isolated attacks and clashes between security forces and rebels killed more than 100, including two high-ranking rebel leaders. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the conflict in Chechnya was no longer a “war,” but isolated cases of terrorism, and announced the end to anti-terrorism operations. While more federal troops left the region, human rights advocates claimed that the Russian government had merely outsourced the fight to Akhmad Kadyrov’s security forces, which were accused of abuses that included hostage-taking and torture. Unrest in neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetiya was ongoing.

2005 Guerrilla attacks by Chechen rebels and Russian army operations took place in Chechnya. Islamist rebels in Kabardino-Balkaria launched a large but unsuccessful attack against Russian security forces in Nalchik in October. Repeated attacks by Islamist rebels took place in Dagestan and Ingushetiya as the conflict expanded to other parts of the north Caucasus region.

2004 Sporadic intense fighting continued, with hundreds reported dead. Kidnappings and hostage-takings were common rebel tactics while Russian forces stepped up attacks on rebels in mountainous areas. In the year’s most serious incident, rebels took hostages at a school in Beslan and 344, many of them children, died.

2003 Fighting continued between Russian armed forces and rebels in Chechnya and in bordering regions. The rebels employed guerrilla tactics such as ambushes and bombings. It was widely suspected that Russian security forces were actively abducting, detaining and killing hundreds of presumed rebels. Suicide bombings in and around Chechnya targeted mainly Russian governmental and military establishments, killing approximately 200, many civilian. Reports of child fighters within Chechen ranks persisted. Both sides continued to use landmines and both killed civilians.

2002 Russian troops continued to detain, torture and kill suspected Chechen rebels, despite efforts by Moscow to improve the human rights practices of the military. The rebels targeted Russian troops and civilians, using ambushes, bombs, landmines and hostage-taking.

2001 Despite Russian government assertions that it controlled Chechnya, guerrilla-style attacks, bombings and assassinations took place on an almost daily basis. Chechen rebels launched several large-scale offensives against Russian military targets.

2000 After weeks of heavy bombardment, Russian forces captured the Chechen capital, Grozny, from rebels in early February and then shifted military operations to the rebel stronghold in Chechnya’s southern mountains. The Chechen rebels used guerrilla tactics against Russian troops and officials, vehicle checkpoints and administrative buildings. In June, Russia suspended heavy attacks in Chechnya to build public support for Akhmad Kadyrov, Moscow’s newly appointed administrator of the war-ravaged republic.

1999 Armed conflict between Russian and Chechen troops resumed in late August when Russian forces dropped bombs on Chechen territory. Russian officials blamed Chechens for apartment bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities, as well as incursions into Dagestan; Chechen leaders denied everything. Russian troops conducted air raids, bombings and shelling of Chechen towns to establish a security zone that would cut off the republic from the rest of the federation. Many civilians were killed.

Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: Estimates of the total number of deaths since 1999 range from 25,000 to 100,000. Human rights organizations claim that the war has killed close to 30,000 Chechen and Russian civilians—although no official civilian death toll has ever been published—and generated hundreds of thousands of Chechen refugees. Official Russian sources reported approximately 5,000 Russian troops killed between August 1999 and October 2003; at least one NGO estimated the total at more than double this figure. Russia’s state-run news outlet, Interfax, estimated that 15,000 rebels had been killed in the same period. In 2008 Memorial, a Russian human rights organization, reported that as many as 15,000 Russian soldiers had been killed; other sources put the number as high as 40,000. Memorial also estimated that, since 1999, up to 25,000 civilians have been killed or gone missing. Human Rights Watch reported that nearly 500,000 Chechen people have been displaced since the beginning of the conflict.

Since 2000 the Russian Federation has experienced 81 terrorist acts involving 124 suicide bombers, at least 52 female; 1,216 were killed and more than 3,263 injured. Thirty-two of these events took place in Chechnya, killing 254 and injuring 889.

2015 The Caucasian Knot recorded 47 deaths in 2015: 45 militants and 2 law enforcement agents (Caucasian Knot).

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre indicated that the Russian Federation as a whole was home to 25,378 internally displaced persons as of January 2015 (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre). The UNHCR reported that 71,497 refugees and 23,605 asylum seekers originated from Russia (UNHCR).

2014 Caucasian Knot reported a death toll of 52 due to conflict in Chechnya, including two civilians, 26 security agents, and 24 militants. Sixty-five people were reported wounded. Approximately half of the deaths were the result of the December 4 attack in Grozny.

