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Results of the Second Chechen War

 

There is no doubt that the Chechen war played into Putinís hands, transforming him into a national political figure and helping to gain the presidency. Even though the assault on Chechnya was waged brutally, most Russians backed the war for obvious reasons. Chechnyaís self-proclaimed independence had turned the rebellious territory into an enclave of lawlessness, hostage taking, and even instances of slavery, and Russia had to address the security challenge that this posed. Indeed, the threat to the integrity of Russia from Chechnya was quite real. 

Grozny in ruins. Photo: Heidi Bradner

As for the military, it embraced the war as a chance to rehabilitate its image following defeats in the Afghanistan war (1979-89) and the first Chechen war (1994-96). The Russian military also saw the war as an opportunity to send a signal to Russiaís neighbors, as well as NATO, that Russia would deal with the Islamic rebels in a firm manner without letting itself be ruffled by the criticism of Western governments and human rights organizations.

Finally, it was a signal to the Russian Federationís other ethnically based regions that separatism would be crushed with an iron fist. In short, the military success in Chechnya promised big political gains in several directions simultaneously, including reviving territorial unity, boosting national pride, strengthening the militaryís morale, and upholding Russiaís power and international standing.

However, the gains came at a price: thousands of civilians, Russian soldiers, and Chechen fighters were killed in the war, and an estimated 250,000 people became refugees. Nevertheless, the war remained popular in Russia. By the start of 2001 it looked as if Russian generals had done their part and smashed the rebelsí main formations. At the end of January Putin took control of the war away from the Ministry of Defense and gave it to the special services, but he emphasized that Russiaís military campaign would continue. Putinís plan was to scale back, eventually, the Russian military presence in the Northern Caucasus republic from 80,000 troops to a permanent garrison of about 20,000.

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The Chechen Problem

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The Yeltsin Era
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Russian Federalism
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