What does Russia want in Chechnya?

What does Russia want in Chechnya?


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I have heard that Russia has been fighting with the Chechens on and off for about 300 years, occasionally losing control and reconquering. What exactly does Russia have to gain by retaining control of Chechnya?

I am not sure how Russia benefits by holding such a small nation. It is probably a huge economic burden to keep fighting to hold it.


It's a bit of a long write-up, but the best reason is fairly easy to trace on a map.

The southern border of Russia between Caspian and Black seas is pretty defenseless as far as natural features (same is true for other borders). So historically, Russia worked/fought to extend its borders to defensible ranges, in case of this specific area, the Greater Caucusus Mountains range that extends from around Sochi on Black sea to NorthEast corner of Azerbaijan on Caspian sea.

This is not really an academic exercise, since historically, that region was strongly threatened by fairly expansionist Ottoman Empire and modern day Turkey (see larger Wiki map for good visual). Russia fought a whole bunch of wars with Ottomans/Turks, and given modern geopolitics, is still strongly competing with Turkey, which is on the accendant path in the region/world.

The of course ties into access to Caspian resources, especially oil (notice that if you lose Chechnya, you will possibly lose Dagestan, meaning the whole western Caspian seaboard).


First note that besides Chechnya there are some related and similar peoples in the North Caucasus: Ingush people, Dagestan people, Adyghe people, Circassians, etc. That is, Chechnya is only a part of a greater North Caucasus community.

The ancient lifestyle of most of these people, and especially of Chechens, was making raids on neighboring settlements, capturing horses, and hostages for ransom. They had no agriculture and very little husbandry. This was quite intolerable.

But the main reason for capturing this region was, I think, making a tunnel towards Christian Georgia to help it against Ottoman Turkey after Georgians appealed to the Russian Tsar for incorporation of their lands into the Russian Empire.

Regarding modern times, I think the reasons for the First Chechen War were as follows.

  • Legality. The Chechen Republic never had the constitutional right to secede, unlike the Soviet republics (this is similar to Kosovo).

  • The danger that the disintegration process could spread to other regions. For example, dangerous separatist processes were also observed in Tatarstan in the 1990s when they adopted a constitution that claimed priority of Tatarstan laws before federal laws.

  • The skyrocketing crime rates in "independent" Ichkeria. The most known scandals were fake aviso and bank orders through which they pumped billions from Russian banks. Another was taking people hostage and demanding ransom. Ichkeria became a main criminal hub, including drug trafficking, slave trade (many Chechen families openly held Russian slaves), car theft, etc. This all was covered and encouraged by the government of Ichkeria, so factually they did not want and could not be independent. Their criminal economy was heavily dependent on that of Russia.

  • The non-Chechen population was expelled from Chechnya and their homes and possessions were seized.

  • The only railroad towards South Dagestan crosses Chechnya. Before the First War the passenger trains were often assaulted when passing Chechnya.

=======

The reasons for the Second Chechen War were the same but the following reasons added:

  • Terrorism. It seems that some fighters adopted the tactic of using terrorism to earn money. They collected money abroad in Jihadist circles and made videos and reports for the sponsors to confirm their work (as you know, one of their leaders, Yandarbiyev was killed by Russian intelligence operators in Qatar).

  • Also, terrorism was widely used in Russian politics. Surprisingly, many and most bloody terrorist acts happened before the Russian elections, which hinted at some connection between the terrorists and the opposition politicians such as Berezovsky (who had already participated in hostage-trading with the Chechens earlier).

  • But the casus belli for the Second War was that the militants from Chechnya assaulted Dagestan hoping to capture it and trigger the creation of the Caucasian Islamic Emirate that would span the entire North Caucasus.

=======

It should be noted, however, that it is quite uncertain to which extent the Chechen population supported separatism. On all elections they voted for a candidate who was supported by the Kremlin. The originator of the secession of Chechnya, president Dudayev was initially supported by anti-Communists who seized power in Moscow in the early 1990s. He was a honored Soviet pilot who participated in the Afghan War and was the only Chechen to become a Soviet general. He then quickly proceeded to install his own personal dictatorship.

After Dudayev was killed, a new president Maskhadov was elected. He was known for signing a peace treaty with Moscow and was supported by the Russian media in hope he would be a moderate leader. This suggests that the Chechens in general did not want a war. It turned out later that Maskhadov either supported the Jihadists and terrorists or was unable to do anything to control the situation, so the accords he signed were broken.


Chechnya contains the oil center known formerly as Grozny. It sits on the road to Derbens, and the rest of Dagestan, as well as Baku in Azerbaijan, which are also major oil producers. The region could become critical in shipping other oil and gas resources from around the Caspian sea, across the Caucasus, to the Black Sea.

Basically, Chechnya is close to Russia's main sources of oil, both for its own use and for export, meaning that a hostile presence there could be economically and strategically threatening.


Chechnya: History

Recognized as a distinct people since the 17th cent., the Chechens were the most active opponents of Russia's conquest (1818–1917) of the Caucasus. They fought bitterly during an unsuccessful 1850s rebellion led by Imam Shamyl. The Bolsheviks seized the region in 1918 but were dislodged in 1919 by counterrevolutionary forces under Gen. A. I. Denikin.

After Soviet rule was reestablished, the area was included in 1921 in the Mountain People's Republic. The Chechen Autonomous Region was created in 1922, and in 1934 it became part of the Chechen-Ingush Region, made a republic in 1936. After Chechen and Ingush units collaborated with the invading Germans during World War II, many residents were deported (1944) to Central Asia. Deportees were repatriated in 1956, and the republic was reestablished in 1957.

In 1991, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Chechen-dominated parliament of the republic declared independence as the Republic of Ichkeria, soon better known as Chechnya. In June, 1992, Russia granted Ingush inhabitants their own republic (Ingushetia) in the western fifth of the territory in subsequent years there have been disputes and tension between the two republics over territory.

Tensions between the Russian government and that of Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev escalated into warfare in late 1994, as Russian troops arrived to crush the separatist movement. Grozny was devastated in the fighting, and tens of thousands died. Russian forces regained control of many areas in 1995, but separatist guerrillas controlled much of the mountainous south and committed spectacular terrorist actions in other parts of Russia. Fighting continued through 1996, when Dudayev was killed and succeeded by Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russians withdrew, essentially admitting defeat, following a cease-fire that left Chechnya with de facto autonomy.

