A Monthly Journal of the IDSA
The War in Chechnya: A Military Analysis
By G.D. Bakshi *
The Jihad Paradigm
Samuel Huntington had enunciated a radically new paradigm of conflict premised upon a Clash of Civilisations. These clashes, so Huntington had prophesised, would occur along the great fault lines between the world civilisationsbetween the Christian (Western) and the Islamic civilisation or a combination of the Sinic and Islamic versus the Western civilisations. The primal axis of conflict would be the West versus the rest.
The Afghanistan War was the worlds first faultline war. It saw Islam pitted against the Orthodox Christian civilisation of Russia with the backing of both the Western World and China. Huntington avers that the Afghan Conflict therefore was a paradigmatic conflict. To quote him directly It was the first successful resistance to a foreign power, which was not based on nationalist principles. It was waged as a Jihad and gave a tremendous boost to Islamic self-confidence and power. Its impact on the Islamic world was in effect comparable to the impact which the Japanese defeat of the Russians in 1905 had on the Oriental World. 1
The end of the Afghan War saw the ethnic splintering of the Afghan State. It saw the onset of a new Islamic Diaspora. Footloose Jihad warriors from Afghanistan now seeped across international boundaries to fuel further Jihads in Kashmir, Xinjiang, Bosnia, Algeria and Chechnya. The Afghan Diaspora unleashed the largest volume of free-floating small arms and Kalashnikovs into the global terrorist networks. The Westphalian nation state was built upon the edifice of a state monopoly of power. This stemmed from a demilitarisation of the population. The Afghan War saw the reckless weaponisation of the Afghan tribes to such an extent that no government can hope to enforce a monopoly of violence again in the foreseeable future. What was worse was the internationalist character of this Afghan Jihad, which attracted over 30,000 zealots from various Islamic countries in the Middle East and Africa.
An interventionist Jihad ideology, an ample supply of narcotics and the largest collection of free floating small arms have created an explosive cocktail that threatens the very basis of the nation state system founded after Westphalia. Jihad is a new paradigm of war.
Countering Jihad: The Russian Response in Chechnya
The Chechen campaign therefore is a landmark conflict. The Second Chechen Campaign just concluded by Russia seems to mark a new level of lethality in the response to Jihad. So far the Jihads were being treated as a new ideological genre in the bandwidth of Low Intensity Conflict. The Russian response in Chechnya (From August 99 March 2000) has been in the form of a massive, all out and full-fledged conventional military assaultthat does not have any trace of limitations or restraints in space, time and scale or weapon employment and force usage that would qualify it as a Low Intensity Conflict or even a Limited War. Does this level of lethality and force employment set a new benchmark of violence in response to externally sponsored Jihads? Has the era of the Clash of Civilisations finally come of age? Does the Chechen War signify the onset of a new counter Jihad war form that has little to distinguish it from conventional warfare per se ? If the Jihadis have no compunctions in altering the existing paradigm of inter state relations based upon the sanctity of international borderswhy should those faced with such blatant violations of their state sovereignty not respond at a much higher level of lethality? The Russians have treated Jihad as an act of warand thereby unofficially enunciated a new paradigm of response to externally sponsored Jihads. There is a need to ponder over the larger doctrinal issues thrown up by this war. These are of critical relevance to India, for it is faced with precisely such an externally sponsored Jihad in Kashmir. What does the Russian precedent signify? Does it provide a new response model to such Jihads that take it out of the orbit of Low Intensity Conflict entirely? The Russian Campaign in Chechnya seems to indicate precisely such a quantum jump in the lethality of response to externally sponsored Jihads. The Chechen campaign therefore needs to be studied in detail by military analysts the world overfirstly for its wider doctrinal ramifications and secondly it needs to be critically examined to determine the following:
Is there a systemic revival taking place in Russia under the regime of Vladimir Putin? Russian forces have been written off on a number of occasions in recent military history. Each time, however, they have shown surprising resilience and recuperative abilities. Should there be a systemic and military revival in Russia, it would set the stage for the onset of true multipolarity in what is today a largely unipolar power structure.
The second critical aspect is the performance of Russian weapon systems. We have a large number of these in our inventory and their combat performance would be of great interest and relevance to our military. Hence the need to study this campaign in great detail.
