December 1994-8 February 1995
Timothy L. Thomas
Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation is located in the
federation's southwestern corner near the Caspian Sea.
It covers approximately 6,500 square miles, measuring nearly
100 miles by 70 miles at its widest points.
Several terrain features dominate the republic.
In the north, there is a plain that runs nearly 35-40 miles
until it empties into the center of Chechnya (where Grozny is
located). The foothills
begin south of Grozny and run close to 20 miles until they merge into
the Caucasus Mountains in the south. Elevations in Chechnya range from 200 feet in the northern
plains to 12,000 feet in the mountains.
The republic has one major river, the Terek, which runs west to
east across the plains in the north of Chechnya (see Map
late January 1994 until 8 February 1995, Russia's armed forces fought
against its own citizens in the city of Grozny, Chechnya, the capital
of the republic.
The roots of the conflict are historical. The entire region was
part of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Russian expansion into
the region began in the late eighteenth century as Russia sought
allies among the Christian population and suppressed local revolts
that had tribal and religious content.
In the Soviet period, the region briefly enjoyed independence
from Moscow but was reconquered by the early 1920s.
Some national groups in the region, the Chechens being one of
them, sided with German invaders during World War II and were treated
as traitor-nations when areas were reconquered by the Soviets.
Joseph Stalin deported the population of Chechnya to Kazakhstan
and other areas in 1944 for Chechen disloyalty.
It was not until 1957 that the Chechens returned on the order
of then General Secretary Nikita Khruschev.
Regardless of this act, a simmering hatred of Russians remains
just below the level of consciousness for many Chechens. A local saying supporting this attitude is that "a shot
is fired in the Caucasus, but the echo lasts for 100 years."
term "Grozny" means terrible or formidable.
Russian General Alexy Yermolov founded Grozny on 10 June 1818.
It served as a fortress or outpost for Russian forces operating
in the Caucasus against the Chechens.
When Yermolov assumed command of the Caucasus in 1816, he
quickly appreciated the difficulty of defending the 700-mile Caucasian
perimeter against raiders and established Grozny to help protect it.
In 1994, it was a city of approximately 490,000 inhabitants.
It had a mixture of Chechens and Russians, along with a few
other nationalities, and covered nearly 90 square miles if the suburbs
are included. The city
runs predominantly from the northwest to the southeast. It is cut into four sectors by two features: the River Sunzha,
running from the northeast to the southwest, and a railroad line
running from the southwest to the center of the city and then
departing the city due east. A
refinery complex is located in the southwestern portion of the city,
and there are two airports, one to the northwest and one due east of
the city. The city has a
mixture of buildings ranging from 10- to 15-story structures to those
with only one story. These
buildings are made of concrete for the most part.
Approximately 123 roads lead in and out of Grozny.
authorities became concerned with activities in Chechnya in 1991, in
particular with the intentions of Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev. He publicly sought to create a "single trans-Caucasian
republic stretching to include parts of Russia and Ukraine as well as
all of the Caucasian and trans-Caucasian region."
This was of immense concern to Russia, since critical oil and
natural gas pipelines run through the region, as well as trade routes
to the Middle East. In
fact, the Caucasus is a key geostrategic door for Russia to the Middle
The 1994-95 fight for Grozny was precipitated by a strange,
even bizarre sequence of events.
Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Republic and serving
under the Soviet Union's General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, stated
in 1991 that the republics should "chew off all the sovereignty
they can swallow." The
Russian Republic's President soon came to wish he had never uttered
that phrase. Chechnya, a
component part of the Russian Republic, took Yeltsin at his word. A small, localized revolution began on 21 August 1991 in
Chechnya, two days after the August coup in the former Soviet Union.
Chechnya declared its independence from Russia on 6 September
1991, citing Yeltsin's proclamation concerning sovereignty.
The Amalgamated Congress of the Chechen People invited former
Soviet Air Force General, Dzhokhar Dudayev, living in Estonia, to be
president. Later, he was
popularly elected in Chechnya and stated he wanted to free Chechnya
from Russian rule. Many
Russians in the current regime considered the elections illegal and
therefore characterized Dudayev's presidency as illegitimate. Russia's
Fifth Congress of People's Deputies not only decreed the elections
illegal but also declared Dudayev's regime unconstitutional.
early September, the Yeltsin administration had transferred power in
Chechnya to a provisional supreme council under the command of a
professor named Hussein Akmadov.
Dudayev, whose power had been growing, decided to take a risk,
and he used national guard forces to dissolve the council and occupied
its building in the spring of 1993.
Russia sent a delegation to negotiate with the Chechen
president, but it was too weak to engender military support from
Yeltsin to remove Dudayev. In
June, Dudayev's presidential guard clashed with protestors of the
parliament's dissolution and killed nearly fifty people.
In addition, Russia protested the ongoing violations of the
Russian Constitution in Chechnya, the sharp increase in criminal
activity in the region, the seizure of hostages by Chechens, and the
increased number of deaths among the civilian population.
All of these issues increased tension between President Yeltsin
and Chechen President Dudayev.
the latter half of 1993, a group in opposition to Dudayev emerged in
Chechnya, primarily in the northern part of the republic. This group
initiated a small-scale guerrilla war. In the spring of 1994 the
opposition called upon Russia to support it and help restore
constitutional order. Russia's security services eventually supported
the opposition covertly during an unsuccessful attack on Grozny in
Russian complicity was exposed but not before Russian Defense Minister
Pavel Grachev had publicly declared that no Russian soldiers were
involved. Humiliated by the loss to the Dudayevites during this
so-called "Black Operation," President Yeltsin ordered an
immediate intervention into Chechnya. It began on 11 December 1994.
Article 88 of the Russian Constitution and a Decree of
President Yeltsin on 30 November served as the legal basis for the
Russian action. The tasks of the Russian forces were to stabilize the
situation, disarm armed bands, and reestablish law and order.
situation itself was unique for Russia's armed forces. The command
designation, a combined force operation of troops from the Ministry of
Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense, had not been tried
before under such circumstances and on such a scale with such short
notice. In addition, prior to the intervention, there was no serious
thought given to the current condition and relative strength of
Russia's forces. A special command was created in the North Caucasus
Military Region to direct the operation's joint grouping.
The operational plan was designed
With the goal of disarming illegal armed bands and
confiscating weapons and armaments from the population and
reestablishing constitutional law and order on the territory of the
Chechen Republic, the formations and units of the armed forces,
together with other military forces of the Russian Federation, are to
implement a special operation in four stages.
one and two were movement plans from outside of Chechnya into the
republic. Stage three of the operation focused on objectives:
Formations and units advance from the north and south
to capture the Presidential Palace, government buildings, television
and radio facilities, and other important structures in Grozny. Then,
together with Special Forces subunits of the Internal Affairs Ministry
and FSB, continue to confiscate weaponry and materiel.
Finally, stage four was the stabilization of the
conflict after capturing key objectives in Grozny.
Russians believed that Dudayev's men totaled some 10,000 in the city,
and that they were armed with up to 80 D-30 122mm howitzers, 25 tanks,
and 35 BTRs and BMPs.
A few multiple rocket launchers were also among the Chechens'
equipment, as seen on local television reports.
The Chechen account of their force size is different.
Ilias Akhmadov, a fighter during the first battle for Grozny
and now the republic's foreign minister, stated that only 450 Chechen
fighters were "permanent" while the others were locals or
those who came from neighboring villages.
The republic's Vice President at the time, Yanderbaiyev,
believed the number was closer to 4,500-6,000.
The actual size of the Chechen force thus remains in doubt.
to the Russian description of their own forces, they had nearly 24,000
men, 19,000 from the armed forces and 4,700 from the Ministry of
Internal Affairs (MVD) Internal Forces.
For equipment, the Russians had 34 battalions (five motorized
rifle, two tank, seven airborne, and twenty MVD battalions), which
yielded 80 tanks, 208 BMPs, and 182 artillery pieces and mortars. Some
90 helicopters supplemented this effort.
Thus the Russians clearly had an advantage in men and
equipment. Some of the Russian forces were real professionals, such as
the airborne units. Other
Russian units, however, not only had never seen combat but also had
not been involved in an exercise of this magnitude.
Chechen forces were equally diversified. Some Chechens had fought in Abkhazia and were tried veterans.
Others were fighting for the first time, although Chechen Ilias
Akmadov noted that it took only a few days to turn most Chechens into
Russian force groupings were created to move troops into Chechnya from
three directions: Mozdok, Vladikavkaz, and Kizliar (see Map
2). The operational
plan was for the force groupings to advance on Grozny from six
directions (additional directions were variants of the three main
movement routes), and to blockade the city by forming two concentric
rings. The outer ring,
the MVD's responsibility, was to coincide with Chechnya's
administrative border, and the inner ring, the Ministry of Defense's
responsibility, was to coincide with Grozny's outer city limits.
By the end of December, everything was more or less ready for
the Russians to advance on Grozny.
Reconnaissance was conducted, vehicles and positions
camouflaged, and engineers cleared lanes for passage.
Defense Minister Grachev's forces believed that the Chechen
command had created three defensive rings to defend Grozny.
