of the Conflict
According to Matthew Evangelista, author of The Chechen Wars,
Chechnya's political mobilization in 1990 was rooted in an anticommunist
reaction to the centralization and inefficiency of Russia's political
and economic system.
November 1990, the Chechens convened a nationalist movement, the
Chechen National Congress, and invited Gen. Dzokhar Dudayev to
head it. Dudayev who had never lived in Chechnya before
and his fellow nationalists wanted to secede from the Soviet
Union and form a North Caucasus federation with neighboring Muslim
republics. Leaders were inspired by events in Georgia, where a
nationalist movement had gathered steam in 1989 and resulted in
autonomy from Russian rule in 1991.
During the first half of 1991, the differences within the province became
more pronounced as the Chechen nationalist movement gathered support and
moved toward secession and the local communist powers became more adamant
that the province remain under Soviet control.
failed August 1991 Russian coup, which sought to undo reforms
and unseat Mikhail Gorbachev, gave nationalists a chance to assert
their power. Dozu Zavgaev, Russia's representative in Chechnya,
did not denounce those who had planned the coup and was discredited
in the eyes of the Chechen nationalists. Moscow sent a new representative,
Ruslan Khasbulatov, to Grozny; he convinced Zavgaev and his fellow
leaders to resign and to establish a temporary council until elections
could be held.
however, immediately attempted a revolt against temporary council. Evangelista
stormed the republic's KGB headquarters and seized its cache of weapons,
reportedly with the acquiescence of Moscow authorities."
September 1991, nationalist groups met to demand Dudayev stop
his attempts to seize power, but in October he declared his National
Congress of the Chechen People the sole power in the region and
claimed 90 percent of the votes in Chechnya's presidential elections.
Five days later, Boris Yeltsin declared a state of emergency and
dispatched troops to the region. A series of Russian military
incursions followed, which Chechen separatists repeatedly stymied.
Dudayev's power grew in Chechnya, he encountered resistance from
the breakaway parliament, from the public and from rival warlords.
He responded by abolishing the parliament, the Grozny Municipal
Assembly and the Constitutional Court, and establishing presidential
rule in April 1993. He announced martial law in September 1994,
and in December Russian troops invaded Chechnya, seeking to oust
Dudayev's internal conflicts stemmed in part from an attempt to accommodate
the viewpoints of hard-line Islamic militants, many of whom had entered
the region after the first Chechen war. They came to the area from the
Middle East hoping to help fight Russia, as had happened in the Afghanistan-Russia
war. While Dudayev had planned on fighting a war to promote a secular republic,
he increasingly felt the need to rely on Islamic forces. By 1997, Chechnya's
third-largest city, Urus-Martan, had become a stronghold for Islamic radicals.
"With uncompromising economic prospects and an astronomical rate of
unemployment, Chechnya seemed fertile ground for recruiting fighters to march
under the banner of Islam," Evangelista wrote.
Islamic training camps, young recruits met up with Khattab, a
warlord who had come to Chechnya from Saudi Arabia. He led a force
of radicals known as the Wahhabis, who would later link up with
the warlord Shamil Basayev and invade the neighboring republic
of Dagestan in 1999. This invasion would in turn bring Russian
troops back to the region and tip off the second Chechen war.
Several attempts were made on Dudayev's life throughout his time as leader,
without clear evidence of who was responsible. When a shell fragment killed
him in April 1996; conflicting reports about his death circulated. According
to the American Foreign Policy Council's Russia Reform Monitor, Russia's
NTV network reported that Russian federal forces were responsible for the
attack, and had made four prior attempts to kill Dudayev with missiles guided
by the transmission from his satellite telephone.
Also in 1996, Boris Yeltsin ordered a unilateral cease-fire to end the war,
expressing willingness to grant Chechnya special autonomous status within
the Russian Federation. He called for parliamentary elections, saying he
would ask Russia's parliament to grant an amnesty for most Chechen fighters.
He stopped short of meeting the separatists' main demands: Chechen independence
and a withdrawal of all Russian forces.
leaders and Chechen rebels signed the cease-fire agreement in May 1996;
Yeltsin greeted the signing
with the words, "We have resolved
the key problem of peace in Chechnya. This is a historic day, a historic
cease-fire agreement, however, still left the question of Chechnya's