Background: The First Chechen War 1994-96
The first Chechen War (1994-96) was something of a disaster. The erstwhile Soviet Army had been sharply downsized and divided between the various splinter Republics of the CIS. Large numbers of Russian formations were then returning from Eastern Europe. They had no cantonments and quartering facilities to return to. In many cases, troops had not been paid for months. Downsizing had unleashed organisational turbulence. The Russian Army was sucked into the Chechen quagmire in the midst of this massive and violent organisational upheaval. Quite obviously, its combat performance highlighted the internal chaos and transition upheavals. Lt. Col Timothy.L Thomas analyst at the US Foreign Military Studies office at Kansas, has provided many useful operational insights into the First Chechen Campaign of 1994-96. He writes Dzhokhar Dudayev, a former Soviet Air Force General of Chechen extraction was invited to lead the breakaway Republic of Chechnya on August 12, 1999 (two days after the August coup in the former Soviet Union). Later he was elected President. The Russian Fifth Congress of Peoples Deputies decreed the election illegal and the Russian Security Services began to foment armed opposition against Dudayev. By 1994, these opposition groups called upon Russia to support it and help establish constitutional order. Russia agreed. In November 94, opposition forces supported by Russian Security Services, led an attack to unseat Dudayev. This attack failed dismally and Yeltsin decided to intervene militarily. 2
Chechnya had come into the international limelight for two reasons
At the start of the First Chechen Conflict, Dudayev had nearly 265 aircraft left behind by the Russian Army when it evacuated Chechnya in 1992. These included a large number of combat trainer aircraft and a few Mig 15 and 17 fighters and eight helicopters. The Russians feared that Dudayev would use these to attack Russian ground forces preparing for the offensive. Hence preemptive airstrikes were launched on December 1, 1994 on Chechen airfields employing a large number of SU-24 and 27 ground attack fighters. 3
The Russians initially gathered their forces at the airfields of the North Caucasus Military District, with most of the aircraft coming from the Fourth Air Army. These included 140 x SU-24, 25 and 27 fighters and 55 helicopters (Mi-24, Mi-8, and Mi-6) along with a large number of transport aircraft (An-12, An-22, An-124 and IL-76). The Russians had deployed an A-50 AWAC and put aloft two to six Mig 31 and Su-27 aircraft to prevent any possible interference from Turkey. This AN-50 aircraft was able to pick up the location of President Dudayev when he was talking on a satellite cellular phone. This information was relayed to SU-25 fighter bombers which employed TV guided bombs to kill Dudayev. This was a major coup of the war. 4
Employment of Helicopters: The Russians had started the campaign by using 55 helicopters of all types. By late March 95 the number had risen to 105 (this included 52xMi-24 Hinds)
The Russians did not field their Kamov KA-50/52 helicopters in the first Chechen Campaign. Helicopters took heavy losses from Chechen ZU-23 AD guns and Dshk Machine guns mounted on jeeps and Toyota trucks. Besides, they used Strellas, Iglas and Stinger SAMS. An interesting feature was the Chechen use of RPG-7 Anti Tank Rocket Launchers against helicopters. Five helicopters (two Mi-8s and three Mi-24s) were lost in the first three months of the conflict. By the end of the first Chechen campaign, statistics indicated that every tenth Russian helicopter was lost and every fourth damaged. The noise of the helicopters alerted the opposition and its slow flight speed permitted them to lay ambushes for these. The Chechens employed a unique tactic. They would pinpoint the location of the Forward Air Controller (FAC) aircraft by radio direction finders and ambush them regularly. 5
Employment of Fixed Wing Aircraft: One of the prime military lessons of the first Chechen campaign was that close air support aircraft like the Su-24 (Frog foot) were far more effective in the ground attack role than attack helicopters. These are slow, sub sonic aircraft with good titanium protection for the cockpit which enabled them to survive hits from the 23mm class of air defence guns. The SU-24 is the Russian equivalent of the American A-10 Warthog which is also custom built for close air support. This aircraft had proved its resilience and survivability in Afghanistan where the SU-24/25 suffered one loss for every 80-90 damaged versus 15-20 losses for other type of aircraft. Due to its high thrust to weight ratio it is very manoeuverable in mountain gorges and due to its long range and titanium armour protection, it could stay over the battlefield for a long time and make repeated passes over the target. In Chechnya the SU-24/25 was the main workhorse and flew more than 9000 sorties. Of these over 5300 were ground attack sorties. Based on the First Chechen War experience, the Russians are said to have developed the SU-39 fighter-bomber primarily for ground attack. This has 17mm of titanium armour protection for the cockpit along with stealth features. It has a standard range of 4000 km and dual controls with the navigator. It has been custom built for close air support and Low Intensity Conflict operations. 6