There were an inner circle with a radius of 1-1.5 km around the
Presidential Palace, a middle circle to a distance of up to 1 km from
the inner borderline in the northwestern part of the city and up to 5
km in its southwestern and southeastern parts, and an outer circle
that passed mainly through the city outskirts.
The outer and middle defense rings were based on strongpoints,
while the inner line consisted of prepared positions for direct
artillery and tank fire. Lower
and upper floors of buildings were prepared for the use of firearms
and antitank weapons.
Mozdok grouping under the command of General Lieutenant V.M. Chilindin,
moving from the Northwest, was composed of the 131st
Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (MRB), the 106th Paratroop
Division, and the 56th Independent Paratroop Brigade.
Before moving into the city, the units of the northern group
were situated in the following way.
On the left flank was the 81st Motorized Rifle Regiment, the
131st MRB was in the center, and on the right was the 276th Motorized
Rifle Regiment, according to an interview with force commander General
Major Konstantin Pulikovsky (it is assumed these regiments were part
of the 106th Paratroop Division).
Forces had to cross the small Neftyanka River on the way into
Grozny. The western
Vladikavkaz axis under the command of General Lieutenant Chindarov
contained the 693rd MRB of the 19th Motorized
Rifle Division, a regiment from the 76th Paratrooper
Division, and a paratrooper battalion from the 21st
Independent Paratrooper Brigade.
The East grouping from Kizlyar under the command of General
Lieutenant Lev Roklin contained the 20th Motorized Rifle
however, were unprepared to move quickly enough, and as the groupings
advanced through Chechnya on their way to the city, only the forces
from Mozdok and Kizlyar kept to their initial schedules.
Other groups only reached initial positions by 20 or 21
December, and as a result, the blockade of the city was never
completed. The South
remained open to escaping refugees and to Chechen resupply routes,
which the Russians did not foresee.
26 December 1994, Russia's National Security Council authorized the
final move on Grozny. The majority of Dudayev's forces and armaments
were thought to be in the city, while armed attacks on Russian forces
continued in the outlying areas. As one general noted about the plan
The operational plan called for the separation of
Grozny into areas or zones, with the railroad tracks and the Sunzha
River serving as boundaries in the east-west and north-south
directions, respectively. Storm detachments were to attack from
several directions at once: from the north, west and east. Upon
entering the city they were to coordinate with Special Forces of the
MVD and the Federal Security Service and capture the Presidential
columns advanced on Grozny (see Map
3). From the east,
General Lieutenant Nikolay Staskov, deputy commander of airborne
forces for peacekeeping activity, commanded storm detachments of the
129th Motorized Rifle Regiment and a parachute battalion
from the 98th Airborne Division.
They were to capture the bridges across the river and link up
with the Northern and Western Force Group to block the central part of
the city. From the west
were two storm detachments of the 19th Motorized Rifle Division from
Vladikovkaz under the command of General Major V. Petruk (overall
commander of the western direction) and a regiment of the 76th
airborne Division from Pskov under the command of General Ivan
Babichev (who was later designated the commander of Western forces
when Petruk was relieved). These
forces were to attack along a zone bordered on the right by the
railroad tracks and on the left by Popovicha Street.
Their objectives were to capture the train station and then
blockade the Presidential Palace from the south.
In the north, General Major K. Pulikovsky commanded the 131st
Motorized Rifle Brigade, the 276th Motorized Rifle
Regiment, and the 81st Motorized Rifle Regiment, who were to isolate
the Chechen formation from the city proper. General Lieutenant Lev Rokhlin commanded the final direction
(he also commanded the move from Kizlyar toward Chechnay), the
northeast, and he had under his command the 255th Motorized
Rifle Regiment. Their job
was to block off the northern part of the city and the Presidential
Palace from the north.
the 31December, when the forces were told to move on the
city, the western column commanded by General Petruk still hadn't
arrived at his unit's assembly area outside Grozny.
This caused the movement on the city to be disjointed and
to Pulikovsky, the operation was unfolding so rapidly that the command
almost did not have time to name it.
Minister of Defense Pavel Grachev, who planned the attack and hoped to
celebrate his birthday on the 31st with the rout of the
Chechens, estimated that in 5-6 days the town would be fully cleansed
of bandit formations. The
81st MRR in the north moved into the city and became ensnared in an
ambush on Pervomayskaya Street at about 1500 on 31 December.
There was not enough infantry present, according to Pulikovsky,
to sniff out the ambush, and the Chechens fired on the tanks in the
column repeatedly from the upper widows of multistoried buildings.
Pulikovsky, who thought the army would arrive to little resistance and
the Chechens would run, hide in the hills, or at least hide their
weapons, later admitted that this initial resistance caught him by
surprise. It was hard to
imagine the Chechens doing anything while the Russians were in the
131st Maikop Brigade had moved at 0600 to the bridge over the Sunzha
on 31 December and then into the city.
Leaflets were distributed stating Chechen combatants should
take their magazines out of their weapons, put their weapon over their
left shoulder, and slowly advance toward Russian troops.
The Chechens laughed at these instructions.
In fact, a real but extremely small army was facing the
Russians, one with former Soviet officers who understood the basics of
Russian city tactics and operating procedures.
The 131st entered Grozny unopposed.
It was to have taken up a blocking position on the western side
of the city but, sensing no opposition, reported back to Pulikovsky
that it was ready to move on to its next objective.
Apparently unaware of the situation of the 81st MRR,
Pulikovsky authorized the 131st Maikovskiy Brigade to proceed to the
train station near the city's center, also around 1500 on 31 December.
Perhaps there was no opposition because Dudayev had only a few
hundred fighters at the time and had focused most of his attention on
the 81st Motorized Rifle Regiment, the initial unit in contact.
Colonel Savin led his forces into the city as if participating
in a parade, according to Russian reports.
He went along Staropromyslovskoye Boulevard to Mayakovskaya
Street and then to the train station in the city center.
All units were to link up there, and Savin got there first.
Savin reported that nothing was happening, and
that troops were lined up at the ticket counter arranging their rides
home. Later in the day,
however, Savin's communication chief reported that he had heard the
phrase "welcome to hell" through his head set.
Savin did not know if this was some type of joke or a warning.
Suddenly, without warning, some Chechen fighters appeared
behind the train station, and all hell broke loose.
The Russians did not understand initially what had happened.
Since the situation appeared so calm, they had gone into the
train station, hardly securing their vehicles or even bothering to
post guards. In the
meantime, Chechen mobile units had fallen back on the city center and
had surrounded them at the train station.
They began methodically to destroy the Soviet BMPs with RPG
fire. Not in their
wildest dreams could the Russians imagine how unpredictable and
vulnerable their situation had become.
to one participant, everything happened very fast, as if a nuclear war
had started with no one around. In
addition to the shooting, the Chechens attempted to demoralize the
Russians, using communication intercepts to relay threats.
For the Russians, of course, there was no thought of surrender.
But after a few hours, Russian ammunition began to run low
(they had not planned on extensive battles in the city), and they
began to lose scores of soldiers to the Chechen onslaught.
The 74th Brigade was to have advanced at nearly the same time
as the 131st, which would have offered some reinforcements, but they
stopped to celebrate New Year's Eve.
The 503rd Regiment was supposed to be sent into Grozny to
support the movement as well, but they refused to move, citing lack of
commander of the 503rd said he had fulfilled his order
already and saw no reason to put everyone at risk that way at night in
a city. The 131st then attempted a breakout from the train station,
and lost 60 more men, including Colonel Savin.
The Chechens also took severe losses in the fighting.
Estimates later were that the Russians had 300 soldiers in the
train station to fight against 1,000 Chechens, figures that the
the Chechen plan of defense perceived by Grachev (the three concentric
rings) did not appear to be the case in reality as the Chechens were
apparently organized quite differently.
Otherwise, the Russian force could not have proceeded to the
city center with such ease. According
to the Chechen Ilias Akmadov, the Russians were not "lured" into
the city center but "driven" there because there were no
concentric rings or forces available for such resistance.
The Chechens, in fact, noted that no such plan existed.
Instead, the "situation did the organizing."
One fighter noted that the attack on 31 December came as a
surprise to him, a statement supported by the fact that no barricades
or fighters met the Russian force moving into the city that day.
The Chechens lacked enough numerical strength to organize even
one echelon of defense around the city.
However, the company or group commanders had a great deal of
autonomy. Mobile groups
of ten to twelve people operated relatively independently, each group
consisting of one grenade launcher, two snipers, and the rest with
automatic weapons. There
simply weren't any well-defined lines of defense.
The groups were always on the move.
The greatest weakness was their inability to coordinate Chechen
regular forces with local militias, although intimate knowledge of the
city helped overcome this weakness.
At times, seventy people made their way through dead space
while Russians were only 30-40 meters away.
This was especially true at night, when the Russian soldiers
lost the desire to move around, according to a Chechen fighter.
The Chechens had little if any urban combat training, a fact
that makes one marvel at their success.
Akmadov noted that everything was so condensed and quick that
it only took a few days to turn a raw recruit into the Chechen concept
of "a professional."
to interviews conducted after the fighting ended, the Chechens also
had a fixed method of conducting ambushes.