Aslan Maskhadov, chief of staff of the Chechen forces, was elected president early in 1997 but appeared to have little control over the republic. In 1999, Islamic law was established. Terrorism, including a series of bombings in Moscow, erupted again, and after Islamic militants invaded neighboring Dagestan from Chechnya, Russian forces bombed and invaded Chechnya, capturing Grozny and forcing the rebels into mountain strongholds. The rebels continued to mount occasional guerrilla attacks on Russian forces, as well as terror attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities outside Chechnya, but there have been no significant rebel attacks in Chechnya since 2004. Both sides were accused of brutality and terrorizing noncombatants.

In 2003 voters approved a new constitution for Chechnya, and Akhmad Kadyrov was subsequently elected president, but the election was generally regarded as neither free nor fair. Both the constitution and the president were backed by Russian government. Kadyrov was assassinated in 2004 Alu Alkhanov was elected to succeed him. Russian forces killed Maskhadov, who was considered a moderate Chechen rebel leader, in 2005 and Shamil Baseyev, a notorious and significant rebel commander, in 2006.

Alkhanov resigned as president in 2007 after a power struggle with Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the former president, and Kadyrov was then appointed president (the post was renamed imam in 2010) by Russian president Putin. Kadyrov has been accused of terroristic and sadistic brutality a number of his rivals and critics have been assassinated, and there also has been an increase in antigovernment terrorist attacks.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: CIS and Baltic Political Geography


Russian And Chechnya Conflict

Conflicts in a country occur everywhere in the world. Russia and Chechnya’s conflict is one example. There were many reasons and factors that led this conflict to grow into a war. Both Russia and Chechnya had different goals and interests that they tried to achieve.

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This led them to oppose one another and see each other as enemies. The following is a full analysis of the conflict, which explains the background factors, which contributed to it. The Chechnya- Russia conflict, can be more understood by looking to the past. The historical background is needed to display the whole picture of the war. The area in the southern Russia was called the Caucasus region. Many non-Russian ethnic groups lived there.

It all began when the czars started a 300-year attempt to conquer the Northern Caucasus in 1560. They failed to take over Chechnya and other areas of the Caucasus because the Ottoman Empire had conquered them. The Chechens converted to Islam when they became under the Ottomans rule. Russia still did not give up.

It made stronger attempts to invade the area and finally forced the withdrawal of the Ottomans by 1785. After winning the Caucasian War, the Russian government pressured many people to leave from Chechnya to different Muslim countries of the Middle East. In 1877, 1920, and 1929 the Chechens made unsuccessful rebellion attempts against the czars and later Soviet powers. Their main goal behind this was to resist unification, anti-religion campaigns, and Russification. By 1994, relations between the Chechnya’s government and the Russian government became much worse than before. As a result, Russia started a new savage war with Chechnya.

The Term Paper on Conflict Taxonomy Historical Background Russian Chechnya

Conflict taxonomy - Historical background - Russian Chechnya The conflict in Chechnya has much deeper causes than it is generally accepted. In order to understand them well need to define principles of Russias expansion. When we look at this issue from historical prospective, it will appear that expansion of the Russian empire can only be described in geopolitical terms. If French, British and .

It ended with the Chechens gaining victory and independence, and the Russian government gaining victory for keeping Chechnya as a part of the Russian Federation. In 1995, Chechen rebels attacked the southern part of Russia. They took control of several places, and fought Russian troops, causing Russia to make new military actions. In 1996, President Yeltsin terminated all military actions and offered talks with rebels. A truce was agreed in May 1996. Till now, Chechnya’s situation is still a matter of dispute.

After the last war, in 1994-96, Chechnya was devastated and eventually turned into a chaotic uncontrollable place. Its economy declined rapidly, and poverty in the nation increased. Crimes occurred everywhere, and hostage -taking became a famous business for some criminal gangs. Within this overall framework of decay, there have been three main factors that led to the present conflict between Russia and Chechnya. First, in May 1999, an oil pipeline between Azerbaijan and Georgia on the shores of the Black Sea was re-opened with the aid of the West.

This occurred in November when Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia signed an agreement to build another pipeline. This pipeline connected Azerbaijan and the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, and which completely crossed over Russian territory. Russia took this as a political insult. It was afraid of losing its’ influence in the Caucasus. This made Russia more motivated to start a war.

In August 1999 the invasion into Daghestan led by the former Prime Minister Sham il Basayev was set as a warning to Russia of the type of influence that could spread if Chechnya gained complete independence. It was known that Basayev was the most famous and feared Chechen commander who had made various attempts to establish an Islamic state in Dagestan. Russia was fully aware of the growing threat to its control in the strategically key region of the northern Caucasus. From Basayev’s invasion into Daghestan, Russia started to make a military move against Chechnya.

Yeltsin sent nearly 100, 000 Russian troops into Chechnya and recaptured breakaway areas of Dagestan. Finally, in autumn 1999, bombings of civilian apartment blocks in some Russian cities caused the death of 300 people. The blame was immediately thrown on the Chechens with no proof or evidence. This all created a mood of public outrage toward Chechnya’s population from the Russians. Since then, Russian air strikes destroyed Chechnya’s ground and communications trying to form a’security zone’ and to root out Islamic militants believed to be in Chechnya.

The Essay on Womens Contribution to War Effor Gained Voting Rights

The main idea is that they proved their worth by contributing relentlessly through work during the First World War when the men were away fighting. Others believe it was the work of Suffragists and Suffragettes which helped the cause. However, the work done by women during the First World War is believed to be what caught the most attention and proved that they were just as reliable as men. Women .

The conflict between Russia and Chechnya can be considered as a political, religious, and economical conflict. It is a political conflict because Russia wants to gain the land of Chechnya. It sees Chechnya as its first stage in re-establishing its domination of the whole Caucasus. It is an economical conflict because Russia wants to possess Chechnya’s substantial oil reserves.

Finally, it is a religious conflict because the Muslim peoples of Chechnya claim a tradition of opposition to rule from Russia. They want to gain their independence as a muslim country. For all of those factors, Russia started another war with Chechnya… It can be seen that the russian-chechnya war had a long story behind it.

Each nation had a different goal to achieve. The Russians were out to conquer Chechnya as the first stage in re-establishing their domination of the whole Caucasus. Chechnya was resisting foreign domination with all it’s power to gain it’s full independence. Each was struggling for a different reason and purpose. Until now, both sides are fighting against each other.

Despite Russian claims of an approaching victory, war goes on. Although the solution of ending this war is in their own hands, the dispute between the two nations continues. They can all live in peace by learning to compromise. They won’t be able to achieve all the goals that they had put in mind, but they would be able to live together in a much better way.

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Chechnya, Russia and 20 years of conflict

How the tiny region shaped post-Soviet Russia on the 20th anniversary of the start of first Chechnya war.

Moscow, Russia – Twenty years ago on Thursday, Moscow started what it thought would be a “blitzkrieg” against secular separatists in Chechnya, a tiny, oil-rich province in Russia’s North Caucasus region that had declared its independence.