The Russians thus placed heavy reliance on air power. Benjamin Lambeth, a Rand Corporation analyst however noted that quantity rather than quality was the chief hallmark of Russian air operations in Chechnya. 7 Their initial mechanised operations were very successful in the flat terrain but got bogged down badly in the built up areas of Grozney. The Chechen War was highly unpopular in the army and with the Afghan War veterans. Caught in the midst of a major transition and massive organisational turmoil, the Russian Army had suffered heavily and the Chechen operation had to be called off in 1996. The first Chechen War had been jinxed from the very start. It had been launched when the Russian Armed Forces were in the midst of a major systemic transition and turbulence. The operation was launched in a very great hurry and without adequate thought or preparation. Though the Russian Forces initially succeeded in occupying most of Chechnya, they were not numerically strong enough to retain control. The unpaid Russian conscripts were demoralised and the war was highly unpopular. The Chechen guerillas had survived and by August 1996 they had regrouped and in a series of surprise offensives recaptured Grozney and many other major Chechen cities.
The Second Chechen War
The Russians never really caused a let up in their preparations for the Second Chechen War. The humiliation of the first was galling. It had caught them in the midst of major organisational upheaval and systematic transition. Based upon the hands on experience of the first Chechen campaign, they began to formulate the doctrine for fighting a Limited War on the Chechen model and set into motion energetic steps to fight the same. They set about rectifying the glaring shortcomings of the First Chechen Campaign. Michael Orr highlights these as:
Command and Control: The major problem was coordination between the forces of the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry (MVD).
Manning and Mobilisation System: Most of the units committed were badly understrength. These had to be brought upto strength by transferring personnel from other units and formations. This eroded unit cohesiveness and formation effectiveness. The army fought as a series of composite battalions.
Training: Russian infantry men were not trained specifically for fighting in the cities (built up areas) and mountains.
Information War: Information War and an inability to shape the global, regional or even their national information environment was a major shortcoming. The Russian public opinion was wholly against this war. The Chechens proved far more skilful at projecting their viewpoint.
Since the first Chechen War had been something of a poor stand off, it provided a tremendous filip to Islamic morale. A large number of ex Afghan Jihad veterans had entered Chechnya. The most famous of them was a Saudi national who went by the nom de guerre of Khattab. Shamil Basayev emerged as the chief Islamic warlord. By mid 1999, the Islamic Jihadis were not only tampering with the oil pipelines passing through Chechnya, they were also busy trying to spread Islamic influence into the other Islamic areas of the Caucasus. The Chechen rebels have close links with Pakistans ISI and the Taliban. The Taliban in fact recognised the Chechen regime and recently an ex Chechen senior official visited Kabul and Islamabad to seek arms aid and reinforcements.
Dagestan Intrusion: The Second Chechen War really started in August 99 when Shamil Basayev, the Chechen Islamic warlord mounted an invasion of the neighbouring Russian...province of Dagestan. This invasion/intrusion has close parallels with the Kargil intrusion. Maj. Gen Afsir Karim writes, The Wahabis led by Basayev were trying to enlarge the battle zone to Prigorodny region in North Ossettia. It appeared that large scale intrusions were planned in Ossettia-Ingush areas with a view to starting a movement for incorporating in Ingushtia. 8 The Federal troops were moved in to deal with these intrusions. Initially the Russians flew in their 31 Airborne Brigade and a battalion of the crack Pskov Guards Airborne Division to contain and expel the intrusions. Both these are part of the Russian Rapid Reaction Forces. 9 The main areas of operations from August 2-24, 1990 was in the area of Botlekh (south of Vedeno Gorge). This was the initial area of incursions. Subsequently the fighting shifted to the North of Novalaksya (below the city of Gudermes) between September 5-18, 1999.
