Phase One - The Air Campaign - September 1999
Russia initially decided on a "cordon and bomb" strategy. At a minimum, the Russian military appeared to be planning to create a "security zone" between Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan to prevent the infiltration of Muslim rebels, to get control over the unrest in the North Caucasian province without having to occupy Chechnya as a whole. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the objective was to seal off the breakaway region, but many military analysts believed Russia was intent on reversing the humiliating defeat it suffered in Chechnya three years ago. President Boris Yeltsin said in mid-September that Russia was working to tighten the border around Chechnya and that all transport links with the breakaway region should be cut, as Interior Ministry sources said that more than one-thousand militants were gathering in Chechnya near the border with Dagestan.
As of 22 September 1999 Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov said that Russian troops had surrounded Chechnya and were prepared to retake the region that. Media reports said anywhere from 20-thousand to 50-thousand soldiers were massed along the Chechen border, most of them in neighboring Dagestan. But General Zubov said that military planners were advising against a ground invasion because of the likelihood of heavy Russian casualties.
Russia mounted a NATO-style air campaign over Chechnya for weeks, including several days of strikes in and around the regional capital, Grozny. Officials said the aim was to wipe out Chechen militants who invaded neighboring Dagestan last month. When the air strikes began, Chechnya's telephone system was among the first targets. Soon after, the electricity supply was cut. In addition to its other, more-serious consequences, the loss of electricity further crippled the Chechen administration's ability to compete in the information war. The air strikes were reported to have killed hundreds of civilians and forced at least 100-thousand Chechens to flee their homes. Residents trying to flee the capital have found roadblocks at the border, with cars lined up for several kilometers on the highway leading to neighboring Ingushetia.
Russian air force commander Anatoly Kornukov suggested there were similarities between the attacks on Chechnya and NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia. He said there would be no attacks on civilian targets, but video footage from Chechnya had shown evidence of civilians in Grozny killed when their homes were bombed.
On 23 September 1999 Russian forces bombed the airport at Chechnya's capital, Grozny, in the first Russian attack on the Chechen capital since the region's civil war ended in 1996. As of 25 September Russian warplanes had carried out 17-hundred sorties since the bombing runs began in outlying regions. Russian claimed that a total of 150 military bases have been destroyed, along with 30 bridges, 80 vehicles, six radio transmitters and 250 kilometers of mountain roads.
Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev vowed that the bombing of Chechnya would continue until, as he put it, "the last bandit is destroyed." Sergeyev refused to rule out the possibility of sending in ground troops, though for the time being the attacks were confined to air strikes. By the end of September Russian forces made repeated incursions onto Chechen soil, and had captured some territory.
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