But the first Chechen war became Russia’s Vietnam the second war was declared a victory only in 2009. The two conflicts have reshaped Russia, Chechnya, their rulers – and those who oppose them.

In 1994, s hortly after Moscow invaded Chechnya in an effort to restore its territorial integrity, Akhmad Kadyrov, a bearded, barrel-chested Muslim scholar turned guerrilla commander, declared jihad on all Russians and said each Chechen should kill at least 150 of them.

That was the proportion of the populations on each side of the conflict: some 150 million Russians and less than a million Chechens in a small, landlocked province, which the separatists wanted to carve out of Russia.

Both sides committed atrocities in Chechnya, and the eventual retreat humiliated the once-mighty Russian military [AP]

Western media and politicians dubbed the Chechens “freedom fighters” – an army of Davids fighting the Russian Goliath.

Moscow was lambasted internationally for disproportionate use of force and rolling back on the democratic freedoms that former leader Boris Yeltsin was so eager to introduce after the 1991 Soviet Union collapse.

Tens of thousands died amid atrocities committed by both sides – and many more were displaced before 1996, when the Russians retreated, leaving Chechnya essentially independent.

Retreating was a humiliation for Russia’s military machine that less than a decade earlier had presented a seemingly formidable threat to the entire Western world.

Chechen against Chechen

Independence did not quite work out for the Chechens. The separatist government based in the ruined capital, Grozny, lost control over the rest of Chechnya.

Feuding field commanders and foreign jihadists, such as the Saudi known as Emir al-Khattab, ruled small districts with their own little armies. Kidnappings for ransom – along with primitive extraction of oil – were their main sources of income.

Many of the foreigners adhered to a puritanical Muslim ideology known as Wahhabism that ran counter to Chechnya’s Sufi traditions.

Akhmad Kadyrov, who was appointed as top Mufti of Chechnya, came into opposition with the puritans and their Chechen supporters, because he saw their extremist views as a threat to the separatist movement. In 1998, Kadyrov openly renounced the Wahhabis – and barely survived the first of many assassination attempts.

Kadyrov soon switched alliances, siding with the people upon whom he had once declared war – the Russians.

A virtually unknown ex-KBG officer, Vladimir Putin became Russia’s new prime minister i n August 1999 and w ithin weeks led a military operation against the Chechen fighters.

When a series of explosions in apartment buildings in Moscow and two Russian towns killed more than 300 Russians, Moscow blamed Chechen rebels and embarked on an epic “anti-terrorist operation,” which became the second Chechen war.

Putin’s approval ratings skyrocketed, paving the way for his first presidency. A ided by Kadyrov and other Chechen clans who had pledged allegiance to the Kremlin, t he Russian military quickly returned most of Chechnya to Moscow’s control. In 2003, Kadyrov was elected Chechen president.

Nearly 200 children perished in the Beslan hostage crisis [EPA]

Russian targets

Cornered in Chechnya, the separatists took the war to Russia.

Attacks throughout the country became a grim reality of the new war and involved explosions in cities and towns, on planes and public transport.

At least two dozen attacks were carried out by female suicide bombers. Dubbed “black widows”, they became a sinister image imprinted on Russia’s collective psyche.

One such attack killed Akhmad Kadyrov in May 2004. His son, 27-year-old Ramzan Kadyrov, was too young to run for president at the time, but as head of his father’s security service, he quickly became Chechnya’s de facto ruler. I n 2007, soon after he turned 30, the younger Kadyrov was elected president.

Four months after his father’s assassination, Chechen separatists seized a public school in the town of Beslan taking more than 1,000 hostages, mostly children. Almost 200 kids died when Russian forces stormed the school. The incident changed the world’s attitude towards the Chechen cause – “freedom fighters” became “Islamic insurgents” in the Western media.

Meanwhile, the media in Russia came under attack.

“The saying was that it was journalists who won the first Chechen war,” says Tatyana Lokshina, deputy director of the Moscow branch of Human Rights Watch, an international rights watchdog.

Moscow used unfavourable media coverage of the war as an excuse to curtail press freedoms. The Kremlin took over all national television networks and most major newspapers.

Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov [AP]

“For years, Vladimir Putin saw the pacification of Chechnya as his main achievement,” says Stanislav Belkovsky, a Moscow-based political analyst . “In that respect, Putin has a colossal psychological dependency on Chechnya and Ramzan Kadyrov who ensured the pacification.”

The Beslan crisis also served as a pretext to tighten political screws in Russia. Putin eliminated regional gubernatorial elections, complicated participation of opposition parties in elections, and limited democratic freedoms.

The public hailed Putin for bringing stability and pacifying Chechnya. The victory revived Moscow’s imperial ambitions – at least in the area of the former Soviet Union.

Shaping today’s Russia

Moscow won the brief 2008 Russo-Georgian war over the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia. In March 2014, Russia took over Crimea from Ukraine and helped unleash a civil war between pro-Russian separatists and the central Ukrainian government just a month later.

Both Chechen wars became systemic factors in shaping today's Russia. Instead of peaceful development inside the country we moved to the priority of external expansion

- Stanislav Belkovsky, political analyst

“Both Chechen wars became systemic factors in shaping today’s Russia,” says Belkovsky . “Instead of peaceful development inside the country, we moved to the priority of external expansion.”

Putin declared “the counter-terrorism operation” in Chechnya over in 2009 – just when things in North Caucasus took a turn for the worse.

Dagestan and several other provinces in the region became the new hotbeds of radical Islamism. A new generation of Moscow’s foes did not want secular separation – instead they are fighting to establish a “Caucasus Emirate” that includes adjacent Russian regions with sizable Muslim populations.

At least 529 people were killed and 457 wounded in North Caucasus in 2013, according to Kavkazsky Uzel, a Russian web portal that monitors the situation in the region. The confrontation has turned into “Europe’s most active armed conflict” , according to the International Crisis Group, a conflict-monitoring organisation.

The insurgency became self-sustaining because of a vicious circle perpetuated by corruption and brutality.

Federal forces and police trigger the violence with extra-judicial killings, arrests, kidnappings and other abuses, according to rights groups and critics. They claim young men have no other options but to join the rebels because corrupt officials blacklist their families to extort bribes.

The fighters, in turn, blackmail corrupt officials who embezzle lavish funds from Moscow. The practise involves “sending a flash card” containing a video message in which bearded men demand a “jihad tax”.

Storming Grozny again

Ramzan Kadyrov was, perhaps, the least attentive man in the crowd of about 1,100 officials in an opulent Kremlin hall on December 4 during Putin’s annual address. The stocky 38-year-old Chechen leader fidgeted in his seat and constantly checked his phone.

