First Chechen War, 1994-96

The First Chechen War, 1994-96

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Operation Jihad – Chechen fighters assault on Grozny, August 6-22, 1996

First Chechen War, 1994-96 These events of August 1996 have caused much controversy from the political and personal standpoint mainly of the Russian leaders (military and civil). But in the resulting fighting there were a lot of casualties from both sides.

By mid-1996 the active part of the 1st Chechen war was over and Russian military units were leaving Chechnya transferring the responsibility to Internal Affairs troops and local Chechen police. Officially in Grozny itself there was up-to 6000 Russian forces (mainly police) plus up-to 10,000 army personal located mostly at the north close to the city, but actually there were much less, according to the participants of the events many police units were underpowered and some were operating outside Grozny.

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As for the army – as I mentioned most of the units were packed and ready to leave to their bases outside Chechnya. Despite the relatively high number of Russian troops, the city itself remained literally unprotected. In all there were 22 outposts, blocking less than 25% of all roads and routes (33 from 130). In terms of armor Russian units reportedly operated 207 APCs (BTR, BMP and BRDM) but according to the witnesses quite a big portion was unserviceable. The last but not the least point worth mentioning was a quite obvious “dislike” of army leaders by police generals and vice versa, not to mention the FSB officers.

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The information about the probable operation and grouping of Chechen rebels has been available long before August. Several groups of Chechens were captured trying to gather information about Russian forces. In addition, help the families of the leaders to escape the city. Day before the assault a poison has been spread over the streets to “silence” the street dogs. On 5 am August 6, first Chechen detachments began to enter the city bypassing Russian outposts. (Interestingly at exactly the same time a force of 1500 Russian police had been withdrawn from the city).

The main goal from the beginning was a train station that had several wagons full of weapons delivered just a couple of days before the assault.

At 5:50 a force of 200 Chechens attacked the station killing and wounding up-to 300 Russian police servicemen.

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And capturing a lot of weaponry including large amounts of RPG and RPO rocket launchers. In general there was no coordinated attack to destroy the strongholds but it looks like the idea was just to infiltrate in-between, separate them and cut one unit from another while forcing them to keep heads down, that tactic actually succeeded.

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In reality the Chechens just entered the city and pushed towards government buildings in the center trying to persuade Russians to leave the buildings – according to the participants it looked like they just had to show the gains but not actually fight.

The most desperate situation was around the positions of 101 brigade of Internal troops located at Minutka square. Police units were not able to fight with such a force of 1500-2000 fighters. The officers and generals could not rule the troops and coordination literally did not exist. Each unit was holding its ground and fought for itself, sometimes hitting friendlies.

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A lot of the Internal troops and police armor was hit during the first hours of fighting. Communications were chaotic. Despite the situation, the Russian army did not send reinforcements or support until the end of next day when a column of 205 motor-rifle brigade tried to unblock the government buildings and evacuated trapped reporters. The column was almost entirely whipped off.

(In all, the 205th brigade lost 200 killed and 500 wounded during the first days of fighting).

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Here is just one episode of the intensive fighting:
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On August 9th the column of 205 motor-rifle brigade was attacked by the rebels. The leading T-72 of the company commander Cpt. Korolyuk was hit seven times and set afire. The gunner was thrown away by the blast. The rest of the column started to retreat. While managing to escape the destruction leaving the blazing tank surrounded by Chechens. Cpt. Korolyuk waited until the Chechen fighters got closer and opened machine-gun fire, killing a dozen of enemies.

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Chechens pushed back and tried to hit the tank with RPGs but Cpt. Korolyuk still was able to fire his machine gun from the burning tank. He was shot dead while trying to abandon the tank. Russians made several attempts to recover his body but with no results until August 24 when the fighting in Grozny was over. Only after 5 days on August 11, the first column managed to reach its target. After a heavy Russian resistance and intensive military support.

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The situation stabilized by August 13. When almost all Russian outposts had been unblocked. And Chechens started to lose control and ran short on ammo.

By then the overall force of Chechen fighters in the city was an estimated at 6-7000 men. (Some sources mentioned 4000) due to reinforcements plus many Chechen government police servicemen taking the side of the attackers.
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Meanwhile the Russian military group around Grozny led by general Konstantin Pulikovsky considerably reinforced itself. Moreover, preparing for the heavy assault with artillery and aviation. (The memories of 1994/95 were still fresh and many officers including Pulikovsky were keen for revenge, according to general Troshev memories. Pulikovsky was happy to have such a large amount of rebels trapped inside the city. And wanted to hit them once and for all). All of the exits had armored Russian troops and many mines as well.

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On August 20, General Pulikovsky demanded from Chechens to surrender in 48 hours or face destruction. The Chechens were desperate.

Trapped with no supplies and almost no ammo.

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Their commanders tried several times to approach Russians but it did not help. Pulikovsky wanted blood! 

On the night of August 20-21, Russians started heavy artillery and aerial bombardment of Grozny districts controlled by Chechens. On August 22, Alexander Lebed (Boris Yeltsin emissary) arrived in Chechnya. And cancelled General Pulikovsky ultimatum halting all Russian military activities. Lebed, accompanied by Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky personally managed the negotiations with Chechens. In addition signed the agreement literally backing off all Russian forces.

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In conclusion, during the fight Russians lost up-to 500 men. 87 armor pieces including 18 tanks and 3 (4) helicopters shot down. Lastly, though some sources suggest that the actual casualties and material losses can be more. Chechens losses can be as high as 1000 men but no clear estimation available.

First Chechen War, 1994-96 Written by Efim Sandler

Efim Sandler
First Chechen War, 1994-96