The ambush was based on the 25-man group, composed of three
mobile squads of two heavy machine gunners, two RPG gunners, one
sniper, and three riflemen. Three
of these 25-man groups (supported by an 82mm-mortar crew with two
tubes) would conduct an ambush as a 75-man unit.
Three of the eight-man squads would serve as a "killer
team" and set up in three positions along the ambush route.
They would occupy the lower level of buildings in the ambush
zone to prevent being wounded by incoming artillery.
The remaining fifty men would occupy blocking positions to
ensure the entrapped Russians could not escape and to prevent
reinforcements from entering the ambush area.
To counter this tactic, the Russians would conduct extensive
artillery fire on a proposed route of advance, attempting to reduce
buildings along the route to rubble.
This method proved effective, although on occasion the rubble
served as excellent ambush positions for the Chechen fighters.
fairness to the Russians, however, it must be noted that the Russian
force was poorly trained. As General Boris Gromov, commander of the
Soviet Union's 40th Army in Afghanistan, noted about
Russia's armed forces
The troops taking part in the combat operations had
not been prepared for this either morally or physically or
professionally. The armed forces are not distinguished today by a high
degree of training or personnel and they lack a sufficient quantity of
equipment that is in good working order and combat-ready,
communication and control facilities, technical and rear support, and
so forth. All this condemned the military campaign in Chechnya in
advance to big casualties on both sides.
State Duma deputy Viktor Sheynis's eyewitness information
about the 31 December operation was available in newspapers on 2
January. He indicated that the initial attack on New Year's Eve was
a total disaster for Russia. According
to an interview with a participant of the operation, the 131st
Motorized Rifle Brigade and the 81st Motorized Rifle Regiment took the
brunt of the losses. In
one column alone, 102 out of 120 armored personnel carriers and 20 out
of 26 tanks were destroyed by Chechen antitank fire; all six
'Tunguska' surface-to-air missile systems were destroyed.
Seventy-four servicemen, including a corps operations officer,
were captured. The
commander of a division surface-to-air missile platoon, LTC Aleksandr
Labzenko, added that:
...they were not trained to fight in cities and an
enormous amount of armored equipment, thoughtlessly left in narrow
streets without any cover, was not protected by the infantry...there
is a lack of even basic cooperation between different subunits and
their commanders and subordinates.
In short, the Chechens nearly brought the Russian
force to its knees from 1-3 January.
One Russian close to the fighting reported that "many
officers in Chechnya have confessed to me in mid January 1995 that at
the beginning of that month the Russian Army was on the verge of
refusing to obey the ridiculous orders of its commanders and the
in the year, the head of President Yeltsin's personal security
force, Alexander Korzhakov, allegedly noted that "Grachev dragged
Yeltsin into the Chechen mess, and a man of integrity [in Grachev's
shoes] would have shot himself."
According to retrospective reports, there were three principal
reasons for the initial disaster.
First, the Russian army worked under severe restrictions, some
self-imposed and some imposed by nature.
One officer noted that the rules of engagement did not allow
for the Russians to open fire first, resulting in the deaths or
wounding of many soldiers. Military
support was most severely affected, however, by the refusal of some
commanders to participate in the coordinated attack on Grozny (in
particular, the commanders of axes West and East who did not enter the
city despite their radio reports that they had).
Most likely this was not due to cowardice on the part of the
officers in charge of the western and eastern columns, but rather to
confusion and a lack of administrative and air support available after
entering the city's outskirts, leaving their forces vulnerable.
This left the 131st Motorized Rifle Brigade (MRBde) and 81st
MRR without support and at the mercy of the Chechens.
In addition, nature worked against the Russian force. Not only was it winter, but also bad weather limited air
support on the 1 and 2 January.
Second, the Russian army was unprepared and
untrained for immediate combat, let alone combat in cities.
To fight under such circumstances was simply absurd and doomed
to failure. Anne Garrels of National Public Radio was in the basement
of the Presidential Palace on 3 January and interviewed Russian
prisoners of war.
Some of the young recruits told her that they did not know with
whom they were riding as they entered the city, since they had been
thrown together as a crew only a day or so before; that they did not
understand who was fighting whom; that some of the soldiers thought
they were going into Grozny for police or law enforcement duty and not
to fight; and that some of the soldiers had neither a weapon,
ammunition, a map, nor a mission.
Some, in fact, were sleeping in the back of their BMP or BTR as
it entered the city. In
addition, there was little training to coordinate actions of units and
subunits. This was particularly true for missions involving the armed
forces and the troops of the MVD.
Third, the Russian leadership did not do a good job of
preparing the "theater" for warfare. The High Command neither
sealed off the republic's borders, nor took the time required to
rehearse properly for the potential scenarios that Dudayev had
prepared for them. One
general, choosing anonymity, noted that after liberating several city
districts, Russian forces realized that Dudayev had created numerous
firing points, communications nets, and underground command points
that made the job much more difficult.
In this respect, the main military intelligence (GRU) and
federal counterintelligence service (FSK) did poor jobs of providing
information on the armed formations that the Russian force faced,
compounding the fate of the untrained soldiers.
Still unexplained in the initial plan is the apparent disregard
by Russian commanders of the lessons learned from the "Black
Operation" conducted by the anti-Dudayev opposition forces in
November 1994. For
example, Major Valeriy Ivanov, speaking to State Duma deputies about
the failed 26 November attack, noted that he was told "special
forces would be at work there [in Grozny] and helicopters would
provide fire support from the air.
Infantry would be attached to the tanks."
None of this support appeared.
Lieutenant Dmitriy Volfovich supported Ivanov, noting that the
tankers could not respond with machine gun fire because "the
machine guns were not loaded."
And a plan to paint tank hatches white to allow helicopter
pilots to identify friend from foe backfired when no helicopter
support appeared and Dudayev's force fired on "white caps"
against a gray background.
Chechen forces fought according to their own plans, which
Defense Minister Grachev, for one, viewed as inhumane.
For example, he noted that Chechen forces conducted attacks
under cover of civilian "human shields" and fought from
positions in hospitals, schools, and apartment blocks.
The shocking defeat of 1-3 January changed the course of the
remainder of the fight for the city.
In fact, the battle of Grozny can be divided into three
separate parts. Part one is the 31 December-3 January fight described to this
point. Part two refers to
actions taken between 4-17 January, when the Russians recovered and
captured the Presidential Palace of President Dudayev and the northern
portion of the city, while Chechen resistance evacuated the
Presidential Palace and took up defensive positions on the other side
of the Sunzha River. Part
three focuses on the fighting from 17 January to 8 February, when
Russian forces managed to rid Grozny of the major Chechen fighting
elements on the southern side of the Sunzha (see Map
the shock and heavy losses suffered in the attack of the 1-3 January,
the worst appeared over by 4-5 January due to an apparent Chechen
retreat. Moscow's official mood once again appeared to be one of
optimism. First came
reports of Chechens moving out of Grozny, and aircraft strikes on
their remaining tanks and other combat vehicles (or those the Chechens
captured in the first four days of the fight). Chechen
convoys, moving in a southerly and southeastern direction, were
passing through outlying villages along two routes-either through
the villages of Shali, Serzhen-Yurt, and Benoy-Vedeno, or the villages
of Shali, Kirov-Yurt, and Makhkety-while the center of Grozny
remained under Chechen control.
Enemy groups were also reportedly moving in a northeasterly
direction away from Grozny but were repulsed from entering Dagestan by
OMON (special purpose militia detachments), border troops, and
Internal Forces, as well as fire support from the air, according to
Russian Vice-premier Yegorov noted that Grozny should be taken
on 5 January without any further fighting, and the legitimate
government established simultaneously. This
information was contradicted by live reporting from the area by
Russian journalists who reported that Dudayev subunits controlled the
streets and had many Russian units surrounded.
Thus reports that the worst appeared over when viewed in
hindsight indicate that Russian officials tried to cover up their
shortcomings while the independent media thwarted this attempt at
It was clear to those on the ground that the battle would
indeed proceed according to a different scenario.
On the 6th, INTERFAX reported that special units of the Russian
MOD destroyed a Chechen commando group using weapons "with elements
of artificial intelligence." These
elements included the use of aerial reconnaissance and satellite data
as well as laser and TV guided air-to-surface missiles.
According to the source, this would not be the last use of
weapons designed for other "theaters of operation."
By 7 January, Orthodox Christmas, it was evident that the
Russian military was in a dogfight
and no amount of optimistic press reports would change the story. Ostankino TV noted that the fighting was the most fierce
since the 31 December-1 January, reporting on the 7th that
the entire town was ablaze along with the refinery and other outlying
Clearly the war was not getting any easier for the Russian
forces. Ham radio
operators in Chechnya transmitted information on Russian troops that
allowed the Chechens to pinpoint Russian locations.
Russian reconnaissance units searched for Russian prisoners of
war, while federal troops continued to fight well-armed mobile groups
of Chechens. The Chechens
used civil defense as well as underground sewage and water tunnels
both to flank and to get into the rear of military units.