Refugees and IDPs: Known displaced persons include the families of those accused of instigating the armed confrontation on December 4. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that, as a result of collective punishment invoked by the regional government, the families were targeted and at least five houses burned down. The families have been told that they may not remain in the region.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Norwegian Refugee Council reported that, as of 2014, there were still an estimated 6,057 Chechens residing in neighbouring Ingushetia and 15,000 registered internally displaced persons.

2013 Terror attacks killed at least 10 civilians and seven police officers. Unverified reports detail Russian offensives in Chechnya that killed more than 100 security force members, including 80 in the spring and 38 in June. These numbers exclude acts of terror and other militant actions carried out by Chechens in other parts of the Russian Federation.

Refugees: Approximately 10,000 Chechen refugees applied for asylum in Germany in 2013; this large increase over 2012 has been attributed to more human rights abuses by the Chechen government and improved refugee benefits in Germany.

2012 In the Northern Caucasus, 700 were killed: 404 militants, 209 members of the security forces, and 87 civilians.

2011 The death toll in the North Caucasus was similar to that for 2010. The UNHCR, along with Russia’s Caucasian Knot, reported that nearly 700 people were killed in the first 11 months, most in Dagestan. Russia’s Federal Security Service reported that in the first six months of 2011, 169 terrorist acts were committed, 110 in Dagestan. The deadliest single attack took place in January at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, when 35 people were killed and 130 wounded.

2010 The death toll increased significantly, with sources reporting from 700 to 900 conflict-related deaths in the North Caucasus, and an additional 1,000 injured. The Journal of Turkish Weekly estimated the death toll at 378 in Dagestan, 134 in Ingushetiya and 127 in Chechnya. Fewer security forces were killed; local officials and civilians were likelier targets.

2009 While some sources put the death toll at 100, including civilians, Russian forces, Chechen separatists, and aid workers. This toll did not include deaths in neighbouring republics. The Russian Interior Ministry reported that its forces had killed 230 rebels.

2008 The online publication Caucasian Knot reported 237 people killed in Chechnya, including 25 civilians, 97 police officers and 115 militants.

2007 Sporadic bouts of violence claimed fewer than 100 lives.

2006 More than 100 people were killed, including approximately 50 Russian soldiers and security officers, 30 civilians and 25 Chechen rebels. This was by far the lowest annual death toll since the conflict began.

2005 At least 400 people were killed. With daily incidents of violence in Chechnya and reports of numerous violent clashes in neighbouring republics, the actual number of deaths was likely much higher.

2004 At least 600 people were reported killed.

2003 At least 300 and possibly more than 1,000 were killed. According to independent media reports, more than 100 Russian soldiers were killed in Chechnya and approximately 70 more security personnel in neighbouring regions. There were 10 reported rebel deaths, but the actual figure was likely much higher. Approximately 100 Chechen and Russian civilians were killed. There were reports of abductions of Chechen fighters and civilians by Russian security forces.

2002 At least 2,000 government troops and 50 Chechen rebels were killed. Hundreds of Chechen civilians and at least 100 Russian civilians died.

2001 Death toll estimates ranged from several hundred to several thousand.

2000 Hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed in fighting.

1999 Hundreds of combatants were killed. One report claimed that close to 1,200 Russian soldiers died. At least 1,000 civilians died; some reports claimed that the toll exceeded 4,000.

Political Developments

2015 January witnessed mass protests in the Chechen capital against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper following shootings at its office in Paris. In March five ethnic Chechen men were arrested by security forces in Russia and charged with the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Critics claimed that these arrests were part of a cover-up to shield the real killers, linked to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (Al Jazeera). Reuters reported that the arrests increased tension in Chechnya between Russian state security agencies and security forces loyal to Kadyrov (Reuters).

2014 Former rebel leader Doku Umarov was reported dead in March 2014.The cause of death remains unclear. Aliaskhab Kebekov, also known as Ali Abu Muhammad al-Dagestani, from the neighbouring region of Dagestan, assumed the role of emir of the Caucasus Emirate.

2013 Kremlin-appointed president of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov continued to spend funds from Moscow lavishly in Grozny, while Russian president Putin ordered the dismantling of his “personality cult.” Headscarves for women  became mandatory at school and in public work spaces. Activist claims that the state was becoming increasingly authoritative, detaining and torturing hundreds of prisoners, had not been verified by Amnesty International.