Russian Reaction: The Russians then launched trans border artillery and air attacks on the Jihadi Islamic bases in south Chechnya. Since the Chechens also had artillery support, they retaliated in kind. The initial Russian reactions thus failed to stem the Chechen aggressiveness.
Wave of Terror Bombings: A rash of terrorist bombings was launched by the Chechnya based Jihadis in various cities of Russia. These included the following:
(a) September 4, 1999 Bomb explosion in Russian capital of Dagestan 64 killed.
(b) September 8, 1999 Blast in Moscow94 killed.
(c) September 13, 1999 Second blast in Moscow119 killed.
(d) September 16, 1999 Third blast in Moscow19 killed.
(Source: Bill Powell Russian War Hits Home. Newsweek, September 27, 1999 Issue) 10 Thus overall 286 civilians were killed in the space of just one month.
These terrorist bombings created an uproar in Russia. Never, in recent times, had the Russian citizens felt so insecure and humiliated. The Russian armed forces had carefully studied the lessons of the First Chechen War. The initial systemic and organisational turbulence of the early 1990s had by now stabilised.
Exercising the Proactive Options
The Russian response therefore was coloured entirely by domestic compulsions. Unlike India, they paid scant regard to international reaction and global opinion. They did not launch any skilful information/media campaign to shape either the global or the regional information environment. They went purely by their perceived national security considerations and the need for assuaging outraged domestic public opinion. The Russians therefore launched an all out military invasion of Chechnya as a full fledged proactive option to carry the war to the enemy territory and liquidate the Chechen Islamic fighters in their own lair.
The war was highly popular in Russia. Overnight the Government approval ratings shot up to 70 per cent. However the global and regional information environment had not been managed well. The global media was full of the details of the collateral damage to civilians that the Russian campaign was causing. The Russians however paid no heed to the Western human rights criticisms. With single mindedness of purpose they launched an all out military assault to destroy the Chechen rebel fighters and their home bases in a purely military solution.
Media estimates put the total number of Chechen fighters at 10,000. Of these some 3000 to 5000 were reportedly holed up inside Grozney the capital city itself. Some 3500 were in the hills/mountains of southeast Chechnya (some recent media estimates have put the figures as high as 7000).
Hot Pursuit in the Hills: The Dagestan invasion had been launched in the south. One Russian option was to invade through the southern Chechen Hills in hot pursuit. This option would have been more acceptable globally. Militarily, however, it would have been a difficult proposition. The operations in the hills/mountains would have proceeded at crawling pace and led to heavy Russian casualties.
Air-Land Assault with Mechanised Forces: The second option adopted by the Russians was an all out air-land assault spearheaded by mechanised forces in north Chechnya. The operational design was to employ massive air power and artillery strikes against all major politico-military centers (cities like Grozney, Gudermez Shali, Urus-Martan and Vedeno where the Islamic fighters had holed up in the built up areas) these were to be invested and heavily bombed. Grozney and Vedeno were to be reduced.
Dr Malik G Galeotti, writing in the Janes Intelligence Review December 1999 issue, has speculated that possibly the initial Russian objectives were not as ambitious as they ultimately turned out to be.
Some observers felt that the generals in charge of the operations proved to be more audacious and daring than their superiors in the General Headquarters and outpaced the plans at each step. The alternative explanation is skilful use of the media to spread misinformation about military intentions and plans so as to achieve tactical surprise at each step. Thus initial Russian statements gave the impression that Grozney would not be assaulted just encircled, invested and bombed. Later a full fledged and methodical attack was launched.
Russian Command Structure in the Second Chechen War
The Operations were controlled by the Joint Grouping of Russian Forces in the North Caucasus (ONG) headed by Col Gen Victor Kazantsev, Commander of the North Caucasus Military District. He had been Gen Kavashnins deputy in the First Chechen War and hence was eminently qualified to lead this campaign. Under him were:
(a) The Eastern Grouping: Under Lt Gen Gennady Troshev. He was an ethnic Russian of Chechen extraction, knew the terrain well and proved to be the most daring field commander on the Russian side. He was the deputy commander of Russian Forces in Chechnya.