Chechen tactics added to the psychological stress of the
advancing Russians. They
booby trapped tanker trucks, mined roads, and held civilians hostage.
In addition, Russian artillery shells were reportedly falling
in the city of Grozny at a rate of 15-20 per minute (the latter report
from a Duma representative).
Chechen commander reported having 85-125 men defending a district of
Grozny that extended a kilometer. He added that he had only two RPG-7s
at the time, and that he doubted if Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan
Maskhadov had more than 400 men total. His unit's tactic
was to fire at the enemy everywhere without being
seen anywhere. The Russians did not know where and who the enemy was.
We shot, destroyed, withdrew, went home to sleep, returned to start
military actions again. No organization or planning. We were
At the same time, journalists were striking back at Russian
military leaders for the latter's criticism of the reporting from
Grozny. Members of the news media pointed out that it was nearly
impossible to report from military bases because they could not go
anywhere and their cameras and film were confiscated, whereas the
Dudayevites helped reporters. This resulted in "one-sided"
reporting from the Dudayev perspective according to some journalists.
The latter asked who was to blame for the portrayal of events under
such conditions, the journalists or the Russian military commanders
who refused the journalists access to Russian soliders?
Even the Russian command later indicated it had made a serious mistake
in this area. Counterintelligence head Sergei Stepashin noted that
"we began the operation in Chechnya without having prepared public
opinion for it at all. . . I would include the simply absurd ban on
journalists working among our troops, . . . while journalists were his
[Dudayev's] invited guests."
8th and 9th of January were marked by days of regrouping after the
ferocious fighting of the 7th, and on occasion, by good
intentions that went astray. Russian Internal Forces busily tried to restore the Chechen
police force, a necessity to return Grozny to self-rule.
They appealed to anyone among the local populace who wished to
work to restore law and order. Russian
military commanders talked to militants in buildings through
megaphones, urging them to lay down their arms.
As these efforts were underway, indications were that young
Chechen volunteers aged 16-18 arrived to reinforce their republic's
armed formations, as well as "a regiment of kamikazes" wearing
Chechens also were sent to the Russian side to misinform the
federal armed forces about Chechen plans, and a network of informers
advised on all movements of Internal and Defense Forces as the latter
proceeded through North Ossetia, Ingushetia, and Dagestan. Another
report indicated that in early January a group of sixty fighters, half
of them women, swore on the Koran an oath of allegiance to sovereign
Chechnya and its president, vowing to go to Moscow to commit
subversive and terrorist actions. There
also was a report that up to a hundred Russians had surrendered in
Grozny on the 7th and 8th, some of them special forces troops, and
that in a few instances, some soldiers were drunk.
Reporting ended on the stark note that in recent days, in the
freezing basements where the civilians were huddled, babies were being
This indicates the extent of the varied missions and problems
confronting soldiers in urban environments, and the difficulty in
uncovering the truth.
On 9 January, the Russian government declared a ceasefire. It
would begin at 0800 on 10 January and last for 48 hours, according to
the official announcement. Just
two hours after the ceasefire started on the 10th, Russian artillery
shells began raining down on the Chechen Presidential Palace.
The head of the Chechen General Staff, Aslan Maskhadov,
declared the 48-hour ceasefire a Moscow "trick."
It is not known if Russia's forces simply disobeyed the order
on purpose or if the continuation of firing was due to Chechen actions
and the Russian forces were merely acting in self-defense.
The Russians reported on the 10th of January that the
Chechens were breaking the cease-fire of the 9th (which the Chechens
reported was already broken by the Russians), and so federal troops
were merely responding according to the principle of
This tactic of double-crossing one another after an
agreement was to be repeated many times in the coming months.
By 10 January, the Russian force had managed to make two
corridors into the city for supplying the army and evacuating wounded
servicemen to hospitals,
but talks with authorities to remove the bodies of Russian soldiers
lying on Grozny's streets were fruitless.
However, the Chechens did allow a Russian POW and
representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church in Grozny to do the
negotiating with the Russian side (with General Babichev, the new
commander of Russian forces entering Grozny from the west).
Moscow radio reported that the Chechens had gathered the bodies
of Russians lying near the Presidential Palace and piled them in one
place, with sentries firing short volleys to drive hungry dogs away
from the bodies.
Also on the 10th, a report indicated that federal
forces attacked in the direction of the Presidential Palace but were
beaten back. If the
attack occurred, it was not a serious one and only rarely were mortars
heard. Russian troops remained about 400 meters to the north and 1.5
km to the west of the city center.
Radio Ekho Moskvy was, as usual, much more negative in its
reporting (Radio Ekho Moskvy talked with Chechens and did not rely on
strictly official Russian reports), noting that two Chechen
negotiators carrying white flags were killed, Chechen villages were
bombed, and that Russian units appeared to be preparing for a new
assault on the 12th, when the cease fire officially ended.
The contradictions in these two reports indicate just how much
ITAR-TASS's official reporting and the non-governmental reporting
from agencies such as Ekho Moskvy differed.
During the ceasefire time period, which finally took place
later on the 10th, Russian Prime Minister Victor
Chernomyrdin offered an interesting concession worthy of note.
He proposed to villagers in Chechnya that if they ensured that
armed formations did not open fire from or within populated areas,
then he would guarantee that the federal troops would not conduct
combat operations there.
On the combat front, Dudayev's militants continued to resist
in scattered regions of the city, especially in the Katayama,
Baranovka, and Oktyabrskiy districts, and
they continued to disguise themselves as local inhabitants or even
Russian soldiers. Internal
Forces focused on guarding administrative borders of the Chechen
republic and on the conduct of operations to locate local gangs to
disarm and/or liquidate them. Federal
Forces continued the search for POWs.
On the 11th, a Russian TV documentary depicted the fighting in
Chechnya for the first time from a Russian perspective.
Entitled "Hell" and produced by Aleksandr Nevzorov, who
previously held anti-Yeltsin views, the documentary clearly was a
pro-government production designed to bolster army morale and to show
the country the difficulties faced by the average soldier in Chechnya.
For the first time, the character of the conflict was given a
new understanding, as the Chechen force's strength and their
atrocities were depicted. Nevzorov,
speaking with commander Lev Rokhlin, noted that the Chechens could
only be considered an army and not merely bandit formations. Rokhlin
agreed and added, "it is a mercenary army."
another report, more difficult to believe but supported by later
interviews with Chechen fighters, Radio Ekho Moscow tape recorded
interviews with Russian soldiers and reported that special troops
stood behind the soldiers when they went into battle and threatened to
shoot them if they retreated or tried to give up; the soldiers also
reported that they had an order to kill women, old people, and
This statement was reminiscent of the actions of the old
People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) to prevent Russian
and Soviet desertions in past hostilities.
At 0800 on the 12th, the cease-fire officially
ended. During the
ceasefire, an additional hundred vehicles arrived to reinforce Russian
positions. Federal Forces regrouped, rotated troops, and prepared for
the next assault. The
Russians apparently could not wait for 0800 to arrive.
At 0700, Russian forces pounded the city center incessantly
with artillery (shells landed every ten seconds for over three hours),
and at 0930, forty Grad rockets slammed into the main city square.
Russian snipers also gained some ground.
Fighting was intense and the Russian assault continued during
the 13th and 14th, with most of the combat activity centered at the
buildings of the Presidential Palace, the Council of Ministers,
Chechen Internal Affairs, and security ministries, and at the railway
Simultaneously MVD forces blockaded the main departure routes
out of Grozny as well as Chechnya's administrative borders.
An indicator of how intense the fighting had become was that
doctors no longer put on their white smocks because Chechen snipers
were using them for targets. Earlier, three ambulance helicopters with red crosses were
downed by Chechen militants, according to Moscow reports.
It was not until the 15 January that the whole town was sealed
off, including its southern sector.
This was the first time the armed forces had succeeded in
accomplishing this, a fact many viewed as a prerequisite to entering
the town in the first place. Chechen
forces immediately tried to deploy additional troops in the south to
prevent the encirclement from becoming permanent. The
15th also witnessed continued attacks by Russian shock units and
assault detachments to dislodge Dudayev's fighters from a number of
buildings, and continued attempts by paratroopers, motorized infantry
units, and marines to get inside the Presidential Palace, an effort
that would take another four days.
Female snipers were rumored to be fighting for the Chechens,
and during the assault INTERFAX news agency reported that a female
sniper from Belarus had been killed.
However, when asked his opinion, Russian 8th Army
Corps commander Lev Rokhlin noted that the resistance of the militants
had slackened, and the only reason the Russians had not taken the
Presidential Palace was to keep the casualty rate low, since Russian
POWs reportedly were still in the basement.
Rokhlin noted the militants were short of ammunition, supplies,
and food, and on orders from the Chechen leadership, the militants
were now possibly being issued drugs.[lxii]
19 January, the Mayak Radio Network reported that the Russian
Federation flag was flying over the Presidential Palace in Grozny.
While many assumed that the fighting was over, combat continued
for a month or so. The
battle to date had only included the northern and central parts of
Grozny. South of the
Sunzha, the Chechens still controlled much of the city.
