- The Chechens are an Islamic people living in the Caucasus. In the 18th and 19th centuries, they stoutly battled Russian occupation. The Chechens never fully accepted Soviet power; collectivization was resisted and Chechen “bandits” were never fully defeated by the NKVD. During World War II, Joseph Stalin ordered the deportation of the entire Chechen population to Central Asia for collaborating with the German occupiers; almost a third died of hunger the first year. The Chechens, like the other Caucasian people deported by Stalin during the war, were “forgiven” and allowed to return in the late 1950s.The Chechens found on their return that much of their land had been occupied by Russians. Nevertheless, in the last decades of Soviet power, the Chechens rebuilt their villages. The end of the Soviet Union left the tiny Chechen enclave in a dubious political position: political radicals occupied and ran the “country,” imposing taxes and raising an army. Moscow seemed to have forgotten about them. But in 1994, Russian President Boris Yeltsin decided to reestablish Russian rule. When several efforts by the Russian security services failed to overturn the rebel regime, Russian troops sought to seize the capital of Grozny by force.The Soviet intelligence community had not prepared the government for the level or intensity of the resistance they would meet. The 1994 battle for Grozny was a major embarrassment for the Russian army, and a Russian armored brigade was destroyed in several hours of intense urban combat. Faced with military failure, the Russian army destroyed Chechen villages, forcing people to flee into the mountains or accept internment in camps. The situation rapidly became a “dirty war,” with atrocities on both sides. The FSB (Federal Security Service), in a major test of its competence, was unable to prevent raids by Chechen battle groups deep into Russia. The FSB was also blamed for the torture and execution of civilians. An armistice in the summer of 1996 ended only a phase of the struggle. The FSB proved incapable of cutting the rebels’ ties with Islamic fundamentalists such as Al Qaeda, or intercepting the movement of Islamic revolutionaries, funds, or weapons into Chechnya. By 1998 radical Islamicists were well armed and itching for another test. The second phase of the Chechen Wars began in the summer of 1998 with a series of bombings that killed several hundred people and shook Russia. These bombings were blamed on Chechen rebels, although no convincing evidence has been presented that a Chechen organization was responsible. As in the first war, the security services proved to be in equal measure incompetent and brutal, and international human rights agencies accused the Russian government of condoning atrocities. The Chechen rebels resorted to terrorism, bombing bus stations and schools and sabotaging aircraft. In 2004 FSB and army efforts to take a school occupied by Chechen terrorists ended in a massive tragedy that took hundreds of lives.See also Counterterrorism.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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