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HOME > WAR IN THE MODERN WORLD > CHECHNYA LESSONS 3



But the Russians won, after all! (continued)

            Force protection. In the first battle for Grozny, Chechen fire teams would establish themselves in the upper stories of buildings so they could fire down on the vulnerable tops of Russian tanks and troop carriers. In 2000, the Russians put sandbags atop their vehicles and screened them by wire mesh or by reshetka armour resembling venetian blinds fabricated out of steel bars. The mesh detonated an RPG round before it could penetrate the armour, and rounds striking the reshetka screens became trapped between the bars or disintegrated without detonating their shaped-charge warheads. The Russians parked their vehicles within existing barriers or enclosed them in a ‘garage’ made from sandbags.[30]

            Unconventional units. Similar to what was done for the second Chechen campaign overall, when it came to counter-terrorist operations in the countryside, detachments would be formed on the spot for reconnaissance, raiding, securing facilities and lines of communication, deploying outposts, escorting supply columns, laying mines, clearing obstacles, and deploying small combat task groups and sniper teams.[31]    

‘Chechenization’. Just as the Americans, with more success than they are usually given credit for, managed to turn the Vietnam war over to indigenous forces in 1972, the Russians ‘Chechenized’ their own quagmire. Loyalist militias were used in the first war, but only to a limited extent. In the second war the former mayor of Grozny helped plan and lead the assault on the city, and another Chechen led the 25-man Spetsnaz unit that first raised the Russian flag in Grozny.[32] The Russians also used Chechen partisans as spies.[33] In the counter-insurgency campaign that followed the recapture of Grozny, the Army and the Interior forces each recruited two battalions of Chechens, who proved adept at finding and destroying rebels in the mountains. By 2006, an estimated 20,000 Chechens were serving as peacekeeping personnel, or nearly half the forces in the republic.[34]

            Information warfare. During the first war, ‘nearly 90 percent of the information from the zone of conflict came from Chechen sources’.[35] The Russians made no attempt to control the press, while the Chechens took them in and spread the Chechen story for the world to see and read; Russian television regularly showed ‘piles of brains, charred bodies, and severed limbs on the evening news’.[36] In the fall of 1999, by contrast, the Russians launched an information campaign to coincide with their move on Grozny. They cooperated with the media and thereby gained control of it, enabling the government to reinforce the public’s support for the war. The enemy in Chechnya was characterized as ‘armies of killers’ and, especially after September 2001, as ‘international terrorist gangs’.[37]

            The Russians used information tactically as well. Some of the first aircraft and missile strikes targeted radio towers and the like, to disrupt Chechen propaganda. Federal troops negotiated with village elders before entering villages; other times, they issued leaflets instructing fighters to evacuate a village, or otherwise artillery and air strikes would reduce the town to ruins. As Grozny fell in February 2000, Russians used disinformation to persuade the Chechens that there was an undefended route out of the city, which in fact led through a minefield (Chechen leader Shamil Basayev lost a foot to this bit of psyops [but see the footnote]). Where necessary, unfriendly journalists were killed.[38]

            The Russians even discovered ‘hearts and minds’ as terrain worth fighting for. A military publication presented ‘Twelve Commandments for Servicemen’, such as Avoid unwarranted confiscations and unlawful requisitions of food and property!’ and ‘Respect Chechen women, girls, old men, and children as if they were Russians!’[39]

Conclusion

            In my Short Essay, I took the easy route of denigrating the performance of the Russian armed forces and especially their ability to learn from experience—stepping on the metaphorical rake and having it hit the Muscovite forehead again and again. I wasn’t alone in this. Russian defence analyst Vitaly Shlykov concluded that ‘some elementary lessons have been learned, but they don’t amount to a reform. Apart from a sobering effect, these campaigns have had no impact’.[40]  David Betz dismissed ‘the Russian military at the end of the 1990s [as] essentially a poor, shrunken, and angry version of the Soviet Army’.[41]

            Still, its performance during the second Chechen war showed that the Russian military, and especially the Army, were able to learn from experience and to adopt innovative structures, strategies, and tactics. Thus, Quentin Hodgson argued that Russia ‘learned a great deal from its experience in the first war and applied these lessons to great effect in the second’.[42] The 1999-2000 campaign resulted in a victory for the federal government, after all, and though the Chechens were able to sustain a low-level insurgency in the countryside thereafter, they were far from being able to recapture Grozny as they’d done in August 1996.

continued in part 4



[30] USMC 1999, p. 18; Jenkinson 2002, p. 86

[31] Thomas 2005

[32] ibid

[33] Jenkinson 2002, p.75

[34] Saradzhyan 2005

[35] Thomas 2004. Also Lieven 1998, p. 119; Gall & de Waal 1998, p. 198; Evangelista 2002, p. 145

[36] Lieven 1998, pp. 205-6

[37] Oliker 2001, p. 63. Also Hodgson 2003

[38] Jenkinson 2002, p. 74; Evangelista 2002, p. 161. [Added September 2008: My tutor challenged the statement that a Russian disinformation effort resulted in Baseyev's injury. When I tried to check Major Jenkinson's source, I was unable to retrieve it.]

[39] Thomas 2005

[40] ibid

[41] Betz 2004, pp. 155

[42] Hodgson 2003