Therefore, the raising of the flag was mostly a symbolic act.
It did, however, confirm Russian control over President
Dudayev's center of power and symbol of resistance.
ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January that Dudayev had lost control
over his forces, Chechen communications had become unreliable, and
foreign mercenaries were now in the second echelon.
Dudayev's militants reportedly killed those who ran away.[lxiii] Dudayev
moved to the southeastern district of the town (to the opposite side
of the Sunzha River) and replaced his bodyguard with Lithuanian
report had Dudayev taking refuge in the bomb shelter of City Hospital
No. 5 along with a 150-200 man guard force, while a new headquarters
was being prepared for him in the mountain regions of Chechnya.[lxv]
battles continued to rage in the southern sections of Grozny.
Russian reinforcements continued to be rushed in from as far
away as the Pacific Fleet. It
was not until 21 January that group West and group North (now
containing elements of group East and the remnants of the Main Assault
Force from the North) met in the center of Grozny.
The Chechens moved to the southeast section of the city and
established a bridgehead on the other side of the Sunzha River.
A few days later, the Russian army began a month-long final
assault on those positions.[lxvi]
Also on the 21st, Russian reporting indicated that the
situation in the center of Grozny had somewhat eased.[lxvii]
Russian Federal Counterintelligence Service director Sergey
Stepashin noted that about 3,500 Chechen militants still remained in
Grozny, however. Vladimir
Polozhentsev of Ostankino TV reported that military and political
leaders of the Chechen Republic were preparing provocations in the
region, aiming to exacerbate ethnic tensions and destabilize the
situation in the North Caucasus in general.[lxviii]
On 22 January, new agencies reported that elements of the
Chechen population were beginning to insist that Dudayev's men
occupying villages surrounding Grozny must leave and take their
weapons with them (to include mobile missile launchers, etc.).[lxix] In
Grozny, however, militants continued to lay mines along the routes of
their retreat, to recruit new fighters, to bring in reserves, and to
set up command posts to the south of the river Sunzha.
Fifty new mercenaries with blue berets and the inscription
"Ukraine" had also appeared.[lxx]
On the 24th of January, ITAR-TASS reported that army troops and
Internal Forces were preparing to form "commandant zones."
They also formed a garrison procurator's office.
Militant actions now were only occurring at night and appeared
to lack synergy. However,
some Chechen units were bribing people to provoke aggressive actions,
and some representatives of the Chechen clergy still were reported to
be calling on local residents for terrorist acts against Russian
Russian forces continued their artillery bombardment of the
outlying districts of Grozny. Russian Defense Minister Grachev felt the scattered
resistance to be insignificant, and believed that there were no
population centers in Chechnya where bandit formations could mount
serious opposition to federal forces.[lxxii]
This assessment would be proven tragically wrong.
The normally antigovernment radio station Ekho Moskvy noted
that federal forces had basically completed their tasks, and that the
MVD would have the city under its total control by the end of January.
Then only MVD and troops from the North Caucasus Military
District would be left in Chechnya.[lxxiii]
On 26 January, Radio Rossii reported that Security Council
Secretary Oleg Lobov disclosed that, until a general election was
held, an interim administrative body would be set up to rule Chechnya.[lxxiv]
Also on the 26th, a final situation report was offered by
ITAR-TASS. Clearly the
essence of the report was that the Internal Forces now were in charge.
While federal troops continued to combat militants on the
Sunzha River left bank, Internal Forces
...blocked the main routes of movement of Chechen
militants, sealed off the areas of dislocation of armed formations,
and blocked the administrative border of the Chechen republic in order
to prevent an inflow of bands, mercenaries, weapons, and military
hardware, as well as protected communications, roads and bridges, and
inspected transport vehicles.[lxxv]
on 26 January, control of the fighting on the Russian side was
transferred to the MVD in the person of General Anatoliy Kulikov,
commander of the Internal Forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
(some 290,000 soldiers at the time). All Russian armed forces in
Chechnya were now under his control. He still had much work to do to
complete the capture of the city.
from 31 January indicated that Russian troops were blocking streets,
engaged in street fighting and repulsing attacks of armed groups.
Thus, the indication was that the Chechens would not leave the city
either quickly or easily. In
addition, Russian troops reported directing intensified shelling on
Minutka Square, a key transport and communication intersection a few
kilometers to the southeast of the Presidential Palace.
A large number of Chechen forces were reportedly concentrating
there. Mobile groups as large as thirty to forty men were in the area.[lxxvi]
On 2 February, Kulikov noted that the army and Internal Forces
were continuing to succeed in pushing the Chechens out of Grozny,
underscoring that the larger part of the city was under Russian
control. Part of
Oktyabrskiy District, another key road intersection in the south of
the city (near Minutka Square), remained under Dudayev's control.
Russian forces used the Shmel flamethrower to destroy strong
points and snipers and began to demonstrate more confidence in their
Troops continued disarming Chechen formations in Grozny and
organized police work in the Leninskiy district of Grozny.
The Chechens, however, maintained that they retained control of
the right bank of the Sunzha and that they continued to smash Russian
special subunits. On 3 February, the Russian bridgehead was expanded to
Leningrad Street where it crossed Yakutskiy Street.
As a result, Kulikov noted that a "turning point" was
now in sight,[lxxviii]
and on 5 February, Minister of Defense Grachev stated that control was
established over Minutka Square and over the southern approaches to
The Chechens, however, still held out and decided not to give
up the city without a fight. On
February 6, Kulikov noted that some of his forces in the city were
under multiple rocket launcher and heavy artillery attacks from the
few items of this sort in the Chechen inventory (obtained before the
war illegally, or acquired during the fight for Grozny).
Countering these threats required the operational subordination
of Defense Ministry tanks and helicopters to the Internal Forces,
equipment not standard issue to the MVD.
The Chechens reported that they still held most of the
Oktyabrskiy District and the suburb of Chernorechye in the southern
and southwestern parts of Grozny, while Russian reporting countered
these claims. In
addition, snipers and small formations of Chechens infiltrated the
city in some regions and continued to battle the Russian blockade in
other areas. On 8
February, the city was reported to be 80% under the control of the
Internal Forces of General Kulikov, but Chechen mobile assault groups
still remained. At night,
the Chechens continued to rule the streets, and it was then that most
of the Russian casualties occurred.
Supposedly, the Chechen main command had evacuated the city and
moved to other, smaller cities, leaving only a reconnaissance and
harassment force in place.[lxxx]
This tactic of "successive cities" was a recurrent
theme throughout the war.
A significant development very much related to the battlefield
activities underway was the announcement on 8 February that a Bureau
for Current Information and a Mobile Information Center were being
established under the federal executive authorities' Territorial
Administration in the Chechen Republic.
Yevgeniy Ivanov was appointed chief of the Press Service Mobile
Information Center. Representatives of the public relations center of all the
Security Services were also included in the work of the center.[lxxxi]
This would finally allow the Russian press service to control
some of the reporting from Chechnya and would allow all of the
services to sing from a common sheet of music. To date, Russia had completely lost the "information
war" because it had allowed the Chechens (who even gave reporters
access to operational material) to control the reporting.
battle for Grozny continued until 23 February.
On the 16th, a ceasefire was declared to exchange
prisoners and the wounded. Combat
resumed on the 20th, and the Russians seized the heights
above the area of Novye Promysly.
This was important in that Dudayev's television broadcasting
center was located there on Hill 373.
The Chechens tried to retake the hill three days later, but
failed and instead fled to other cities or into the mountains.
By 23 February, Dudayev's remaining detachments were
surrounded in the areas of Novye Promysly, Aldy, and Chernorech'e.
Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov commented on the final withdrawal of
his forces from Grozny. He
expressed pride at the accomplishments of his men over the past month
and termed the current situation not a retreat but a planned
withdrawal. He added that
his Chechen force did not possess Russia's superiority in artillery,
tanks, and planes, but that if one of his men had ten RPGs, then he
expected eight tanks to be destroyed.
One Chechen fighter added the following:
I never thought that I would see this happen. There
will be much blood paid for this. The Russians have made a bad, bad
mistake. But we did manage to hold out here for 37 days-Berlin
lasted only two weeks in 1945. This war will continue, only now it
will be one without front lines.[lxxxii]
When a shot is fired in the Caucasus, the echo lasts
Thus, at the end of February, after
nearly 40 days of sustained battle, the fight for Grozny was over. The Chechens moved on to other cities, a habit they followed
throughout the course of the war (which ended in August 1996).
Perhaps the Chechen's initial success in Grozny was the
motivation for this tactic. They
found out in the first few weeks of January 1994 that, even when badly
out-manned and out-equipped, the city offered them unique
advantages-familiarity with the terrain, the employment of surprise,
and the use of nonlinear and asymmetric tactics, among others.
The Chechens gained confidence in their ability to withstand
even the most ferocious Russian armed offensive.
They did so in spite of no air support at all.
The Russians, for their part, did not consider the battle for
Grozny a victory as much as they did a successful operation.
They suffered incredible losses in the first week of fighting
and then drew on the experience of their artillery forces and storm
detachments to collect themselves and conduct block-by-block fighting
until they eventually drove the Chechens out of the city.