Just hours before the Kremlin ceremony, a dozen Islamist fighters attacked Grozny, Chechnya’s newly-rebuilt capital. Shootouts in a publishing house, an empty school, and an office building killed 11 insurgents and 14 law enforcement officers.

A day after the attack, Kadyrov said the attackers’ families should be thrown out of Chechnya, their houses destroyed. At least six houses that belonged to relatives of the Grozny attackers have been burned down by masked men, Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said.

Kadyrov’s threats were not new to Chechens. During the second Chechen war, he led paramilitary squads known as kadyrovtsy that soon gained notoriety for abducting, torturing and killing separatists and civilians suspected of aiding them, according to human rights groups and survivors.

Chechen leader Kadyrov led the paramilitary squads known as kadyrovtsy that soon gained notoriety for abducting, torturing and killing separatists and civilians [AFP]

A string of his political enemies and critics, including a former bodyguard, an investigative reporter, and a human rights activist have been gunned down in Chechnya, Moscow, Austria, and Dubai.

Kadyrov denied involvement in the contract-style killings.

Over the years, Kadyrov developed a penchant for luxury – he has a private zoo, race horses, and numerous sports cars. Pop stars, Hollywood actors and sportsmen show up at concerts held on his birthday.

His portraits are seen on billboards, government buildings and schoolchildren’s lapel pins while streets, schools, mosques and military units are named after his father and mother.

Whatever he does is breaking news on Chechen television – he is shown threatening rebels and corrupt officials, boxing with his ministers, welcoming foreign dignitaries,and bestowing money, apartments and cars upon average Chechens.

Some say Kadyrov’s lifestyle and political ways make him look like an eccentric sovereign, not a public official on the Kremlin payroll.

“Today, Chechnya is a de facto independent state,” says Belkovsky. “Although formally [Kadyrov] shows loyalty to Putin and formally Chechnya is part of Russia.”


Chechnya and Russia: A History of Conflict

After fighting in 1994 and 1995, the situation in Chechnya calmed somewhat. But President Putin has vowed to tromp the separatist movement, and this has fueled discontent in the break-away region.

The Chechen capital of Grozny lies in ruins

The conflict between the Chechens and the Russians is a centuries-old clash. When Chechnya’s southern neighbor, Christian Georgia, agreed to a union with Moscow in 1783, the Muslim north Caucasus were encircled and a holy war ensued. Decades later, the Caucasus War stretched out for 47 years, finally ending in 1864.

Josef Stalin, who accused Chechens of helping Germans during World War II, sent the entire nation into exile, killing about one-third of them on the trek to Kazakhstan.

“When they came back, they never stopped thinking of separatism, but it was impossible during Soviet times,” says Gasan Gusejnov, an expert on ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet Union who has taught Chechen history and politics at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf.

The separatist movement took off with the collapse of the Soviet Union and resulted in bloody battles in 1994 and 1995. Before the fighting began, the population was 1.1 million -- two-thirds ethnic Chechens and a quarter of them Russians. Nearly 400,000 people lived in the capital, Grozny, which is now in ruins.

Tens of thousands of civilians died in the fighting, though accurate figures on the exact death toll are not available. Many Chechens live in refugee camps today.

Anti-separatism a main cause

The situation calmed somewhat after a kidnapping in January 1996 prompted the Yeltsin regime to make moves toward allowing the creation of a separate state. That never materialized, however, and when Vladimir Putin became president, he made anti-separatism a main cause.

“When Putin came to power in 1999, his main message to the population was, ‘there is a wounded place on the territory of the former Soviet Union and I will heal this wounded place. I will stop the separatists once and forever’,” Gusejnov explains.

While this message was hugely popular among Russians, it was a tougher sell in the outside world. Until the attacks on September 11, 2001.

“Immediately after September 11, Putin decided he could get support for this position because it looks very similar (to terrorism) and it is very similar,” says Gusejnov. “And no doubt there are contacts between Chechens and Arab groups or the Taliban or al Qaeda because it is a shadow world. And it is a world with huge amounts of weapons.”

In the two years since 9/11, hundreds of people have died both inside and outside Chechnya. Suicide bombings linked to separatist rebels have become common headlines in the papers and the international community has condemned the acts as terrorism. Criticism for Russia's policies in Chechnya has been cautious at best.


What It's Like to Grow Up Under Putin in Chechnya

I t is hard to avoid the gaze of Russian President Vladimir Putin when traveling around the region of Chechnya. His portraits adorn public buildings, apartment blocks, highways and airport terminals, encouraging a cult of personality that is far more pervasive in Chechnya than anywhere else in Russia.

The reason has to do with Moscow&rsquos desire to keep Chechnya under control. In the 1990s, Russia fought two wars to prevent the region from breaking away, and Putin&rsquos ascent to the presidency in 2000 was fueled by his victory over the Chechen separatists that year.

Since then, Chechnya has undergone a striking transformation. Its cities have been rebuilt with money from Moscow. All traces of its separatist rebellion have been suppressed. And most importantly, a new generation has been raised to respect&mdashat times even to worship&mdashthe Russian leader and his local proxies. With no clear memories of the wars for independence, the young people of Chechnya are now the best guarantee that Russia’s hold over the region will persist.


Yuri Kozyrev: Photographing 15 Years of Chechnya's Troubled History

Y uri Kozyrev recalls the winter of 1999 as one of the most trying and tragic of his career as a photographer. It was the eve of Vladimir Putin&rsquos ascent to the Russian presidency, and the height of the Russian bombardment of Chechnya, when entire towns in that breakaway republic were, as the Russians often put it, &ldquomade level with the earth.&rdquo

Kozyrev, a native of Moscow, documented both of Chechnya&rsquos wars against Russia in the 1990s. The first one, fought between 1994 and 1996, had resulted in a humiliating defeat for Russia. But the carnage was far worse when the conflict resumed under Putin in 1999.

Arriving in Chechnya that fall, Kozyrev&rsquos plan was to find and photograph two men amid the chaos of the Russian invasion. The first was Major General Alexander Ivanovich Otrakovsky, who was then commanding the Russian marines from his encampment near the town of Tsentaroy, a key stronghold of the Chechen separatists. The second was the general&rsquos son, Captain Ivan Otrakovsky, who was serving on the front lines not far from the base, in one of the most hotly contested patches of territory.

The aim, says Kozyrev, was to document the two generations of Russian servicemen involved in the conflict &ndash the elder brought up at the height of Soviet power during the Cold War, the younger in the dying years of Moscow&rsquos empire. After weeks of negotiations, he finally managed to embed with the marines and to track down their general, a stocky man with a sly smile and a distinctive mole on the right side of his nose.

