In August 1996 the two sides initiated a cease-fire and for the remainder of the year made steady progress toward a political settlement. Russian troops completed their withdrawal from Chechnya, leaving the separatist forces in effective control of the Chechen Republic. The two sides agreed to hold elections in early 1997 and to resolve Chechnya's status within 5 years.
For the most part, the Russian media operated freely in reporting on the Chechen conflict despite government pressure and heavy-handed treatment by Russian troops in the war zone. The Constitutional Court found the Government's efforts to ban certain journalists from the war zone unconstitutional. While journalists were permitted back into the war zone, pressures against them continued. Several journalists were killed during the war, some deliberately, others accidentally; other journalists were kidnaped.
In 1995 and early 1996, Chechen forces fought from mountain enclaves, into which they had been driven by Russian forces with superior firepower and air support. The Chechens used various opportunities to attack targets outside their enclaves, including the Budennovsk raid of June 1995. On several occasions, Russian forces continued bombardments of Chechen strongholds after Yeltsin had announced a cease-fire.
In numerous well-documented incidents, federal troops used excessive force against the separatist forces and recklessly put civilians in harm's way. Federal use of helicopter gunships and artillery bombardments were cited as the most frequent causes of death among civilians. Prior to attacks, Russian forces often would encircle a village and issue an ultimatum to surrender weapons, troops, and money or face attack. Often, however, even those villages that complied with those terms were subjected to Russian attack. Civilians were often forced to pay federal forces for permission to escape areas under attack through "humanitarian corridors;" in some cases, however, civilians--including women--were fired upon while transiting these corridors.
Breaking a cease-fire shortly after the presidential election, federal forces launched a "preemptive strike" on 10 July 1996 against Geikhi, a village in which Chechen forces said there were no rebel soldiers. The attack, which was preceded by aerial and artillery bombardments, killed at least 20 civilians. Similar attacks were mounted in July against the villages of Mairtup, Kurchaloy, and Artury. Attempts by federal forces in August to hold Groznyy were also characterized by indiscriminate use of air power and artillery, destroying several residential buildings and a hospital, according to credible sources.
In March 1996 federal forces shelled the village of Sernovodsk while refusing to allow civilians to leave the area, resulting in numerous deaths. Similarly, in an assault on Samashki, the federal forces gave inhabitants 2 hours' warning to evacuate before shelling commenced. Once the bombardment started, Chechen men were not permitted to leave.
Domestic and international human rights groups compiled a substantial number of credible accounts of torture and other cruel and inhuman or degrading punishment of Chechens by Russian military and internal security forces during the Chechen conflict. These abuses include beatings of combatants as well as of unarmed civilians suspected of involvement with, or support for, the secessionist Chechen rebels.
Federal forces used "filtration centers" to detain suspected separatists and supporters. Detainees were frequently subjected to torture during interrogation in these centers. Russian forces took hostages through the filtration center apparatus--including civilians--and used these hostages to exchange for federal prisoners held by the separatists.
Incidents were reported in the Russian press of undisciplined federal forces engaging in theft, looting, assault, rape, and murder--frequently while intoxicated. There are many documented cases of junior officers and ordinary soldiers participating in such incidents.
Separatist forces also violated international humanitarian law by taking and executing hostages and using prisoners as human shields. In January 1996 Chechen forces took about 100 civilians hostage in the city of Kizlyar and then transported them to Pervomayskoye (both in Dagestan). Following a stand-off of several days during which federal authorities claimed that hostages were executed, federal forces bombarded the settlement, resulting in extensive property damage and killing an unknown number of hostages and Chechen rebels. During the crisis, another group of rebels hijacked a passenger ship on the Black Sea with many Russians on board. The Turkish Government resolved the incident peacefully.
After the separatist takeover of Groznyy in August 1996, Chechen forces also carried out summary executions of civilians deemed collaborators. Even after the cease-fire came into force, separatist forces detained, tortured, and killed members of the Moscow-backed administration of Doku Zavgayev. During the January 1996 Pervomayskoye crisis, Chechen separatists tortured, burned alive, and left the remains of three hostages they had previously abducted from the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Efforts at producing a settlement, though ultimately successful, were uneven. In May 1996, during the final days of Yeltsin's reelection campaign, Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev signed a cease-fire with Yeltsin in Moscow, followed by full armistice protocols negotiated by the OSCE in the Ingush city of Nazran. The protocols set 30 August 1996 for withdrawal of "temporary" Russian forces (plans already existed for permanent stationing of two brigades), contingent on parallel disarmament of Chechen forces.
Russian military and political actions immediately before and after the protocols indicated little respect for their terms. The Russian-supported regime in Groznyy signed a draft political status on Chechnya without consulting the rebels, and the Russian Ministry of Defense reaffirmed its plan to keep troops in Chechnya indefinitely. Those circumstances indicated strongly that peace negotiations were a short-term strategy to reduce the Chechnya obstacle to Yeltsin's reelection in the summer of 1996.
The May 1996 cease-fire agreement lowered the intensity of the conflict for several weeks. Immediately after Yeltsin's victory, however, the federal forces unleashed an offensive that caused scores of civilian casualties, as they had in March 1996. At the end of June 1996, Russian forces began a partial withdrawal, but fighting continued in some regions, and negotiations stalled amid mutual recriminations. In July 1996 Russian forces began a new assault on villages described as harboring guerrilla forces, and Russia again seemed to lack a unified policy toward Chechnya. In subsequent weeks, Alexander Lebed took over the negotiations and in August 1996 he signed an agreement with Chechen commander Aslan Maskhadov that called for an end to hostilities, full exchange of prisoners, and joint administration by a coalition government. The agreement stated that Chechnya's political status would be decided within 5 years. Despite Yeltsin's dismissal of Lebed, the peace process continued during the fall and in November the two sides reached another agreement that called for the withdrawal of federal forces by the end of the year and the holding of elections in January 1997.