Simultaneously, the Russian forces began the process of turning
the local population against them.
Unfortunately, the Russians maintained an air of arrogance
after this success that eventually led to their defeat and expulsion
from the Republic in the August 1996 battle for Grozny.
and Chechen Lessons Learned
The January 1995 battle for Grozny offered lessons learned from
a variety of perspectives. What
follows are four different looks at the fighting.
First, there is the reporting of Russian military
correspondents-beginning with Igor Korotchenko-who were in the
city during the fight. Second, there are named and unnamed Russian military
specialists who wrote for journals and magazines, trying to explain
what happened in January 1995. Third,
there are some professional analyses by the Russian leaders of the
operation, such as Minister of Defense Grachev and the leader of the
main assault and later head of the North Caucasus Military District,
General Kvashnin. Finally, there are testimonies from Chechens who fought the
correspondent Igor Korotchenko, a civilian who had studied the ongoing
fighting in Chechnya closely over the months of December and January,
stated that is was critical to increase dramatically the use of
special troops and especially electronic warfare units in the combat
zone. He advocated
creating a total information vacuum by putting remotely controlled
portable jammers near guerilla bases and by suppressing satellite
communications channels used by Dudayev.
He also believed it was vital to force tactics on the Chechens
that put them at a disadvantage, such as night operations.
He also recommended not sending composite units to Chechnya
with servicemen selected from several units and thrown together for a
particular mission. Such
a selection process results in losses two to three times higher than
usual, according to Korotchenko.[lxxxiii]
reporter, Anatol Lieven, offered telling observations about the fight
for Grozny that could apply to any armed force.
For example, the effectiveness of even the best technologies
for urban warfare will depend on how confused and afraid the man using
them is. Furthermore, the capacity of social tradition to mobilize
fighters and impose a discipline on them goes beyond the "surface
discipline" (imposed by basic training) of a modern army.
Finally, failure can result from the limitations of firepower
when fighting a dispersed infantry opponent behind good cover.[lxxxiv]
lessons learned by Russia's military based on an analysis of
information also seeped into the papers.
Federal counterintelligence security service (FSK) director
Sergey Stepashin noted that the enemy's potential was underestimated
and Russian strength overestimated, and that Dudayev's Moscow
connections were not identified and his informers with connections in
high places continued to operate in place during the war.[lxxxv] Now
we understand, Stepashin added, that special services must have
special subdivisions to resolve the struggle against bandit groups and
particularly dangerous criminals who head criminal structures.[lxxxvi]
Another commentator noted that the Russian army had to fulfill
its task while an "information war" was conducted behind its
back with its own country's propaganda machine firing the shots![lxxxvii]
The truth of the matter was that the Russian military refused
to allow cameramen or journalists to interview their soldiers.
Dudayev, on the other hand, understood full well the
implications of the press and had it dancing to his tune.
He showed the press what he wanted it to see, put his own spin
on events through interviews, and along with his propaganda chief
Udugov, literally won the information war without opposition.
The second lesson learned was that opinions of Russian
military professionals writing for journals and newspapers had
influence. One lengthy
critique of the operation, supposedly written by an unidentified but
highly placed military officer writing for
Novaya Yezhednevnaya Gazeta, noted shortcomings in so many
areas that it appeared that the Russian armed forces must nearly be
incompetent (which was not the case).[lxxxviii]
The officer listed troop preparation shortcomings such as poor
morale and physical preparations. He noted a lack of training for a
march or offensive combat, weak knowledge of materiel and armaments,
weak fighting and weapon skills, poorly trained drivers, and a lack of
confidence in using armaments. He
added that the force lacked an overall knowledge of the rules of
engagement against targets of opportunity and moving targets, first
aid and administering antishock drugs, ambush preparations and means
of movement, and target designation with smoke.
Finally, he stated that there was poor use of smoke screens and
sniper groups to neutralize enemy gun crews; poor preparation of
assault groups to destroy enemy fire positions, pillboxes, and
emplacements; and poor training in the use of flamethrowers and
grenade launchers. In
addition, personnel did not carry identification tags according to
this officer, making their
identification in case of death difficult.[lxxxix]
April 1995, an article about the fight for Grozny appeared in the
Russian military journal. Armeyskiy
Sbornik (Army Journal).
One of the first to address lessons learned in a professional
journal, the article, entitled "Sweeping Built Up Areas,"
did more than hint at some of the problems encountered by Russian
commanders. It noted the
importance of unexpectedly, quickly, and completely sealing off areas
to the enemy, and the requirement to establish two rings of
encirclement, the first 2-3 km from the main objective and the second
on the outskirts of the city. Another
problem was inability of tanks, BMPs, and other vehicles to cover the
advance of ground troops and the lack of even "amateur"
improvements to fighting vehicles and firing positions (such as
putting screens on armor made from fine mesh metal netting, or filling
cartridge and shell boxes with crushed rock, broken brick, or gravel
to reduce the effect of rounds fired at the vehicle).[xc] The article also revealed that on many occasions
one Russian unit fired on another due to Chechen chicanery.
For example, during the assault on Grozny:
Mortars mounted on Kamaz trucks fire one salvo and
immediately moved to another area. They have learned to skillfully
disorient fire spotters [forward observers], often creating a friendly
fire situation. Thus, on the eve of the taking of the palace, a
Russian Grad multiple rocket launcher fired on its own reconnaissance
forces. Troops subjected each other to a half-hour of fire on
approaches to Grozny, while motorized riflemen tested the strength of
airborne personnel while moving up to the train station.[xci]
to Russian guidelines, the Russian force was undermanned for the
operation. For combat in cities, the ratio of offensive and defensive
forces must be four or five to one in favor of the attacker.[xcii]
This was not the case in Grozny. I t was apparent that
50,000-60,000 men were needed to storm Grozny.
In 1941 when Kalinin was liberated, a ratio of 4:1 was needed.
On 3 January, only 5,000 Russian soldiers were in the city.
In addition, the element of surprise was lost, and Dudayev
reinforced his men with replacements from the south.
This general situation sometimes is forgotten during the
interpretation of lessons learned after the fight ended, but it
greatly affected the course and outcome of the battle.
officers interviewed in Moscow after the fight noted that elements of
the Russian force appeared unprepared in both training and planning to
fight in built-up areas. There
were few local guides to move Russian forces through the city.
As a result, Russian forces ended up in gardens and dead-end
streets. A major problem
encountered by both the MVD and the Army was identifying Chechen
guerilla forces who would walk around the city, sometimes wearing Red
Cross arm bands, and then fire at Russian personnel from windows or
dark alleyways. To
distinguish fighters from peaceful city dwellers, the army and MVD
began looking at men's shoulders of men for evidence of bruising
(from firing weapons) and at forearms for burned hair or flesh from
the extraction of hot cartridges.
They closely examined clothing and smelled for gunpowder
in order to identify a Chechen artilleryman, Russian soldiers looked
for glossy spots left by artillery and mortar rounds on the bends and
cuffs of sleeves. Pockets that carried cartridges, if turned inside out, showed
a shiny, silvery-leaden hue. A
grenade launcher operator or mortar man was recognized from fibers and
crumpled pieces of gun cotton (cotton wool in the original) on
to many Russian officers, Chechen use of the antitank, or
rocket-propelled grenade launcher (RPG), was the most effective city
weapon. I t could be used in the direct or indirect (that is, set up
like a mortar) fire mode and was effective against people, vehicles,
or helicopters as area or point weapons.
Russia used the flamethrower to drive snipers from their nests
and clear buildings for the initial entry of Russian forces.
Two other initial Russian mistakes were that they did not
always properly employ infantrymen in support of armor attacks (they
followed behind armor instead of feeling out Chechen ambush sites),
and they did not hold an area once it had been cleared.[xcv]
third lesson learned was that some high-ranking Russian defense
officials offered a more optimistic picture of what had transpired.
Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and General Staff Chief Anatoliy
Kvashnin, in interviews on 1 and 2 March 1995, presented their urban
combat lessons learned. Their
comments indicated they understood clearly the problems encountered by
their forces and that their forces now had to implement solutions.
To Grachev, the main reasons for the initial failure to fulfill
tasks were the lack of experience in fighting in cities, the lack of
resolve of some commanders, and the inadequate morale and
psychological preparation of personnel.[xcvi]
Different rules, different laws, and a different pace applied,
since forces were fighting within Russia.
The armed forces and MVD units lacked coordination. This forced
some units to slow down or stop on some routes.
The General Staff had to coordinate training and planning with
other ministries in peacetime and in wartime and to review
relationships with the mass media and public organizations to keep
patriotism high during a conflict.[xcvii]
Grachev underscored that Grozny demanded tactical changes in
the way Russian forces would conduct city fights, especially in terms
of manning assault units, improving sniper activities, carrying out
intelligence operations, and even explanatory work among the
population. Colonel General Kvashnin noted that this was a real war,
one begun by politicians and they had to end it.