At the time, his command center was in an abandoned storage facility for crude oil, Chechnya&rsquos most plentiful and lucrative commodity &ndash and one of the main reasons why Russia refused to allow the region to secede. &ldquoIt was incredible,&rdquo Kozyrev says of his first encounter with the general. &ldquoHere were these commanders living inside of a giant oil bunker.&rdquo

He recalls Otrakovsky as a kindly intellectual, nothing like the Russian cutthroats who would later be accused of committing atrocities in Chechnya. The general, whose troops referred to him affectionately as Dyed, or Grandpa, was willing to help Kozyrev. But he explained that reaching his son on the front lines would be extremely dangerous, as it would require passing through enemy territory around Tsentaroy.

That town was well known in Chechnya as the home of the Kadyrov clan, an extended family of rebel fighters whose patriarch, the mufti Akhmad Kadyrov, had served as the religious leader of the rebellion. During the first war for independence in the 1990s, he had even declared a state of jihad against Russia, instructing all Chechens that it was their duty to &ldquokill as many Russians as they could.&rdquo

At the start of the second war, however, Kadyrov switched sides and agreed to help the Russians, causing a fateful split within the rebel ranks. While the more recalcitrant insurgents had turned to the tactics of terrorism and the ideology of radical Islam, Akhmad Kadyrov abandoned his previous calls for jihad and agreed to serve as Putin&rsquos proxy leader in Chechnya in the fall of 1999.

That did not stop the fighting around his home village, as various insurgent groups continued attacking Russian and loyalist forces positioned around Tsentaroy. So none of the Russian marines were especially keen to move around the area unless they had good reason, and it took Kozyrev days to convince the Russian commander to allow him to reach the front lines. Eventually Gen. Otrakovsky consented, providing the photographer with an escort of about ten marines and two armored personnel carriers.

They set out on what Kozyrev recalls as an especially cold day, rumbling through fog or mist that made it difficult to see the surrounding terrain. As the general had feared, the group was ambushed. From multiple directions, Chechen fighters opened fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, forcing the convoy to retreat from Tsentaroy. One of the marines was killed in the firefight three others were wounded.

When they returned to the base, it was clear from the glares of the troops that they all blamed Kozyrev for the fiasco, he says, and Gen. Otrakovsky advised the photographer to leave in the morning. &ldquoHe said it may not be safe anymore for me to stay among his men,” Kozyrev remembers.

The trauma of that incident has lingered, weighing heaviest during his later assignments in Chechnya. Today, the region is ruled by Kadyrov&rsquos son Ramzan, who took over after his father was assassinated in 2004. His native village of Tsentaroy has since enjoyed a generous stream of aid for redevelopment, including the construction of a beautiful mosque dedicated to Ramzan Kadyrov&rsquos mother.

The rest of Chechnya has been rebuilt with similar largesse from Moscow, which has poured billions of dollars into the reconstruction of the cities and towns it had destroyed. When Kozyrev returned to Chechnya in 2009, nearly a decade after the end of the war, he says, &ldquoIt blew my mind. The place is unrecognizable.&rdquo

The Chechen capital of Grozny &ndash which the U.N. deemed &ldquothe most destroyed city on earth&rdquo in 2003 &ndash is now a gleaming metropolis. Its center is packed with skyscrapers, sporting arenas, shopping plazas and an enormous mosque, the largest in Europe, dedicated to the memory of Akhmad Kadyrov.

His clan now rules the region unchallenged, having sidelined all of its local rivals with Moscow&rsquos unflinching support. Throughout the region, portraits of Putin and the Kadyrovs are now plastered on the facades of buildings and along highways. Among the more ostentatious is a gigantic picture of Akhmad Kadyrov astride a rearing stallion, which adorns a building at the end of the city&rsquos main drag &ndash the Avenue of V.V. Putin.

The strangeness of the transformation, and of its architects, still seems astounding to Kozyrev, who last went on assignment to Chechnya for TIME in April. The trips always remind him of Gen. Otrakovsy, who died of a heart attack while commanding the marines in southern Chechnya, about four months after the young photographer had shown up to ask for his help. The general&rsquos son, whom Kozyrev never did manage to find, went on to become a right-wing politician in Russia with close ties to Orthodox Christian conservative groups.

These were the men who executed the war that helped bring Putin to power. &ldquoBut it was all the decision of one man to bring Chechnya back under control in &lsquo99. Putin decided to do that,&rdquo Kozyrev says. &ldquoAnd it&rsquos incredible, when you think about it. But the men of Tsentaroy turned out to be his most loyal helpers.&rdquo

Yuri Kozyrev is a photojournalist and a TIME contract photographer. He is represented by Noor. In 2000, he received two World Press Photo photojournalism awards for his coverage of the second Chechen war in 1999.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s International Photo Editor.

Simon Shuster is a reporter for TIME based in Moscow.


The War That Continues to Shape Russia, 25 Years Later

Haunting images show how the first Chechen war humiliated post-Soviet Russia, exposed its weakness, strengthened hard-liners and enabled the rise of Vladimir V. Putin.

Chechen fighters running past dead Russian soldiers in Grozny in January 1995. Credit. Patrick Chauvel

MOSCOW — It began not so much as an invasion, but as a slouching stumble through mud and snow by frightened, ill-fed Russian conscripts, the hollowed-out remnants of a force that, before the collapse of the Soviet Union just three years earlier, had been the mighty Red Army.

But the Russian troops who advanced from three directions into the rebellious region of Chechnya on Dec. 11, 1994, carried history-changing forces that have since reshaped Russia and the world.

The Russian attack, initially in staggering disarray but then increasingly organized and brutal, signaled not just the start of the First Chechen War — a merciless conflict that killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians — but also the end of Russia’s liberal dream.

It was a turning point that tilted Russia toward the rule of President Vladimir V. Putin, now in power for two decades. At the time, Mr. Putin was an unknown municipal official in St. Petersburg, but five years later he became master of the Kremlin, propelled there by yet another Chechen war.

Anatoly Shabad, a former physicist and prominent pro-democracy politician in the early 1990s, visited Chechnya repeatedly in 1994, first to try to prevent war and then to halt the killing once it started.

Holed up in the basement of the presidential palace in Grozny, the Chechen capital, as Russian forces launched a disastrous, all-out assault on the city on New Year’s Eve 1994, Mr. Shabad emerged in the morning to find streets strewn with the corpses of Russian soldiers and their burned-out tanks.

Despite the Grozny debacle and many others, Mr. Shabad said, security and military officials who had pushed for the war — known as “siloviki,” or men of force — came out on top, regaining much of the influence they had lost to democratic forces after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991.

