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The Chechnya war


Chechnya
Chechnya

Ethnic Russians make up a little more than four-fifths of the present population of the Russian Federation. Having just witnessed the disintegration of the USSR as a result in part of non-Russian nationalism, Russian elites were understandably fearful that similar developments could take place in non-Russian areas of their own republic. Initially these fears appeared to be substantiated by calls for far-reaching autonomy, and sometimes even full independence, from some of the non-Russians. In almost all cases, however, these demands were satisfied by concessions over regional autonomy and tax privileges. Even the initially extreme demands of the Volga Tatars (a Muslim people conquered by Russia in the mid-16th century) were resolved in 1994.

By 1994 the only region still demanding independence was Chechnya, in the northeastern Caucasus. The Chechens had a long history of bitter anti-Russian feeling. They had fought ferociously for decades in the 19th century against the Russian invasion of their territory, and they had revolted against the new Soviet regime in 1920.

Accusing them of collaborating with the Germans in World War II (1939-1945), Soviet leader Joseph Stalin deported the entire Chechen people to Central Asia, and many lives were lost. Under Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, the Chechens were allowed to return to their homeland, but their traditional anti-Russian feeling was enflamed by the treatment they had received from the Soviet regime. When the Soviet regime collapsed in 1991, power in Chechnya fell into the hands of extreme Chechen nationalists, who drove out Russian garrisons and rejected any control by Moscow. In December 1994 the Russian government sent troops to Chechyna in an attempt to reassert its control there. The already demoralized and poorly trained Russian army proved incapable of suppressing determined Chechen opposition either in the Chechen capital of Groznyy or in the countryside.

As humiliating defeats and growing casualties made the war more and more unpopular in Russia, Yeltsin’s government sought a way out of the conflict. In August 1996 Yeltsin’s national security adviser, Aleksandr Lebed, brokered a ceasefire agreement with Chechen leaders, and a peace treaty was formally signed in May 1997.

However, renewed conflict in 1999 rendered the peace treaty defunct. A wave of terrorist bombings struck apartment buildings in Moscow and several other Russian cities in August and September, killing more than 200 people. Russian leaders accused Chechen rebels of organizing the attacks, precipitating another full-scale military offensive to reestablish federal rule in the republic. In February 2000 Russian troops took control of Groznyy. Although Russian forces occupied most of Chechnya, the republic was not fully pacified and fighting continued. This time, the war maintained strong public support in Russia. The Russian government characterized the war as an “antiterrorist operation” against Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations.

Chechnya woman
Chechnya woman

Subsequently, Chechen insurgents staged a string of deadly suicide bomb attacks in Moscow and other cities, as well as major hostage-taking tragedies. In October 2002 Chechen militants seized a theater in Moscow, taking about 800 civilians hostage and demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. Russian special forces stormed the theater after pumping an opiate-based gas into the building.

All of the insurgents were killed, as were 129 hostages. In May 2004 Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated in a bomb attack. The republic held a special presidential election in August to replace him. The Kremlin-backed candidate, Chechnya’s interior minister, Major General Alu Alkhanov, won the election. In September 2004 a pro-Chechen suicide battalion (including some non-Chechen militants) carried out a siege on an elementary school in Beslan, a town in the southern Russian republic of Alania (North Ossetia). The militants held more than 1,200 hostages in the school gymnasium for two days. Russian security forces then stormed the building, and in the ensuing gun battle explosives set by the hostage-takers detonated in the gymnasium. More than 330 people, mostly children, were killed, and hundreds more were injured.

The deadly hostage crises of 2002 and 2004 led to more rigorous efforts by the federal government to establish political control in Chechnya. In 2003 Chechnya officially adopted a new constitution that firmly designates it as a republic within the Russian Federation. After the 2004 school siege, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced sweeping security and political reforms, sealing borders in the Caucasus region and revealing plans to give the central government more power. He also vowed to take tougher action against domestic terrorism, including preemptive strikes against Chechen separatists. In April 2007 Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of Akhmad Kadyrov, was sworn in as president of Chechnya. A former rebel, Ramzan had been appointed prime minister following his father’s assassination. As prime minister Ramzan was credited with rebuilding Groznyy, the Chechen capital. He was regarded as loyal to Putin but has criticized Russians for discrimination against Chechens. Human rights groups charged that Kadyrov headed a private militia that carried out torture, kidnappings, executions, and extortion. Kadyrov denied the allegations. In 2009 Russian announced that it was formally ending counterterrorism operations in Chechnya, but Russian troops were expected to remain there for some time. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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