The army is merely a means of waging a large or small war and
is unfamiliar with the techniques of waging a war on Russian
Finally, Chechen lessons learned were worthwhile to study for
their insights on fighting a force that both greatly outnumbers them
and is theoretically more organized for urban warfare. The Chechens
fought in a non-traditional way, with rapid mobile units instead of
fixed defenses. One key
lesson was the importance of the sniper and the RPG gunner, or a
combination of the two. For
example, snipers were employed to draw fire from a Russian force, and
then a Chechen ambush position overlooking the activities of the
sniper would open fire on the Russian column fighting the sniper.
Additionally, forces could operate successfully in an
independent mode. Both regular and volunteer forces under President
Dudayev learned to work in a specific area or respond to calls for
assistance. While command was less centralized than in the Russian force,
Motorola radios made coordination possible.
Chief of Staff Maskhadov directed his forces to fight in small
groups, although this limited their ability to engage in extended
combat. When the Chechens
were able to force Russian soldiers from a building
They left at most five of their fighters in the
building. After some time, the Russians would counterattack and
concentrate at least a company against the building.but having taken
back the building they invariably found only a few bodies of Chechen
fighters. Also whenever the Russian soldiers took up defensive
positions, they customarily positioned several people in every
building, thus diluting their forces.[xcix]
It was also reported that the Chechens would fire a
"fuga" into a window before attacking. A "fuga"
was an RPG-7 round with two 400-gram pieces of trotyl explosives
attached with adhesive tape. The Chechens also attached napalm to
antitank grenades, which would help damage the turret of the target.[c]
most detailed Chechen lessons learned came from interviews with
Chechen fighters some three or four years after the fighting ended.
In one interview, entitled "Chechen Commander: Urban
Warfare in Chechnya," a Chechen commander listed some
recommendations for conducting urban operations against both regular
and irregular forces based on his experience.[ci]
First, study the people. One
must understand the enemy in detail, and not only from a military and
political sense, but also from a cultural sense.
Chechen forces suffered only minimal psychological trauma due
to their warrior ethic, heritage of resistance to Russian control, and
sense of survival. Chechens
also used non-combatants to exercise psychological deception on the
urban battlefield. They
declared some villages and suburbs as "pro-Russian" or
non-committed when in fact these same areas were centers for strategic
planning, command and control, and logistic purposes.
This was a well-conducted information operation against the
Second, know the territory.
Key terrain in a city is at the micro level.
Do not rely on streets, signs, and most buildings as reference
points. Use prominent
buildings, and monuments instead as they usually remain intact.
It was better to conduct reconnaissance by day and attack at
night, which the Russians did not like to do.
When forty Ukrainian volunteers signed up to support the
Chechens, they were required to conduct detailed reconnaissance with
Chechens before entering combat.
Third, study the opposition's weapons and equipment, and how
this equipment might be employed in an urban environment.
The "national weapon" of the Chechens was the RPG.
Destroying armor was a great psychological defeat for the
Russians and a great morale booster to the Chechens.
The most effective weapon system employed against pure infantry
was the sniper, a casualty producer, psychological weapon, and
impediment to rapid movement. Nothing
could slow down a force as much as the sniper.
Chechens feared the Russian mortars more than any other weapon
in the city, but learned to employed their own with great skill as
well. The Chechen force
began the battle for Grozny with individual protective equipment but
soon discarded it because it impaired mobility in the urban
environment. The Motorola
hand-held radio was the primary communications device.
There was one radio for every six combatants but it would have
been preferable to have one per combatant.
Little encryption was used, only the Chechen language.
At the national equivalent of headquarters, access was
available to INMARSAT.[cii]
The Chechen force also was very successful in redirecting
Russian artillery and fighter fire to rain down on Russian forces.
Chechen hunter-killer units would sneak between two Russian
positions in the city, especially at night, and fire in one direction
and then the other before moving out of the area.
Thinking they were under attack, the Russian units would fire
at each other, sometimes for hours. Many such episodes of fratricide
were reported among the Russian ranks.
The Chechens were also very interested in capturing or
obtaining any Shmel thermobaric weapon system available.
The Shmel is a 93mm caliber Russian flamethrower that is 920mm
long and weighs 12kg. It has a maximum range of 1,000 meters, a sighting maximum of
600 meters, and a minimum range of 20 meters.
The Shmel strongly resembles the U.S. Army's light antitank
weapon (LAW) of the 1970s. The
Russian force, to explain extensive damage to buildings in Grozny,
stated that the Chechens had captured a boxcar full of Shmel weapons
and were now using them indiscriminately. The Shmel was important
because both sides realized a "heavy blast" direct-fire
weapon system was a must for urban warfare. They also could be used
against vehicles and fortified positions as a breaching device.
the Chechen force (by necessity) went into battle as light as
possible. Mobility was the key to success against the slower and
heavier Russian force, in the opinion of the Chechen commander.
Organizationally, the Chechen force had seven-man subgroups
(armor hunter-killer teams, a number slightly different than the
six-man groups reported earlier) that contained three
riflemen/automatic riflemen/ammunition bearers, two RPG gunners, one
sniper, and one medic/corpsman. Three
of these subgroups made up the majority of a 25-man group or platoon,
and three of these platoons formed 75-man groups.
The Chechen force exploited Russian disorientation by moving
behind and parallel to the Russian force once it entered the city.
Snipers set up in hide positions that supported their
respective platoons. The
Chechen commander, according to the person who interviewed him,
described the ambushes/assaults in the following manner:
Each 75-man ambush group set up in buildings along
one street block, and only on one side of the street-never on both
sides of a street because of the cross fires a two-sided ambush would
create. Only the lower levels of multi-story buildings were occupied
to avoid casualties. One 25-man platoon comprised the "killer
team" and set up in three positions along the target avenue. They
had the responsibility for destroying whatever column entered their
site. The other two 25-man platoons set up in the buildings at the
assumed entry-points to the ambush site. They had responsibility for
sealing off the ambush entry from escape by or reinforcement of the
ambushed forces. The killer platoon established a command point
(platoon HQ) with the center squad. As the intended target column
entered the site, the squad occupying the building nearest the entry
point would contact the other two squads occupying the center and far
building positions. Primary means of communications was by Motorola
radio. Once the lead vehicle into the site reached the far squad
position, the far squad would contact the other two squads. The
commander at the central squad would initiate or signal to initiate
the ambush. Minefields were employed to reinforce ambushes by taking
out reinforcing armor and to relieve pressure on the killer platoons
in case the ambush bogged down.[ciii]
U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence Activity analyst Arthur Speyer,
speaking about the battle for Grozny to an audience at RAND, noted
several Chechen weaknesses from a U.S. perspective.
First, the greatest weakness of the Chechens was their
inability to conduct an extensive engagement.
The small size of the Chechen units, coupled with their limited
ammunition supplies, caused them to avoid large-scale battles.
The Russians discovered that drawing the Chechens into a long
engagement would allow the Russian force the time to surround the
position and use overwhelming fire support.
Control was another problem for Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov.
He stated that many of the independent groups decided for
themselves when, where, and how long they would remain in combat.
On more than one occasion, Maskhadov noted that local militia
forces would simply pick up and go home when they got bored, tired or
cold. Troops were
required to withstand long periods of intense combat with limited
resupply and rest.
The lessons of the fight for Gronzy are many and quite sobering
for anyone who contemplates using troops in an urban environment. While some of the lessons learned by Russian and Chechen
combatants are peculiar to that region, others have wider
applicability. No army
wants to engage in urban combat, but increasing urbanization and the
danger of strikes from high-precision weapons may well force the fight
into the city, where the defender has all the advantages.
The Chechen decision to continue to fight from "successive
cities" is indicative of their reliance on this tactic.
Russian analysts viewed the Grozny operation as a success but one that
fell far short of a victory. Many
pointed directly to the High Command as guilty of sending troops into
battle before they were prepared and for implementing a less than
complete plan. One analyst called the top brass the "Children of August
-1991" (a reference to those who came to power after the failed
coup in 1991 against then General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev).
Their dramatic upward climb came after they disobeyed their
superiors, such as current Defense Minister Pavel Grachev's decision
to support Boris Yeltsin and not his superior at the time, Soviet
Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov, the first such case in the army's
Colonel General Boris Gromov, the last commander of the 40th
Army to leave Afghanistan, was relieved of his duties by one of the
"Children of August." Gromov
had hesitated in putting his support behind the fight in Chechnya.
He noted that Russian specialists did not take into account the
historical, national, religious, geographical, and meteorological
factors, all of which should have affected the planning and time of
year for such an intervention. Most unfortunate of all, the battle for Grozny was only two
months of what would become a 21-month war.
Russian officer noted that a deeper understanding was required by
Russian military and political leaders of when and how to use force.
As a result, it was recommended that political leaders
participate in short courses at the General Staff Academy.
This idea is not new. For
the past five or so years, Harvard University has been conducting
classes for selected members of the Russian leadership.
Each class received instruction in the basic principles of the
use of force from a U.S. perspective.
Obviously the planners of the battle for Grozny ignored this
military-political guidance. The
Russian armed forces lacked criteria for the development of rules of
instruction in combat-in-cities was lacking in the curriculum of the
academies, even if at the expense of large-scale wars (for example,
the tactics of assault detachments and shock groups need updating to
include modern equipment and techniques).