2012 Vladimir Putin succeeded outgoing President Dmitri Medvedev in the March elections, giving him a record third (non-consecutive) term. Medvedev became Prime Minister. Chechnya experienced widespread, flagrant electoral fraud; in Precinct 451, Putin received all but one vote, with a reported voter turnout of 107 per cent. In March election-related violence killed at least 36. Russian troops were deployed to combat a deteriorating security situation.

In July an assassination attempt against Chechen President Kadyrov was thwarted; two militants were killed.

Chechen militants reportedly joined the fight in Syria against the Moscow-backed Assad government. This claim was denied by President Kadyrov.

2011 Amid widespread claims of ballot stuffing and fraud, nationwide December elections saw Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party secure a slim majority in the State Duma. In Chechnya, official results gave United Russia 99.5 per cent support with 99.4 voter turnout. Support for the United Russia party exceeded 90 per cent in neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetiya. Security concerns kept international election monitors out of Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus.

Human rights groups claimed that Moscow was ignoring accusations of abuses by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s government, including extrajudicial kidnappings and police torture, in exchange for Kadyrov’s clamping down on Islamist insurgents. According to Russia’s Finance Ministry, Moscow provided more than 90 per cent of Chechnya’s budget. In April, Kadyrov asked for almost $17-billion in additional federal money for infrastructure projects. Kadyrov and his circle lived openly lavish lifestyles.

Amnesty International expressed deep concern about harassment and threats made against members of the Interregional Committee against Torture and other local NGOs. In June, the man suspected of shooting Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 was arrested. The 2009 murders of three activists in Chechnya – Natalya Estemirova, Zarema Saidulaeva, and Alik Dzhabrailov – remained unsolved. Also in June, former Russian army colonel Yuri Budanov was shot dead after being released from jail; he was convicted of kidnapping and murdering 18-year-old Chechen Elza Kungayeva in 2007. And in the same month, a jury in Vienna convicted three Chechen exiles for killing Umar Israilov, a former bodyguard of President Kadryov turned critic of the Chechen regime.

2010 Chechen separatist and self-proclaimed leader of the Caucasus Emirate Doka Umarov announced his resignation but later reversed his decision. Umarov’s name was put on the U.S. State Department’s list of most-wanted terrorists. Russia requested the extradition of London-based Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev when he was visiting Warsaw. Polish police arrested Zakayev, but later allowed him to return to London.

2009 The Kremlin declared the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya at an end. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov defended the honour killing of seven women in February. Human rights activist Natalia Estemirova and lawyer Stanislov Markelov were killed.

2008 Tensions grew between the governments of Chechnya and Russia over territorial disputes. The Russian military occupied much Chechen territory, including schools and  hospitals. In September, Ruslan Yamadayev, former MP and bitter rival of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, was shot dead outside the British embassy in central Moscow. Kadyrov denied charges of being linked to the murder.

2007 Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov president of Chechnya after Alu Alkhanov resigned, reportedly under pressure.There were claims that Kadyrov and his followers were guilty of widespread human rights abuses. In July, Kadyrov declared that violence in Chechnya had “finally and irreversibly” ended; violence was at the lowest levels since the conflict began. No mechanisms existed to address crimes against civilians committed by both Russian troops and Chechen rebels. Efforts to rebuild the region were under way, but housing remained a problem. Many areas designated “rebuilt” lacked essential services, such as electricity and running water. More than half the funds available for reconstruction were administered through the Akhmad Kadyrov Fund, named for Kadyrov’s father. The fund was not open to external scrutiny.

2006 Kremlin-backed Ramzan Kadyrov became Chechnya’s Prime Minister when Sergei Abramov resigned in March. Doka Umarov was appointed president of Chechnya’s separatist movement after his predecessor, Abdul-Khalim Saidulayev was killed in June. A manifesto agreeing to peace talks was drafted in July, but withdrawn by Umarov in October. In September, Moscow extended the offer of amnesty to rebels in exchange for the surrender of their weapons; by the end of the year, a reported 374 rebels had surrendered.

2005 Moderate Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov was killed by Russian forces. More radical Shamil Basaev took over as de facto rebel leader. The governing pro-Moscow United Russia party won disputed local parliamentary elections in November. Negotiations continued on a formal power-sharing framework between the Chechen government and Moscow.