(b) The Western Grouping: Under Maj Gen. V. Shamanov.
(c) The Northern Grouping: Under Gen. Thachev.
(d) The Southern Grouping: Under Maj. Gen. Mukhridin Ashurov. This was organised in January 2000 as an anvil to block the escape of the Chechen rebels via the southern mountains and passes. This comprised some 5000 troops from the Airborne Forces, Naval Infantry and Border Guards.
(e) Grozney Grouping (Later Argun Grouping): Under Lt. Gen V. Bulgakov. Under him was Major Gen. Mikhail Maloteyew. (One of the Russian Armys star commanders) He was reportedly killed when leading an assault by MVD troops in Grozney.
The Russian build up was slow and methodical and much less rushed than in the 1994 First Chechen War. Troops had been systemically prepared for mountain warfare in a divisional battle school in Siberia (over 7000 personnel were sent from here).
North Chechnian terrain is flat and open till the River Terek. The Russians initially concentrated some 50,000 troops for the offensive. A corps sized invasion force was backed by about 20,000 troops in the reserve. (subsequently the total Russian Force levels committed were in the region of 93,000) Elite Spetsnaz and Paratrooper units spearheaded the attacks. The Russian Air Force provided massive and sustained close air supportonce again extensively using the SU-24, 25 and SU-39 fighter bombers. A new feature was the combat debut of the Kamov KA-50 Black Shark Attack helicopters. Reportedly these were assigned to the 319 (Independent) Helicopter Regt located at Chernigovka. 12 Army Aviation experts the world over will need to closely monitor the combat performance of the Kanov helicopters. Russian attack helicopters are organised into Aviation Tactical Groups comprising two to four MI 24 Hind attack helicopters supported by one to two MI8 transport helicopters. These Aviation Tactical Groups are assigned to the Regiments where the Forward Air controllers are based, Regimental Tactical Groups and Battalion Tactical Groups terminology figured prominently in the Russian press. These seem to be the equivalents of our Combat Commands and Combat Groups. Sub units were organiseed for specific tactical missions and titled accordingly. As such there have been references to Storm Groups and detachments", in the Russian press for fighting in built up areas along with manoeuver groupsoperating outside the towns. Michael Orr claims that we are witnessing the onset of a tactical revolution in the Russian Army. To cut down on casualties massive reliance has been placed on fire missions. As stated earlier 80 per cent of these fire missions have been carried out by fixed wing or rotory-wing aviation and 15 to 17 per cent by the Artillery. The air strikes are divided equally between the helicopters and the fixed wing Su-24 and Su-25. The responsiveness of Russian air support and artillery support have been astonishing and a vast improvement over the first Chechen War. Regimental and Battalion Commanders were given their operational zones of responsibility for reconnaissance and destruction by fire (The zonal objective system). Within these zones artillery fire support was liberally allotted at the scale of one artillery or mortar battery per company. There was a very heavy preponderance of artillery employed in the direct shooting role at close ranges.
Other reports indicate that the MVD and National Security Service advisors urged Putin to pull out all stops.
InvasionPhase One: This lasted from late September 99 to mid October 1999. It involved the isolation of Chechnya by Joint Forces Grouping East and Joint Forces Grouping West. Major offensives were launched by Joint Forces Grouping North to occupy a so called Security Zone north of the River Terek. It was a rapid two pronged mechanised advance by Joint Forces Grouping North in the direction of Kauskaya and Salkovskaya. This was complemented by an equally rapid thrust by. Joint Forces Grouping East from Kiziyar towards the Terek river. By mid October 1999 the line of Terek river had been secured in a rapid air-land blitzkrieg.
Phase TwoThe Encirclement of Grozney: This phase lasted from mid October to late December 1999. The Western and Eastern Group of Forces launched massive three pronged attacks to isolate and then invest the capital city of Grozney. In the first Chechen War, Russian troops had dashed into the Grozney city center only to be ambushed, sniped at and shot up over the months. This time the Russians were far more methodical and cautious in this phase.