“The siloviki were the losers on the ground but they acquired power. The time of democratic transformation passed and society returned to its old state of mind,” Mr. Shabad, now retired from politics, recalled.

When President Boris N. Yeltsin, Russia’s first elected leader, announced 25 years ago that he would “employ all means at the state’s disposal” to crush Chechen demands for independence, he expected to subdue the Chechens with a swift show of overwhelming force.

The hope and expectation was that Russia would repeat the success that the United States military had in Haiti, which it had invaded in September 1994 to swiftly remove a military dictatorship.

Instead, the Chechen war dragged on for nearly two years and achieved none of Russia’s principal aims other than the death of the region’s despotic leader, Dzokhar Dudayev, who was killed in April 1996 by a laser-guided Russian missile.

The war reduced Grozny, a modern, multiethnic city, to a rubble-strewn wasteland reminiscent of Stalingrad in World War II, and shredded Russia’s post-Soviet image as a peaceful democracy. It also set up a second war in 1999 that helped convince Mr. Yeltsin — ill, often drunk and never fully recovered from the trauma of the first war — to hand over power to Mr. Putin on the eve of the new millennium.

The horrific brutality of the conflict turned what began as a secular nationalist movement in Chechnya into a cause increasingly colored by militant Islam, with many fighters viewing their battle against Russia as part of a global jihad.

Money and fighters poured in from the Middle East during the later stages of the war, turning Chechnya into a breeding ground for the violent ideology of Al Qaeda.

The 1994-96 war was freighted with foreboding from the start, with many of Mr. Yeltsin’s most stalwart supporters and senior military figures warning of disaster.

“It will be a blood bath, another Afghanistan,” predicted Gen. Boris Gromov, the deputy defense minister, who had led the last Soviet troops home from that country in February 1989. The deputy commander of Russia’s ground force resigned in protest.

Like the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the first Chechen war ended in a stalemate. Russia pulled out after signing a peace accord that left Chechnya’s ultimate status undecided but essentially gave the region the self-rule that Moscow had gone to war to prevent.

And like the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Russian departure from Chechnya left a devastated land that quickly descended into lawless strife among rival factions.

While the Afghan war had pushed the Soviet Union toward collapse, the Russian Federation survived the Chechen debacle. But it was utterly humiliated and fundamentally reshaped.

That made the ascent of a strongman like Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. agent who vowed to restore order and avenge Russia’s defeat in Chechnya, not only possible but perhaps also inevitable.

The 1994 invasion “was a real crossing of the Rubicon for Russia,” said Thomas de Waal, a British expert on the Caucasus who co-wrote “Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus,” a classic book on the conflict, with Carlotta Gall, now a reporter with The New York Times.

The war, he said, “sucked the whole country into a violent nightmare” as soldiers, mostly ill-trained conscripts, were thrown into the caldron.

“The hawks lost the war but won power,” Mr. de Waal said.

The official Russian military death toll was nearly 6,000, but most independent estimates put the real figure at perhaps twice that or more. The number of civilian deaths has been estimated at between 30,000 and 100,000.

Mr. Yeltsin’s decision to send troops into Chechnya was initially billed as a straightforward exercise to “restore constitutional order” and reverse the declaration of an independent state.

But as with subsequent Russian military interventions, notably in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, the war began with an elaborate subterfuge orchestrated by Russian intelligence.

Fifteen days before the main invasion, dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers poured into Chechnya, in what was presented as a push by Chechen opposition groups to topple Mr. Dudayev. The attack fit into a Russian narrative — repeated today in eastern Ukraine — that Moscow was simply a bystander in a local conflict.

But this story quickly unraveled, when Chechen fighters halted the advance, captured tank crews, revealed them to be Russian, and paraded them before Russian and foreign journalists.

Mr. Shabad, who visited Grozny in late November 1994 with other Russian lawmakers, said it was immediately obvious that official denials of Russian involvement were lies.

“They pretended that the Chechens were just fighting among themselves,” he said, “but the whole thing was organized by Russia, mainly the F.S.K.,” the domestic intelligence agency that succeeded the K.G.B., with the connivance of the military.

Andrei Rusakov, an army captain among the 20 or so Russians captured, told how he had signed a secret contract in which the F.S.K. — now called the F.S.B. — offered him several thousand dollars to take part in the phony Chechen opposition attack.

The revelation of the security service’s failure prompted public gloating by Russia’s military. Pavel S. Grachev, the defense minister, stated on television that the armed forces could have taken control of Chechnya with “one paratroop regiment in a couple of hours.”

His boast quickly came back to haunt him, when Mr. Yeltsin ordered the military to invade. The disastrous performance of the armed forces made Mr. Grachev perhaps the most reviled man in Russia, amid accusations that he had pushed for a military solution simply to disperse the whiff of corruption around him and his ministry.

After the failed New Year’s Eve attack on Grozny, Russian forces pounded it relentlessly from the air, an orgy of destruction that Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany denounced as “sheer madness.” The Russians finally captured the city, but as the war ground on amid horrendous brutality on both sides, Chechens recaptured it the following year, and laid siege to Russian forces in other major towns.

In August 1996, Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, Mr. Yeltsin’s national security adviser, reached an agreement with the Chechens to stop the fighting. Mr. Yeltsin, increasingly infirm, erratic and under siege politically, initially balked at the deal, which effectively acknowledged Russia’s defeat, but ultimately endorsed it.


What Russia Wants In The Balkans

Popular narratives on Russia’s geopolitical interests in the Balkans point to two rather divergent directions. One of them, inherited from the 19th-century strategic thought, says that Russia, as a landlocked empire, must expand into the Balkans, so as to gain access to the Mediterranean Sea. According to this narrative, the Balkans is treated as an empty space, regardless of the ethno-religious identity of the inhabitant population. The other one, which can be traced back to 19th-century romanticist pan-Slavism, but which has been popularized in its present form after the publication of Samuel Huntington’s theory of „the clash of civilizations“, says that Russia conceives of its influence in the Balkans through the cultivation of fraternal relations with the region’s Orthodox Christians, using common religious identity to project its geopolitical ambitions.

Facts on the ground, however, do not support either. Russia’s influence in the region, from the early 19th century to the present day, could never compete with the influence of the Anglo-French axis, exercised through the channels of Serbian and Greek nationalisms, constructed on the anti-Ottoman/anti-Islamic and anti-Habsburg/anti-Catholic foundations, in accordance with strategic interests of the two West European powers to dismantle the declining empires and transform them into a number of weak nation-states. Although these nationalist movements used Orthodox Christianity and a popular folklore motif of fraternity with Orthodox Russia as effective tools for mobilizing the targeted populations on the anti-Islamic and anti-Catholic grounds, their elites always remained clearly detached from Russia, being continuously oriented towards their true patrons in London and Paris.

