Battle of Grozny (August 1996)


Battle of Grozny (August 1996)
Zero Option / Grozny III
Part of First Chechen War
Date August 6–20, 1996
Location Grozny, Chechnya
Result Ceasefire agreement
Belligerents
Flag of Russia.svg Russia Flag of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.svg Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Russia.svg Konstantin Pulikovsky
Flag of Chechen Republic before 2004.svg Doku Zavgayev
Flag of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.svg Aslan Maskhadov
Flag of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.svg Shamil Basayev
Strength
50,000 Initially 1,300-3,000, later 6,000-7,000
Casualties and losses
368 killed
1,469 wounded
(Official casualties)
1,500 KIA
Civilian casualties unknown

In the August 1996 Battle of Grozny Chechen rebels conducted a rapid assault (code-named Zero Option) on the Chechnya capital Grozny.[1] This led to the final ceasefire in the First Chechen War.

The Russians had occupied the capital since February 1995 and had garrisoned 10,000 Russian Ministry of the Interior (MVD) troops there, but the rebels managed to either rout or split the Russian forces in the city into dozens of small pockets of resistance, and over the next five days to beat back and decimate several Russian Army units that were sent to eject them from the city.[2] The battle effectively ended the 1994-1996 war.

Contents

Background

In July 1996, the Russian leadership abandoned the peace process and decided to continue military operations. Between July 9 and July 16, 1996, Russian armed forces carried out a series of major operations in the foothills and settlements of mountainous southern Chechnya where the separatists had their bases. On July 20, 1996, federal forces launched a large-scale operation in the south of the Chechen Republic, moving most of their combat troops there.

On August 6, 1996, at 5:50 AM local time, Chechen forces raided Grozny in a surprise attack. At the same time, Russian forces began a major operation in the settlement of Alkhan-Yurt, on the federal Rostov-Baku highway southwest of Grozny, by moving 1,500 Interior Ministry troops and pro-Moscow Chechen militiamen of Doku Zavgayev out of Grozny; ironically, these forces were leaving the city as their opponents were entering it.

Chechen attack (August 6)

The Chechen units attacking Grozny consisted of 1,300 to 3,000 men (initially, Russian media reported only 250 fighters had entered the city). Within a week, their numbers grew to between 6,000 and 7,000, as a result of an influx of reinforcements and volunteer part-time-fighters, and also due to some of Zavgayev's forces changing sides. Russian federal forces consisted of some 15,000 to 20,000 men and the Russians enjoyed superiority in armored vehicles and artillery, and had absolute control of the air, but the Chechen chief of staff, Aslan Maskhadov, employed infiltration tactics which proved highly damaging to the Russian forces. In a carefully planned and highly-coordinated quick advance, Chechen units entered Grozny and avoided the Russian checkpoints and other positions using their intimate knowledge of the city, before attacking or blocking their selected targets located deep in the federal-controlled territory. The main attack in Grozny was over in three hours with a total of 47 Chechen fighters killed in action, according to the Chechen commander Tourpal Ali-Kaimov.

Rather than capturing or destroying the individual Russian checkpoints, police stations, command posts and other pockets of resistance, the Chechens simply surrounded them and prevented escape or reinforcement, waiting for the Russians to surrender.[3] The Russians were also demoralized by constant mortar and sniper fire. The largest pocket was the administrative complex in the city center, which included the government building, the Interior Ministry and the republican FSB headquarters. A group of about 10 Russian journalists remained trapped in a hotel near the compound.[4] In another part of the city, several groups of trapped Russian troops took approximately 500 civilians hostage at Municipal Hospital No. 9.[5] Russian news agency Interfax put the number of surrounded troops at some 7,000.[6] The pro-Russian Chechen government fled to the military base outside the capital.[7]

At the same time, Chechen units also attacked other major towns in the republic, namely Argun and Gudermes. While federal forces managed to hold the commander’s building in Argun, Gudermes was taken without a fight. A number of Chechens deemed to be collaborators were rounded up, detained, and executed. Reliable sources stated that the execution list for one region of Grozny comprised more than 200 names.[8] Said-Magomed Kakiyev was the only survivor of the group of 30 Chechen OMON policemen who were executed by the men of Doku Umarov and Ruslan Gelayev after the defenders of the city mayor's office surrendered on August 6, reportedly on the promise of free passage.