2004 The Russian government announced a willingness to work more closely with international bodies and human rights organizations to achieve a peace settlement and reconstruction in Chechnya. The United Nations announced that it would continue field activities in Chechnya and neighbouring countries. Late in the year, violence surged, including a school massacre in Beslan and the assassination of Chechnya’s President. President Alu Alkhanov was elected in August. Russian authorities closed the last Chechen refugee camp in Ingushetiya, but human rights groups continued to condemn human rights abuses in both Chechnya and Ingushetiya.

2003 A new Chechen constitution was published in March. In October, Akhmad Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s candidate for the post, was elected President of Chechnya. Various human rights and other organizations cited questionable electoral practices. Kadyrov declared that there would be no negotiations with Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov and that Chechnya would remain within the Russian Federation. In federal parliamentary elections in December, the United Russia Party of President Putin gained almost half the seats in the Duma. The U.S. State Department placed three Chechen groups on its list of foreign terrorist organizations and designated rebel leader Shamil Basayev a threat to U.S. security. Moscow’s amnesty offer to Chechen fighters was largely ignored. The Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Assistance Group in Chechnya, created in 1995 to monitor the conflict, was terminated.

2002 Informal talks between Russian and Chechen officials began in March. In October Chechen rebels took approximately 800 people hostage in a theatre in Moscow and demanded that Russian troops leave Chechnya. The Russian government created Order 80, intended to prevent Russian troops from violating the rights of Chechens during routine “clean-up” operations. Human rights groups claimed that troops continued to detain, torture and kill civilians.

2001 In November, Russian and Chechen representatives met near Moscow.

2000 In March, acting Russian President Vladimir Putin was elected President.

1999 U.S. and European officials expressed concern about the rising number of civilian casualties and the stability of the Caucasus region. Russia insisted the crisis was an internal matter and refused to accept foreign assistance. China supported Russia’s military campaign in Chechnya and rejected foreign intervention. The European Parliament voted in mid-December to condemn Russia’s military campaign in Chechnya. On December 31, President Boris Yeltsin resigned and Vladimir Putin became acting president.

Background

Tensions between Chechnya, as well as the other Caucasus Republics, and Russian authorities date back to the nineteenth century. Despite laying claim to the region, Russian rulers failed to gain strong control over the area and fighting flared up in the region periodically throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

By the 1930s, Chechnya and Ingushetia had become a single autonomous republic under Soviet rule. After the Second World War, Joseph Stalin dissolved the republic and exiled many Chechens to Siberia and present-day Kazakhstan. After Stalin’s death, many Chechens returned.

In the lead-up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an independence movement emerged, headed by Zzhokhar Dudayey, demanding that Chechnya be recognized as a separate state. Using army troops, Dudayev oversaw the seizure of the KGB headquarters and radio and television installations in Grozny in October 1991. Faced with a growing crisis, Moscow offered elections. When they were held, Dudayev was elected President of Chechnya and promptly declared Chechnya’s independence from the Soviet Union.

In mid-1994, Russia began moving troops into Chechnya in a covert war to overthrow Dudayev and reintegrate Chechnya into Russia. After a humiliating defeat against Chechen separatists two years later, Russia withdrew all forces and signed a peace agreement in August 1996.

The deal gave Chechnya substantial autonomy, but not full independence and postponed clarification of Chechnya’s status until December 31, 2001. Chechnya continued to assert its independence and Russia maintained its influence over the territory.

A second phase of the Russia-Chechnya armed conflict began in 1999 after Russian troops launched attacks against the region in response to two invasions “attributed to Islamic rebels” of the neighbouring republic of Dagestan. Fighting between Russian forces and Chechen groups resumed. Russian control over Chechnya was reinforced in 2003 by a Chechen constitution emphasizing the republic’s permanent inclusion in the Russian Federation and by the election, in a process decried by independent observers, of a pro-Russian president.

Moscow has insisted that the conflict is not about Chechen independence, but is a war against terrorism—a charge that gained traction after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States—and Chechen attempts to spread subversion throughout the North Caucasus. Chechen forces have repeatedly claimed the right to establish an independent Islamic republic. According to Chechen leaders, Chechens are targeted as scapegoats for regional problems. They also claim that the war allows Moscow to deflect attention from Russian domestic problems. Moscow has resisted the involvement of international actors in the conflict.