The Russian motive in mobilizing Serbian nationalism in the 1990s was, of course, quite convenient for London and Paris, having concealed their continuous support to the Serbian military invasion of Bosnia and Croatia, which produced a gigantic campaign of ethnic cleansing of the non-Serb population in the occupied areas, with more than 100.000 dead and over one million expelled. That was one of the reasons why the British propaganda, both diplomatic and public, insisted on the alleged Russian support to Serbia and its military expansion as a reason why the Western powers could not intervene in the war in Bosnia and prevent further bloodshed. Another reason, much more important from a strategic point of view – indeed, the reason why the Serbian campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing was supported by London and Paris in the first place – was the global promotion of Hungtington’s theory of „the clash of civilizations“ as „the next pattern of conflict“. According to that pattern, future geopolitical blocs would be formed on the basis of religious identities, acting as „civilizations“ in ineradicable conflicts. As a model of such conflicts at a micro-level was the one launched in Bosnia, in which Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Christians were pushed to the point of mutual extermination, in an attempt to form „ethnically cleansed“ areas. This scheme was imposed on these communities’ self-appointed leaders (Izetbegović, Karadžić, Boban) by the European Community’s negotiator Lord Carrington at the conference held in Lisbon in 1992, several months before the war. The widely promoted narrative of the alleged Russian support of the Serbian aggression on Bosnia, and the alleged pan-Islamic support to Bosnia’s defenders (with the deliberate media characterisation of all Bosnians, whatever their religion, as „Muslims“) served the purpose of transforming the world into one of clashing „civilizations“. The ultimate goal was to generate an analogous conflict between Orthodox Christians and Muslims on the macro-level, which would eventually push Russia into a lasting armed conflict with the former Soviet republics populated by Muslims, and then into a global conflict with the rest of the Islamic world. Needless to say, such a development would have created a significant strategic advantage for the Anglo-American powers and a great strategic loss for both Russia and the Islamic countries.

Yeltsin’s foreign policy at the time did not show too much understanding of that geopolitical game, allowing for a public image of Russia as a promoter of pan-Orthodox ideology and a sponsor of the Serbian aggression in the Balkans. However, it must be noted that Russia was not drawn into any major conflict that would fit the pattern of Hungtington’s „clash of civilizations“, although the local conflicts in Chechnya and Nagorno-Karabakh, in which it was directly or indirectly involved, did possess some elements of that model. In contrast, Putin’s foreign policy was based on a much deeper understanding of global relations and geopolitical games at play, so that eventually the Anglo-American strategy of drawing Russia into inter-religious conflicts in Central Asia, in line with Huntington’s theory, did not bear much fruit. And so did the constructed image of Russia’s involvement on the Serbian side gradually wither away.

Yet, paradoxically, in the last couple of years Russia has played the role, previously insinuated by the Anglo-American propaganda, of a protector of Serbia’s efforts to create a Greater Serbia out of the territories of the neighbouring countries with a Serb ethnic minority population (Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo).It is difficult to imagine anything more destructive for a country, which is a home to more than 190 ethnic groups, than to adopt the principle of ethnic and religious homogeneity. However, contrary to the principles of ethnic diversity applied in its own territory and in the broader area of the former Soviet Union, Russia’s attitude in the Balkans has shown open support to the Greater Serbian programme of uniting all Serbs into a single, ethnically homogenous state. Russian foreign policy of open support for the Serbian efforts to cede the Serb-populated renegade province of Bosnia to Serbia is self-contradictory, to say the least. It is also self-defeating, if taken seriously and applied to Russia itself and the neighbouring countries with a Russian ethnic minority. Can anyone imagine today’s Russia in permanent efforts to cede parts of all post-Soviet republics populated with Russians, so as to unite them in some mythical Greater Russia? Or, can anyone imagine Russia attempting to ethnically cleanse its own territory, so as to expel or exterminate all those 190 ethnic communities, in the name of an ethnically homogenous Russian nation-state? Of course not. Yet, that is precisely the policy of Serbia towards its neighbours and towards its own population that Russia now openly supports on the international scene. Therefore, one has to rightfully ask, what is it that Russia wants in the Balkans?

In the first place, it is highly questionable how influential Russia really is in Serbia, despite its public support for it. For, the very existence of Serbia, from a semi-autonomous principality within the Ottoman territory in the 1830s to the creation of the Kingdom of Serbia in 1882 , to its expansion into other South Slavic territories in the form of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) at the Versailles Conference in 1919, always had explicit support by London and Paris. The dissolution of the communist Yugoslavia, which Serbia used as a convenient opportunity to implement the Greater Serbia programme, was also clearly backed by London and Paris, with no relevant participation by Moscow. Under these conditions, it is difficult to imagine a strategic shift from the centuries long Anglo-French influence to that of Russia. It is also difficult to identify Russian strategic interests in the Balkans, given that Russia’s foreign policy was not designed to exert control in the zones outside the territory of the former Soviet Union.

Yet, if Russia has no real influence on Serbia, then the current Russian support of Serbia’s continuing hostile policy towards its neighbours may well be a simulation of influence. Even if such a simulation cannot deceive the foreign policy circles in London, which are quite familiar with the extent of their long-term control over Serbia, it may well deceive such circles in Washington, which are commonly persuaded that Moscow’s influence can be detected everywhere. For what purpose? If the Balkan region is of strategic importance for the US, not only as a link between the West and the Middle East, but also in terms of its natural resources (e.g. Kosovo), then the simulated Russian influence in the Balkans might serve as a leverage against the American influence in the zones of true strategic importance for Russia. What first comes to mind, of course, is Ukraine and its aspirations to join NATO: if a tactical simulation of Russian influence in the Balkans, as a zone of traditional strategic influence of the West, turns out to be successful, then it might be possible to push Washington to reduce its ambitions in Ukraine and leave it outside NATO structures.

