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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 19:21 GMT 20:21 UK
Chechnya's decade of disaster
Children play on a wrecked Russian tank
Sucessive Russian invasions have devastated Chechnya
By Russian affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel

Ten years ago the republic of Chechnya declared its independence from the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.

But Moscow has shown that it's not prepared to accept the secession of any part of the Federation, especially in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The ruins of the Chechen capital, Grozny, destroyed in two wars launched by the Kremlin, are a stark reminder of Moscow's policy.

Chechnya's declaration of independence came after the failed coup against the Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the subsequent departure from the USSR of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Russian Government, and its then newly-elected President, Boris Yeltsin, was happy to accept the independence of the Baltic States.

Independence resisted

By the end of the year, Mr Yeltsin had effectively signed away the rest of the Soviet Union. But the idea of any parts of Russia breaking away was resisted.

former Russian President Boris Yeltsin
Boris Yeltsin refused to countenance Chechen independence

The Chechens' desire for independence reflected the region's often difficult relationship with Moscow.

Chechnya had been forcefully incorporated into the Russian Empire in the mid 19th century.

But the resentment which was passed down to subsequent generations became open hatred for many, following Stalin's decision during the Second World War to deport the Chechen population en masse to Central Asia.

The Chechens were allowed to return to their territory only in 1957.

The Chechen leader ten years ago, Dzhokhar Dudayev, was instrumental in inspiring the republic's struggle with Moscow.

Stalin deported Chechens en masse during World War II

His authority increased in October 1991, when Russian troops which had flown in to Grozny got no further than the airport. They turned back, without a shot being fired.

Three years later, though, Mr Yeltsin did not back down from confrontation with Mr Dudayev.

Disastrous campaign

Following attempts by the Chechen opposition to overthrow the Dudayev regime, in December 1994 Mr Yeltsin sent Russian troops into Chechnya.

Dzhokhar Dudayev
Dzhokhar Dudayev: Inspirational Chechen leader

It was to prove to be a disastrous military campaign for Moscow. In less than two years, the Russian Army suffered a humiliating defeat.

One of its few successes came in April 1996, when they killed Mr Dudayev.

From 1996 to 1999, life in Chechnya went on virtually untouched by Moscow. But violence didn't stop.

There was continuing clan warfare, and virtual anarchy for many Chechen citizens.

Second invasion

Following incursions by Chechen fighters into the neighbouring republic of Dagestan, and a series of bomb blasts in Moscow and other Russian cities, which left almost 300 dead, in September 1999 Russian troops went back into Chechnya.

Russian tank
Russian forces expected a quick success

A much better organised military campaign had huge public support, and initially achieved some notable successes.

But despite bold claims by Moscow in 2000 that the war was over and the situation in Chechnya was returning to normal, constant rebel attacks led Moscow to halt the pull-out of troops.

Ten years after Chechnya's declaration, independence remains a mere piece of paper.

Years of fighting have left Grozny in ruins

It hasn't been recognised internationally. Many of its towns and villages have been ruined. Thousands of lives have been lost, and thousands more displaced.

Genuine independence for Chechnya still looks a long way off.

But no-one expects the Chechens to give up the dream, either.

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See also:

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