In February 1997 Russia approved an amnesty for Russian soldiers and Chechen rebels who committed illegal acts in connection with the war in Chechnya between December 9, 1994, and September 1, 1996. The pardon excluded crimes such as murder, rape, and hostage-taking, and ordered the establishment of a commission to review appeals for amnesty. Although many Chechen rebels, including Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basayev, were under indictment in Russia for commission of serious crimes during the war, there was no demonstrated attempt by Russian law-enforcement organs to bring such persons to justice. In effect, this selective amnesty was applied as a blanket amnesty.
President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov signed a peace agreement on 12 May 1997 in which both sides agreed to settle their dispute by peaceful means. In the earlier 1996 agreement, the two sides agreed to resolve Chechnya's political status prior to 2001, but fundamental differences remained on that question with Chechnya asserting that it has earned the right to full independence and Russia insisting that Chechnya will remain a part of the Federation.
During 1998 no progress was reported on resolving differences between the two sides, particularly on the question of Chechnya's independence. Continued kidnapings and instability in Chechnya, where the Federal Government exercises virtually no authority, exacerbated tensions between federal and republican authorities. Kidnapings orchestrated by uncontrolled armed formations and bandits, some of which may have links to the former insurgent forces, have become frequent. The usual motivation for kidnapings is ransom, but some cases have political overtones. Both journalists and humanitarian assistance workers have been targets.
The exact routes for new pipelines from Central Asia and the Caspian basin are a matter of fierce dispute. Over 20 major Western oil companies; their Russian, Azeri and Kazakh partners; and the governments of Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran, Greece, and Bulgaria are variously advocating up to 10 alternative routes. For technical reasons, new pipelines must avoid the rugged Caucasus mountains between the Caspian and Black seas. The choice of routes is complicated politically by conflicts in Chechnya to the north, and in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey to the south.
The peace agreement cleared the way for the July 1997 tripartite agreement between Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Russia on early oil exports from Azerbaijan. While the deal allowed necessary repairs to begin on the existing oil pipeline, it did not settle the issues of regional security and pipeline tariffs. Chechnya and Russian transport company, Transneft, have also clashed in the past over the issue of tariffs and war reparations from Russia. Russia has offered to provide economic aid to Chechnya on the condition that Chechnya secures the safety of the northern route for early oil that passes through its borders.
Deadlocks over negotiations prompted Russia to announce that it would build another pipeline that would bypass Chechnya. One proposed alternative pipeline would use the northern route, but would add a new segment that would pass along the Chechen border in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan, and then go on towards the Stavropol region, ending at Terskoye in North Ossetia. Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Generalov stated in November 1998 that a lack of funding could cause this project to be shelved. In October 1998, Russia made another proposal to build a new pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan via Dagestan to Novorosissk in Russia, but the proposal was rejected by SOCAR of Azerbaijan. Dagestan has security concerns of its own, including the rise of rival factions. In May 1998, the seat of government in Makhachkala was stormed by a rival gang, and the failed coup resulted in accusations by the chairman of the Dagestan Supreme Council that the United States had supported the coup attempt as a means of discouraging interest in a Baku-Novorosissk route for the Main Export Pipeline (MEP) of the Azerbaijan International Oil Consortium (AIOC).
Estimates vary of the total number of casualties caused by the war. Russian Interior Minister Kulikov claimed that fewer than 20,000 civilians were killed while then-Secretary of the National Security Council Aleksandr Lebed asserted that 80,000 to 100,000 had been killed and 240,000 had been injured. Chechen spokesmen claim that the true numbers are even higher. Human rights groups estimate that over 4,300 soldiers from the federal forces were killed. In addition international organizations estimate that up to 500,000 people have fled Chechnya during the war. Many ethnic Chechens returned since the conflict ended.
Because of the poor performance of regular troops in Chechnya, Russia had been forced to use elite naval infantry and airborne assault units--the former gathered from fifty units of the Baltic Fleet and more than 100 ships or units of the Pacific Fleet. Airborne units from two divisions were used to end the Pervomayskoye hostage crisis in January 1996.
According to Russian and Western experts, the many serious command errors made in the Chechnya campaign were at least partly the result of a fragmented command system in which the lack of direct coordination deprived commanders of the ability to make timely decisions. A major cause of this problem was the lack of field training among all levels of the officer corps.
The Chechnya crisis was the most visible indication of the division in Russia's government over the application of military doctrine, and of a disintegration process that even Boris Yeltsin had recognized in 1994. With numerous declarations of sovereignty having emerged from ethnic republics and regions in 1991 and 1992, the 1993 military doctrine had stipulated that the military could be used against separatist groups within the federation, providing a theoretical justification for the Chechnya action. Many military authorities argued that such a campaign was foolhardy, given military budget cuts that made proper training and equipping of troops impossible. Nevertheless, the "war party" of officials and advisers surrounding Yeltsin failed to foresee the media storm that resulted from a bloody military struggle within the federation.
Through mid-1999 intermittent military clashes and other security related incidents (including increased incidents of kidnapping of aid workers and foreign nationals) continued in and around Chechnya.
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