There is also another purpose for which such a simulation might serve. Not so many analysts, diplomats or politicians are aware of the tacit strategic alliance between Russia and Turkey, which has elevated Turkey to the status of a great power. This alliance has already been tested in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. In Libya, Russia and Turkey simulated a possibility of mutual military confrontation, each supporting one of the warring parties, while in reality they agreed to divide the spheres of influence, using the Libyan warring parties as their respective proxies. In Syria, under the pretended confrontation, the new allies also divided the spheres of influence. Still, the most interesting game was played out in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Turkey openly supported Azerbaijan in its efforts to restore sovereignty over this region. On the other side, Armenia was persuaded by Western powers, namely France, to go into the war over Azerbaijan’s region under the pretext that Russian military support to Armenia was a geopolitical inevitability. However, Azerbaijan, with Turkish military support, took the region over, with no resistance on Russia’s part. Russia thus returned to the principle of inviolability of post-Soviet borders and finally abandoned the principle of ethnically homogenous greater states, advocated by Armenia and its patrons in Paris and London. Is there a possibility for Russia and Turkey to play a similar game in the Balkans? Is there a possibility that Russia and Turkey want to generate an illusion among the Serbian nationalist elites that Russia would unquestionably support their attempts to cede parts of Bosnia and Kosovo, at the same time leaving Turkey with a free hand to extend its military support to Bosnia’s and Kosovo’s efforts to prevent Serbia from questioning their sovereignty? Is there a will in Russia to return to the principle of inviolability of borders in the Balkans, too, thereby abandoning the principle of ethnic homogeneity advocated by Serbia and its sponsors in London and Paris, the most harmful principle for Russia’s own interests? Is there a will in Russia to follow its own geopolitical interests, in cooperation with Turkey, along the same lines and with the same implications as in Nagorno-Karabakh? Really, what is Russia doing in the Balkans?


The Secret Battles Between US Forces and Chechen Terrorists

Militants fighting for Taliban, al Qaeda linked to Olympics extremist threat.

Feb. 19, 2014— -- For the last 12 years, U.S. Special Operations forces have repeatedly engaged in fierce combat in Afghanistan against ruthless Taliban allies from Chechnya, who have the same pedigree as their terrorist brethren threatening to disrupt the Winter Olympics in Russia, current and former commandos tell ABC News.

"I'd say Chechens were a fair percentage of the overall enemy population early in Operation Enduring Freedom," recalled an active-duty senior Special Operations officer, referring to the Pentagon's name for the Afghan war, in which he was among the first ground operatives.

Since the U.S. war in Afghanistan began after September 11, elite U.S. troops' border battles with Chechen jihadis based in Pakistan's tribal safe havens have mostly stayed hidden in the shadows of a clandestine conflict. Special Operations missions are classified secret by default and rarely publicized.

Chechens joining the Taliban and al Qaeda-aligned militias stood out for their ferocity and refusal to surrender, operators with considerable experience in eastern Afghanistan revealed in recent interviews.

"Chechens are a different breed," a Special Forces soldier who has fought them told ABC News.

"They fight till they die. They have more passion, more discipline and less regard for lives," said the soldier, who did ten tours hunting high-value targets in Afghanistan. "A few of them could have just given up but decided they needed to die."

As recently as two years ago, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan reported that scores of foreign fighters including Arabs and Chechens were killed in one major battle with U.S. forces along the border with Pakistan.

Even some of Chechnya's infamous "black widows" -- with an ideological kinship to those Russian forces recently searched for in Sochi -- may have gathered in Pakistan in late 2006 for planned suicide bombings in Kabul, according to an ISAF combat report obtained and released by Wikileaks. No evidence exists that any such attacks were ever carried out, however.

Many Chechens, including veterans of the Afghan fight, are waging war now in Syria against Bashar al Assad's troops, according to experts and jihadi statements.

Numerous U.S. intelligence reports released by Wikileaks said Chechens were serving as trainers and combatants crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan to fight and die, an assessment sometimes based on intercepts from Taliban radio and cell phone chatter.

Islamist militants from groups in the North Caucasus region -- such as the "Caucasus Emirate," whose leader Doku Umarov last July threatened to attack the Sochi Olympics -- have primarily fought Russian forces in Chechnya and Dagestan and targeted civilians in Russia in brutal terrorist attacks since the early 1990s. Al Qaeda-core in Pakistan has endorsed these attacks but hasn't provided much operational support, experts said.

Another highly decorated special operator whose nine deployments to Afghanistan began in late 2001, compared Chechen jihadis his units sometimes encountered to the Viet Cong guerrillas who U.S. Special Forces fought in the Vietnam War.

"What I always appreciated was their lack of tether. They will transplant anywhere. I don't think they ate or were even clear as to why they fight, wherever it is, but they're fighting most of the time. It's just a fire in their bellies. It's what they do," said the veteran special operator.

When Chechen fighters were known to be dug into a valley along the mountainous border with Pakistan at the outset of a U.S. "clear and hold" mission, "I was ready to get hammered on. I've never seen a foreign fighter walk so alone and not give a damn," the soldier added.

That reputation, however, may have led many in the U.S. military and intelligence to inflate the Chechens' true numbers on a battlefield that is often as foggy as the actual border itself is undefined.

University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth scholar Brian Glyn Williams, who has searched for evidence of Chechen foreign fighters on the ground in Afghanistan while under contract with the U.S. military and CIA, said it wouldn't be surprising if some had joined the Taliban but he insists such tales are mostly a "Chechen jihadi myth."

"I think the lack of evidence is telling. There is a total absence of any names or anything tangible," Williams told ABC News this week.

Christopher Swift, a Georgetown University scholar and ABC News consultant who has done research in Afghanistan and interviewed scores of militants in the North Caucasus, agreed there is little hard proof that as many Chechens fought in Afghanistan as has been implied by military reports and noted that none were ever held at the U.S. terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But, Swift added, "That's consistent with fighting to the death. These fighters are not going to get captured."

Some Chechens were reputed to have fought with al Qaeda Arabs against U.S. troops during Operation Anaconda in 2002 -- but it may have been the birthplace of the myth.

"It was a pervasive rumor at the time. But I never saw a Chechen. In fact, I'm not sure anyone did," Brandon Friedman, a 101st Airborne platoon commander in Anaconda, told ABC News. Friedman later wrote "The War I Always Wanted" about his experiences.

Williams and Swift said al Qaeda militants who spoke Russian -- often a unifying language for foreign fighters from the former Soviet Union -- and whose corpses appeared Caucasian were presumed to be Chechens, even if they were actually Uzbeks, Tajiks or from other ethnic groups.

"I didn't run into any Uzbeks but I distinctly recall several Chechens with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," said the active-duty senior Special Operations officer, recalling combat operations in 2001-2002.

An experienced former operator from America's "tier one" black Special Operations group, "Delta Force," confirmed that misidentifications were common over the course of the war but said some foreign fighters were indeed Chechens. They entered combat as extremely disciplined and well-equipped teams with good weapons discipline and expensive personal gear made by The North Face.

"There were fighters that came to train, came to fight to support the jihad, and those that came to fight and learn U.S. tactics to take back to Chechnya to fight the current Russian government," said the veteran operator, whose affiliation with "The Unit" remains classified.

Any Chechens who survived their confrontations with Navy SEAL, Army Green Beret or Delta operators working for CIA or the Joint Special Operations Command, will not likely forget -- or forgive -- their American adversaries.



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