Russian counterattacks (August 7–11)

The Russian Army forces stationed at Khankala Airfield and Grozny Airport initially calculated that their opponents would leave the city of their own accord after the raid, and thus did not hurry to the aid of those under siege in the Interior Ministry. The first attempts to alleviate the situation were not undertaken until the afternoon of August 7, when an armored column was sent to the aid of the besieged Russian positions. However, the day before, the Chechen group led by Akhmed Zakayev had captured a large supply of RPO rocket launchers by seizing Grozny railway station (some Chechen sources[who?] later stated it was merely a Russian propaganda claim). As a result, Russian tanks became much easier targets for the Chechen mobile units. According to the 2002 indictment by the Russian government, Zakayev's men killed or wounded more than 300 Russian Interior Ministry troops at the train station.[9][not in citation given]

The Russian military sent another column on August 8, but, like the New Year’s Eve offensive 19 months before, they were stopped and lost many tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) to the Chechen ambush tactics. On the fifth day, 900 men of the 276th Regiment tried to take the center of the city, and within two days, 150 were dead and 300 were wounded. Over the course of five days, the counter-attacking Russian forces lost 18 tanks, 69 APCs and other armoured fighting vehicles, 23 trucks, and three helicopters. Only on August 11, the sixth day of fighting, did a few armored vehicles succeed in getting through to the city center, bringing limited supplies and evacuating some of the wounded. On the same day, Russian state television ORT journalist Ramzan Khadzhiev was executed by federal soldiers while trying to flee the city.

The European Union called on both sides to cease fire immediately, without effect.[4] Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared a day of mourning for the victims in Chechnya. "Most of the city is mined, and there's a lot of aerial bombardments," said the head of the International Red Cross in Grozny.[10] Battles also continued on the outskirts of the city and elsewhere in Chechnya.

Negotiations (August 11–14)

On August 10, the Russian President's plenipotentiary to Chechnya Oleg Lobov was fired and the retired Lieutenant General Alexander Lebed was named in his place. Convinced that military victory was impossible with the means at his disposal, he decided to enter into negotiations with the separatists. On the night of August 11, 1996, Lebed opened negotiations with Aslan Maskhadov and compelled the Russian commander Konstantin Pulikovsky to join them. The Minister of Defense, Igor Rodionov, had been appointed with Lebed’s personal recommendation, which enabled the latter to control the military. The Interior Minister, Anatoly Kulikov, with the reputation of being a hawk, was neutralized by Lebed who accused him of abandoning Grozny. He also convinced Yeltsin of the correctness of his course, in part due to the extremely difficult situation of the federal forces (between 11–13 August, the Chechen fighters captured or set on fire every strategic building in the city centre).

Ceasefire (August 14–19)

Since August 14, the Chechen forces had almost completely controlled Grozny. The Russian command declined to take back the city and concentrated on retaining their bases at Khankala and Severny airport. In the city, there remained some centers of resistance with around 2,000 servicemen still blocked in their positions. But with shortages of ammunition, medicine, food and water, they were doomed to destruction, either by enemy fire or by friendly air and artillery strikes. Argun and Gudermes were in the separatists’ hands, and the Chechen forces were also increasing their activities around Urus-Martan and Vedeno. Under these circumstances, Lebed succeeded in obtaining a ceasefire in Grozny beginning August 14, and on August 17, 1996, General Pulikovsky signed an order terminating all military activity in the republic.

Renewed fighting and the ultimatum (August 19–20)

The hawks’ last attempt to torpedo the peace process occurred on August 19. On that day, General Pulikovsky suddenly issued an ultimatum to the rebels to leave Grozny within 48 hours - in the event of non-compliance, attacks would be launched from all directions and with all available means. The threat resulted in mass panic among the civilian population, estimated by the human rights organization Memorial at between 50,000 to 70,000. Air and artillery strikes commenced in the early hours of August 20, before the end of the deadline, condemning the remaining federal forces in the city as well as the civilians. In chaotic scenes "the Russian bombs and shells destroyed entire apartment blocks and at least one hospital, and hit residential suburbs with wild inaccuracy'" (Human Rights Watch), terrified refugees tried to save themselves from the announced threat of carpet bombing;[11] many of them were reported killed when their columns were hit by artillery fire.[12] Males older than 11 were considered suspected fighters and were not let through the Russian lines.

End to the war (August 20–30)

General Lebed, however, managed to mostly avert further bloodshed in Grozny, while the Russian offensive in the southern mountains continued. After returning to Chechnya on August 20, he ordered a cease fire and returned to talks with the rebel leaders, aided by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.[13] On August 22, 1996, the Russians agreed to withdraw all their forces in Chechnya to their bases at Khankala and Severny. On August 30, 1996, Lebed and Maskhadov signed the Khasav-Yurt Accord, marking the end of the First Chechen War.

Aftermath

The Khasav-Yurt Accord paved the way for the signing of two further agreements between Russia and Chechnya. In mid-November 1996, Boris Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov signed an agreement on economic relations and reparations to Chechens who had been affected by the 1994-96 war. On May 12, 1997, Presidents Maskhadov and Yeltsin signed a formal treaty in Moscow "on peace and the principles of Russian-Chechen relations."[14] The incursion into Dagestan in the summer of 1999, however, led to a breach of these treaties and the start of the Second Chechen War.

See also

References

Sources


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