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Renewed Fighting - 2002-2006

Over the summer of 2002, the Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov reunited the Chechen rebel factions, and gave government posts to radical commanders who had previously broken with him.

In a letter to world leaders released in mid-September 2002, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to world leaders accusing neighboring Georgia of harboring terrorists who have attacked Russia. Russia had long accused Georgia of allowing Chechen rebels to use Pankisi Gorge near Chechnya as a staging ground for attacks. The Russian leader said Tbilisi was harboring Chechen terrorists in the Pankisi gorge region of Georgia who had launched attacks on Russian soil. President Putin said Georgia had to take concrete actions to destroy the terrorists. If not, he said Russia would take adequate measures to counteract the terrorist threat, in strict accordance with international law. The letter was sent to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, members of the UN Security Council and members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Georgia rejected the Russian claims and criticism, and said it was successfully rooting out rebels from the gorge. In Tbilisi, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze described Mr. Putin's announcement as hasty. Officials in Georgia also had sought help from the United States in resolving the issue, suggesting that Georgia, Russia and the United States could hold talks aimed at reducing tensions over the Pankisi Gorge. In August 2002, Georgian President Shevardnadze sent about 1,000 Georgian soldiers into the gorge, but the military operation was announced ahead of time, which gave the rebels time to flee. Russia denounced the Georgian action as a public relations move.

Gunmen demanding an end to the war in Chechnya took hundreds of people hostage on 23 October 2002 after storming a Moscow theatre. The gunmen rigged explosives throughout the building and threatened to shoot hostages or detonate the explosives if Russian forces raided the building. Basayev was named by the hostage-takers as their "supreme military emir." More than 100 of the hostages died from the effects of the incapacitating fentanyl gas used by Russian troops in the rescue operation. Nearly 48-hours after being freed, most of the hostages remained hospitalized from the effects of the gas, about a quarter of them were placed in intensive care. Russian officials initially did not specify what type of gas they used during the raid on 26 October 2002.

The day after troops stormed the theater, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would not make any deals with terrorists and would not give in to blackmail. If somebody tried to use such means, he said, Russia would answer with measures adequate to the threat. One-day later, Russian forces reportedly launched a vast security crackdown in Chechnya. Russia's interior minister also said "unprecedented measures" were being taken to uncover what he called a terrorist network in the Moscow region. Russian leaders made clear they were in no mood to make concessions to Chechen demands.

The Chechen leadership, under Aslan Maskhadov, denied any connection to the theater siege, and the hostage-takers themselves disavowed any connection to his organization. Russian officials said that was not true. Chechen fighters had become even more popular among ordinary Chechens. The large-scale operation in the heart of Moscow demonstrated for many Chechens that their struggle for independence was not only real, but could even succeed.

Chechen rebels viewed people who worked for the pro-Moscow Chechen administration as traitors and often targeted them. In October 2002, Chechen rebels blew up a police building in Grozny, killing 25 people.

On 27 December 2002, rebels killed at least 55 people and injured more than a hundred others. The suicide bombers drove 2 vehicles loaded with explosives into the Chechen capital of Grozny and exploded them in front of the Chechen administration. The explosions virtually destroyed the 4 story building where an estimated 200 people were believed to be working. No one claimed responsibility for the attack. It appeared to be the work of Chechen rebels who had been fighting Russian troops for control of the region for the previous 3 years.

Chechen separatists stepped up attacks since the Kremlin held a constitutional referendum in March 2003 that confirmed Chechnya as a part of Russia.

On 5 June 2003, a female suicide bomber ambushed a bus carrying Russian Air Force officers and civilians in a region neighboring Chechnya, killing 20 people. It was the third such bombing in less than a month in the region and dealt yet another blow to President Putin's claims that life in the break-away republic was returning to normal.

On 06 June 2003, Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, approved a partial amnesty for Chechen separatists who disarm and for Russian servicemen accused of committing crimes in Chechnya. Russian President Putin said the amnesty would help restore peace in the break-away region. The Duma voted 352 to 25 to offer amnesty to Chechen separatists and Russian federal forces, who had faced off in 2 Russian campaigns in Chechnya since the mid 1990s. The amnesty, which took effect within days, ordered authorities not to punish separatist Chechen rebels who laid down their arms or renounced separatism by 1 September 2003. It also provided protection to Russian federal forces. According to Chechen civilians and human rights groups many Russian soldiers engaged in abuses.

