First Chechen War - thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks pour into the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, where a brutal fight for the capital Grozny begins
With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Chechnya, like many of the other republics encompassed by the former Soviet Union, declared its independence. However, unlike Georgia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and the other former Soviet states, Chechnya held only the barest autonomy under Soviet rule and was not considered one of the 15 official Soviet republics. Instead, Chechnya is regarded as one of many republics within the Russian Federation. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who permitted the dissolution of the Soviet Union, would not tolerate the secession of a state within territorial Russia.
In August 1991, Dzhozkhar Dudayev, a Chechen politician and former Soviet air force general, toppled Chechnya’s local communist government and established an anti-Russian autocratic state. President Yeltsin feared the secession of Chechnya would prompt a domino effect of independence movements within the vast Russian Federation. He also hoped to recover Chechnya’s valuable oil resources. After ineffective attempts at funding Chechen opposition groups, a Russian invasion began on December 11, 1994.
Shortly 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.
After the initial gains of the Russian army, the Chechen rebels demonstrated a fierce resistance in Grozny, and thousands of Russian troops died and many more Chechen civilians were killed during almost two years of heavy fighting. In August 1996, Grozny was retaken by the Chechen rebels after a year of Russian occupation, and a cease-fire was declared.
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.