Further, the Russian government did not understand how low the
military had sunk in terms of readiness in the past five years.
Lip service to military reform by politicians had not worked,
and the military leadership needed to throw off its pompous attitude.
Preparation for urban combat begins in peacetime and requires
the development of an extensive set of conditions under which the
fight will be attempted. A
vast template of courses of action, options, constraints, limitations,
force mixes, enemy compositions, legal factors, and city
characteristics must be studied and digested before decisions are
made. Two of the most important conclusions drawn from Grozny
are that there is no standard urban combat operation and reinforcing
failure to attain success does not necessarily result in culmination.
First, each operation is unique to the opponent, the city,
specific operational and tactical issues, and geopolitical
considerations, among other factors.
This is a difficult, crucial task for any army, but especially
for one moving from a forward deployed to an expeditionary state as
the U.S. is attempting. The
requirements to sufficiently sustain or support urban combat become
enormous. Second, the Chechens were eventually evicted from Grozny
after 37 days of fighting. This
initial Russian success in Grozny did not last.
In August 1996, the Chechen force recaptured the city, and the
Russians were never able to culminate their effort and left Chechnya
later that month. However,
the Chechens were only to lose Grozny again to the Russians in January
2000 in the second Chechen-Russian conflict.
As more information becomes available, a look at these latter
battles for Grozny would also be educational and informative for the
Varied sources, speaking from their own national
perspective, are used in the writing of this chapter. It is
impossible to check the reliability of each account since the
authors cannot be reached personally. Thus, the reader should keep
in mind that each account of an incident depended to a great
degree on one's perspective (Russian military, Chechen fighter,
Russian journalist). The author has tried to include all
perspectives in the retelling of this battle and to avoid terms
such as freedom fighter or rebel when describing the Chechens.
2. Luisa Meireles,
Interview with Ramazan Abdulatipov, Expresso, 4 February
1993, p. 20 as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-025, 7 February 1995, p.
3. Anatoly Sergeeevich
Kulikov, "The First Battle of Grozny," Appendix B of RAND
report Capital Preservation: Preparing for Urban Operations in
the Twenty-First Century, pp. 13-58, based on Kulikov's
remarks at a March 2000 conference in Santa Monica, California.
Moscow News, December 16-22, 1994, No. 50, p 1, 2.
Vyzhutovich, "Chechnya Will Spurn Kremlin's
20 December 1994, p 2, as reported in FBIS-SOV-94-244, p 19.
6. Anatoliy Kulikov, from a
speech delivered by General Kulikov in Santa Monica, California at
the RAND Research Institute in March 2000.
Moscow News, December 16-22, 1994, No. 50, p 1, 2.
Kvashnin, "Troops Acquired Combat Maturity in Grave Ordeals;
from Speech Delivered by Colonel General A. Kvashin at 28 February
Assembly of Armed Forces Leading Personnel," Krasnaya
Zvezda, 2 March 1995, p 3 as translated and published in
FBIS-SOV-95-044, 7 March 1995, p 23.
15. Mayak Radio, 1 January
1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-001, 3 January 1995, p 24.
16. Dodge Billingsley,
"Interview with Ilias Akhmadov," The Harriman Review,
Columbia University Press, Vol. 2, # 2-3, Winter 1999-2000, pp.
17. Based on an interview
with Arthur Speyer, who interviewed several Chechen fighters after
the first battle for Grozny.
18. Aleksandr Zhilin,
Interview with Colonel General Boris Gromov, Moskovskiy
Novosti, No 1, 8-15 January 1995, pp. 1, 5.
Litovkin, "Shooting the 131st Maykop Brigade," Izvestiya, 11 January 1995, p 4, as reported in
FBIS-SOV-95-008, 12 January 1995, p 37. Litovkin included in his
report actual interviews with participants from the battle. In
another report, a high-ranking Russian officer said losses were
not as great as this. He said 210 of the 450 men originally listed
as missing were discovered in hospitals or other units. Only 26
were registered as killed. See INTERFAX, 17 January 1995, as
reported in FBIS-SOV-95-011, 18 January 1995, p 27. A report
appeared in Red Star on the 11th that said the losses
sustained by the 81st Guards MRR in Grozny on 1 January were
greatly exaggerated. To date only 16 soldiers and 6 officers died
in combat, according to the article. However, the report also
noted that no data was available on 463 servicemen listed as
missing!! The report indicated many soldiers were scattered all
over Grozny and were slowly returning to the unit. How many may
have been in the pile of bodies near the Presidential Palace was
not mentioned. See Aleksandr Bugay and Oleg Bedula, "About the
81st MRR: Reliable Information with No Sensations," Krasnaya
Zvezda, 11 January 1995, p 1, as reported in
FBIS-SOV-95-007, 11 January 1995, p 31. As it turned out, this was
a Russian attempt to cover up their massive losses in the first
few days of January 1995.
Pavel Felgenhauer, "The Chechen Campaign," p. 14 from a
talk given at a conference in Monterey California on 7 November
Novostii, No 86, 17-24 December 1995, p 6, as printed in The
Current Digest, Vol. XLVII, No. 50 (1995), p 17, 18.
23. ITAR-TASS, 19 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-013. 20
January 1995, p 22
24. From the author's discussion with Ms. Garrels in Moscow,
19 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-013. 20 January 1995,
Merezhko, "Caucasian Prisoners, or Pawns are in the Hands of
Amateurs," Sluzhba, 20 December 1994, p 1, as reported
in JPRS-UMA-95-003, 31 January 1995, p 11.
Grachev: Russian Unity Defended," Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 2 March 1995 p 2 as reported in
FBIS-SOV-95-042, 3 March 1995, p 21.
28. Moscow Russian TV, 4 January 1995, as reported in
FBIS-SOV-95-003, 5 January 1995, p 12.
Mayak, 4 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-004, 6 January
1995, p 15.
5 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-004, 6 January 1995, p
4 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-002, 4 January 1995, p
Mayak Radio, 5 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-004, 6
January 1995, p 17.
6 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January 1995, p
TV, 7 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January
1995, p 27.
9 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-006, 10 January p 4.
7 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January 1995, p
TV, 7 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January
1995, p 24.
38. Marine Corps Interview
with Grozny unit commander.
Vaynonen, "Television Camera Does Not Shoot, But It is
Vesti, 10 January 1995, p 1, as reported in
FBIS-SOV-95-006, 10 January p 8. For other reports on the
"victimization" of journalists by the military, see Oleg
Panfilov, "The Next Target-Journalists," Izvestiya,
6 January 1995, p 3, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January
1995, p 35 and INTERFAX, 10 January 1995, as reported in
FBIS-SOV-95-007, 11 January 1995, p 24.
Georgiyev, "The Chechen People Are for a Peaceful Life," Rossiyskiye Vesti, 24 January 1995, pp. 1, 2, as reported in
FBIS-SOV-95-015, 24 January 1995, p. 23.
TV, 8 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January
1995, p 11.
8 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January 1995, p
8 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January 1995, p
Mayak, 8 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January
1995, p 31.
AFP, 10 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-006, 10 January p
10 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-007, 11 January 1995,
RIA, 9 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-008-A, 12 January
1995, p 11.
Radiostantsiya Ekho Moskvy, 8 January 1995, as reported in
FBIS-SOV-95-005, 9 January 1995, p 28.
10 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-007, 11 January 1995,
Ekho Moskvy, 10 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-007, 11
January 1995, p 35.
RIA, 10 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-008-A, 12 January
1995, p 5.
11 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-007, 11 January 1995,
Ostankino TV, 11 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-009, 13
January 1995, p 32.
Ekho Moskvy, 12 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-009, 13
January 1995, p 38.
Messana and Catherine Triomphe, Paris AFP, 13 January 1995, as
reported in FBIS-SOV-95-009, 13 January 1995, p 14.
2x2, 14 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-010, 17 January
1995, p 31.
16 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-010, 17 January 1995,
Radiostantsiya Ekho Moskvy, 15 January 1995,
as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-010, 17 January 1995, p 31.
14 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-010, 17 January 1995,
16 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-010, 17 January 1995,
p 32. For a more complete account of shock units and assault
detachments see Mr. Les Grau, "Russian Urban Tactics: Lessons
from the Battle for Grozny," National Defense University
Strategic Forum, Number 38, July 1995.
17 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-010, 17 January 1995,
19 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-013, 20 1995, pp 19.
19 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-013, 20 January 1995,
Radio, 19 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-013, 20 January
1995, p 19. Apparently, contracts were also being concluded with
those Chechens of this district who wanted to participate in
opposing the Russians.
21 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-014, 23 January 1995,
Ostankino TV, 21 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-014, 23
January 1995, p 26.
22 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-014, 23 January 1995,
22 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-014, 23 January 1995,
24 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-016, 25 January 1995,
24 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-016, 25 January 1995,
Ekho Moskvy, 23 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-015, 24
January 1995, p 30.
Rossii, 26 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-017, 26
January 1995, p 12.
26 January 1995, as reported in FBIS-SOV-95-018, 27 January 1995,