In Chechen parliamentary elections in November 2005 the pro-Kremlin United Russia party won more than half the seats. Separatist rebels dismissed the election as a charade, but Russian President Putin said that the legal process of restoring constitutional order had been completed. Moscow significantly reduced the number of federal troops in the region, choosing instead to transfer more responsibility for security and more political control to the Chechen government. By 2006, some semblance of stability seemed to have returned to the area as key leaders of the rebel movement were killed and an increasing number of rebels disarmed in an amnesty program.

Putin declared that the conflict was no longer a “war” and that the Kremlin’s anti-terrorism operations had come to a close. Human rights advocates, however, say that the region’s stability has come at a cost, arguing that Putin outsourced the fight against separatists to Chechnya’s security forces, which have been accused of human rights abuses such as torture and hostage taking.

In 2007, Moscow-appointed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov declared fighting in Chechnya to be “finally and irreversibly” over; this statement was originally thought premature, but has largely been realized. Rebuilding efforts are currently underway, but conflict between Moscow and Chechnya over oil resources and the displacement of those currently residing in oil-rich areas threatens to destabilize the region once again.

In recent years, conflict has spread from Chechnya to other areas of the North Caucasus, including Dagestan and Ingushetia. It has also taken on a largely religious dimension as Islamists within Chechnya and other North Caucasus regions cooperatively coordinate attacks against Russia with the goal of establishing an independent Islamic state. Caucasus Emirate Emir and Chechen rebel leader Doka Umarov has strengthened ties between Chechen rebels and Islamic militants. Insurgents have begun attacking civilian targets such as the Russian Metro and airport.

According to Russia’s Anti-Terrorism Committee, top al-Qaeda militant Yusef Muhammed al Emirat (“Mohanned“), believed  responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Russia’s Northern Caucasus region, facilitated arms supplies to Islamist militants in the region. He was killed in April 2011 by Chechen security forces.

In 2011 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev appointed Ramzan Kadyrov to a second term as Chechen President. The number of conflict deaths in Chechnya  declined from year to year during Kadyrov’s second term, except for a slight increase in 2014 (Caucasian Knot). In 2013 Chechen militants took the fight against Russian forces to Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine.

Arms Sources

The government of Russia produces its own weapons and receives weapons from the United States and other NATO countries. Chechen forces receive their weapons illegally from Russia. Moscow has accused several states, including Saudi Arabia, of helping the Chechen fighters acquire arms. According to government reports, 25 rebel arms caches were captured in 2012.

Economic factors

Some observers have disputed the explanation that oil transit led to renewed fighting in 2001. In 1997 Russia and Chechnya signed an agreement allowing Azerbaijani oil exports to travel through Chechnya. Russia then decided to build an alternative pipeline in Dagestan to bypass Chechnya. Soon after the alleged Chechen rebel invasion into Dagestan destabilized the area, the second Russia-Chechnya war started.

Widespread poverty fueled anger against Moscow and local authorities, providing a pool of young recruits for Chechen and Islamist rebel groups.

Rebuilding efforts began after hostilities declined in 2007. Disagreements persisted between Russia and Chechnya over oil resources and the displacement of residents in oil-rich areas. In 2009 the unemployment rate in Chechnya was estimated at between 47 and 75 per cent. Chechen young men have been forced to leave the region to find work. Some of the economic migrants were exposed to Salafist versions of Islam during their travels and, radicalized, returned to Chechnya as Islamic militants, sharing the doctrine of Islamic jihad with migrant workers in the North Caucasus. Others travelled to Ukraine or the Middle East to fight as Islamic extremists.

The unemployment rate was 30 per cent in 2013. Economic development was much slower than in the rest of the Russian Federation. Ninety per cent of the Chechen budget in 2013 came from Moscow. The Russian Federation agreed to fund a Special Economic Zone in Chechnya as a tourist destination, investing $471-million in a new ski resort. In 2013, 35,000 tourists visited Chechnya, according to the Committee on Tourism of the Republic. The World Bank has undertaken projects on judicial reform in Grozny and Dagestan, worth $50-million each.

The Sochi Olympics, which took place in February 2014, were intended to provide significant economic benefits for the North Caucasus region under the North Caucasus Resorts project. The project aimed to increase tourism in the area. International Crisis Group reported that, although economic benefits were predicted for Chechnya, the Games resulted in heightened security policies that might have derailed peace efforts.

 

map: CIA Factbook

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