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But the Russians won, after all! (continued)

Following the second Chechen war, Vladimir Putin seems to have concluded that his military couldn’t compete with Europe and the US, and that the imperative was to increase its ability to fight small wars, causing him to ‘cancel all plans for the buildup and integration of the strategic forces’. Pavel Baev concluded in 2004 that ‘the war in Chechnya would continue to define the key requirements of the Russian armed forces in the years to come’.[43] (That reorientation may have been temporary: Russia’s oil wealth enabled Putin to increase defence expenditures by about 25 percent in each of the next three years, mostly for high-profile stuff like attack helicopters, jet fighters, tanks, and missile submarines.)[44]

            Indeed, one American army officer concluded that it was the Russians, not the Chechens, who merit admiration for the flexibility of their tactics. The two campaigns, he argued, represented ‘an unusual occurrence in military history: a large, doctrinally based, modern army implemented change more quickly than a small, unprofessional, mobile force.’[45]  In theory, the loosely organized force has the greater ability to adapt, but the Chechens didn’t significantly alter the way they fought from one campaign to the next.

            Altogether, western governments should heed the adage: ‘the Russian army is never as strong as it describes itself, but it is never as weak as it seems from the outside’[46]—or, arguably, as slow to learn from experience. Above all, the west should refrain from schadenfreude about Russia’s travails in Chechenya. As Olga Oliker warned in 2001: ‘The enemies that U.S. forces will face in the future are far more likely to resemble the Chechen rebels than the Russian Army’—or indeed the Iraq Army—‘and the battlefield will very likely look more like Grozny than Central Europe’.[47]

[43] Baev 2004

[44] Chamberlain 2007

[45] Jenkinson 2002, p.77

[46] Trenin et al 2004, p. 112

[47] Oliker 2001, p. 2


Babchenko, Arkady  tr. Nick Allen (2008),, One Soldier’s War (New York: Grove Press)

Baev, Pavel (2004), ‘The Trajectory of the Russian Military: Downsizing, Degeneration, and Defeat’, in Steven Miller and Dmitri Trenin, The Russian Military: Power and Policy (Cambridge: MIT Press)

Betz. David (2004), Civil-Military Relations in Russia and Eastern Europe (London: RoutledgeCurzon)

Chamberlain, Gethin et al (2007), ‘Putin Rearms his Cold War Military’, Sunday Telegraph, 19.08.07

‘Contract Soldiers Are Leaving Army’ (2006), Moscow Times, 25.08.06

Elliot, Geoff (2007), ‘Putin Tells Russians of “Grandiose” Nukes Plan’, The Australian, 19.10.07

Evangelista, Matthew (2002), The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union? (Washington: Brookings Institution)

Ford, Daniel (2007), ‘Grozny is a terrible town: how the Chechen wars changed Russia’s armed forces’, WiMW short essay submitted 25.11.07

Gall, Carlotta, and Thomas de Waal (1998), Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus (New York: New York University Press)

Hodgson, Quentin  (2003), 'Is the Russian Bear Learning? An Operational and Tactical Analysis of the Second Chechen war, 1999-2002', Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 64 - 91

‘How Are the Mighty Fallen’ (2005), The Economist, 02.07.05 (US edition)

Jenkinson, Brett (2002), Tactical Observations from the Grozny Combat Experience (Fort Leavenworth KA: MA thesis, US Army Command and General Staff College)

Lieven, Anatol (1998), Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Orr, Michael (2000), ‘Better or Just Not So Bad? An Evaluation of Russian Combat Effectiveness in the Second Chechen War’, in Anne Aldis ed., The Second Chechen War (Camberley: Conflict Studies Research Centre), pp. 82-101

Politkovskaya, Anna, tr. John Crowfoot (2001), A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya (London: Harvell Press, 2001)

Saradzhyan, Simon (2005), ‘Interior Troops to Fill Caucasus Ranks With Chechens’, Moscow Times, 23.12.05

Thomas, Timothy (2005), ‘Russian Tactical Lessons Learned Fighting Chechen

Separatists’, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 731-766

Tolstoy, Leo, tr. Richard Peavar & Larissa Volokhonsky (2007), War and Peace (New York: Knopf)

Trenin, Dmitri, et al (2004), Russia’s Restless Frontier: The Chechnya Factor in Post-Soviet Russia (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

USMC (1999), Urban Warfare Study: City Case Studies Compilation (Quantico VA: Marine Corps Intelligence Activity)

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