Two Duma factions, the liberal opposition Yabloko and ultra-nationalists aligned with Vladimir Zhirinovsky, were opposed to the amnesty. Russian news agencies quoted Yabloko's Sergei Mitrokhin in which he said that the amnesty was nothing more than a presidential public relations stunt, which could not be translated into reality as long as the near daily violence continued in Chechnya. Mr. Zhirinovsky called the amnesty shameful. Western human rights groups also expressed outrage that the amnesty protected Russian soldiers accused of committing atrocities against civilians. They expressed concern that it denied pardons to Chechen rebels who tried to kill Russian troops.

Chechnya remained wracked not only by a war between Russian forces and Chechen separatists, but by internal factional fighting among Chechen clans. Akhmad Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed Chechen leader, represented one of those clans and until other clan leaders had come to a personal understanding with him, any amnesty would remain somewhat theoretical. As the campaign heated up for planned elections in October 2003 for a new Chechen leader, the amnesty seemed to strengthen Kadyrov's hand and create additional tensions with his rivals.

Kadyrov, who ran virtually unopposed and with tacit Kremlin backing, took more than 80 percent of the votes in the 5 October 2003 election. Chechen President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov was sworn in on 19 October 2003, amid tight security. Doubts remained about Kadyrov's legitimacy and his political record to date. Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's inauguration as president marked the final step in his transition from rebel mufti to Kremlin-backed president.

Kadyrov was widely suspected of using his private militias to crack down on his opponents within Chechnya, often employing the barbaric methods typically ascribed to Russian troops. Many believed Kadyrov's fighters, who numbered between 3,000 and 5,000 men, were responsible for numerous disappearances, torture, and killings of civilians.

On 09 May 2004, Chechnya's pro-Russian president, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, was killed and Russia's top military commander in the North Caucasus was critically injured by an explosion that ripped through the seats of a crowded Grozny stadium. Kadyrov died from injuries he sustained when an explosive device detonated beneath his VIP seating during a military ceremony to mark the 59th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

On 22 June 2004, in the republic of Ingushetia, another semi-autonomous republic in the Russian Federation's North Caucasus region, insurgents launched coordinated attacks on a number of security, government, and police buildings in at least 3 cities including Nazran, Ordzhonikidzevskaya, and Karabulak. These attacks reportedly killed at least 48 individuals and injured more. The fighting erupted just after the former elected president of Chechnya and existing rebel field commander, Aslan Maskhadov, stated in a radio interview that his forces would turn from guerrilla tactics to offensive operations directly targeting Russia's federal forces and pro-Moscow Chechen allies in the area.

On 29 August 2004, Chechnya held a presidential election to determine who would succeed the assassinated Akhmed Kadirov. The winner was Alu Alkhanov, a Russian-backed candidate who won with 73.48 percent of the vote with 85 percent turnout, easily exceeding the requesite 30 percent. Rebel groups and election observers were both quick to criticize the results. The US State Department cited serious flaws in the electoral process in Chechnya, perhaps referring to the case of wealthy businessman Malik Saidullayev who was barred from from running. The Memorial Human Rights Group also expressed their concerns, while the organizers insisted the process was fair. Chechen rebels refused to accept the result, and claimed that Russia was signing Mr Alkhanov's death warrant. It was worth nothing that by that point 4 of the 5 Chechen leaders had died while in office.

However, the leadership of the Chechen rebels themselves had proven to be vulnerable. On 8 March 2005, former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov was killed during a raid by special forces of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). While the circumstances surrounding his death remained murky, FSB head Nikolay Patrushev reported that Maskhadov was accidentally killed when a grenade was thrown into the bunker in which he was hiding. Russian media reports stated, however, that the Chechen leader was accidentally shot by one of his bodyguards during the chaos of the raid. Following his death, Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev was appointed as the underground president only to be killed by FSB forces a little more than a year after accepting the position on 17 June 2006.

Another blow dealt to the Chechen insurgency in 2006 was the death of Shamil Basayev on 10 July 2006. Basayev was killed in Ingushetia when the vehicle he was traveling in exploded. The source of the explosion remained contested. While many said that Basayev's brutal tactics, especially the Beslan school massacre, alienated him from more mainstream Chechen separatists, his position as a key figure in the insurgency was indisputable.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:27:13 ZULU