Initial Russian attacks in Grozney met with very stiff resistance. Russian Maj. Gen. Mikhail Malofeyev was killed in the bitter fighting. The Russians carried out a brief tactical pause in which they subjected Grozney to intense fire assaults using Grad Rocket launchers and self-propelled artillery along with heavy and continuous air strikes. These caused heavy casualties and collateral damage to the civilian population and led to the exodus of over 220,000 Chechen refugees to Ingushetia and Georgia.
Phase ThreeFighting in Built Up Area: The Reduction of Grozney (December 25, 1999 to mid February 2000). Initially it appeared that the Russian operational design was to drive in deep and encircle all the major population centers. Casualties would then be inflicted on the rebels by artillery fire assaults and heavy air strikes on the cities where they were holed up. There was a possibility that based upon the experience of the First Chechen war, the Russians would not like to get involved in fighting in built up areas, where operations can be very slow and result in enormous casualties. Acting President Valdimir Putin was however quite blunt Our aim is not to encircle the terrorists. Our aim is to destroy them and bring them to justice. Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev said that his forces would fulfill the task of liquidating armed groups and terrorist bands in Chechnya. 13 Historically the Russians have the most extensive experience of fighting in built up areas. During World War II, Leningrad and Stalingrad had become household names. The dogged and determined Russian attacks made a dent in the Grozney defences. Russian forces pushed into Grozney along five main thrust lines. In the northeast (from the Sunzha river direction) in the east along the airport and Khankhela (where major battles of the Minutka Square took place). From the south and southwest and along the northwestern road. By February 1, 2000 the back of the Chechen resistance in Grozney was broken. Lechi Dudayev (the Mayor of Grozney and a nephew of former President Dudayev) was killed. Shamil Basayev, the top Chechen warlord was badly wounded. 140 Chechen terrorists surrendered and Russian troops gained control of 40 per cent of Grozney, including the famous Minutka Square.
Anne Nivat, a correspondent of Quest France, reported that on February 1, some 2200 Chechen rebels were seen in Alkhan Khale, one of the suburbs of Grozney, trying to break out and escape towards the hills of the southeast. 14 They found a gap between the Russian southern and southwestern thrust lines and tried desperately to exploit it. The Russians were trying their best to intercept and destroy this band and were planning to methodically flush out the 3500 Islamic fighters in the southeastern hills. Though a lot of hard fighting still lay ahead, the kernel in Grozney had been broken by mid February 2000 and heavy casualties inflicted on the Islamic rebels.
Phase FourThe Battle of the Gorges: The approaches to the southeastern hills pass through two critical gorgesthe Argun gorge, south of Grozney and the Vedeno gorge in the east. The Chechens were guarding these strongly. The village of Shatoi in the Argun gorge was the main arms dump and base. The Russian forces regrouped and attacked these gorges. The Southern Group of Forces had been assembled in January 2000 to block the escape routes over the border and act as an anvil. The Eastern and Western Groupings now drove towards the Vedeno and Argun Gorges respectively to drive the Chechens against the anvil formed by the Southern Group of Forces in a classical encirclement and annihilation campaign. Initial frontal attacks within gorges failed. The Russians then tried to outflank these. By end February 2000 the Russians had captured both the gorges and occupied Shatoi. On February 29, 2000 Lt Gen Gennady Troshev, Deputy Commander of the Russian forces announced that the five month old Chechen operation had been successfully completed. The Russians had very deliberately progressed operations in the winter when rebel movements could easily be picked up from the air against the snow and the bare trees afforded no cover. By all accounts the Second Chechen Campaign has been far more methodical and successful than the First Campaign had been.
The Second Russian Campaign has thus been an attempt at an outright military solution with no restraints whatsoever and no pretence to any Information war sophistry designed to mould global or regional public opinion or shape the information environment. Instead of hot pursuit in the hills, they opted for an all out air-mechanised invasion in the northern plains where the terrain suited them for conventional operations. Whereas Indian operations in J&K have been marked by maximal restraint, the Russians have ignored all Human Rights criticism and simply conventionalised the conflict. The Indian restraint was understandable and logical when the Army was dealing with the indigenous insurgents in J&K. Being its own misguided people, the Indian State was sensitive to the degree of violence they could be subjected to and was understandably keen to restrict any collateral damage to the civilian population. However, military intruders and foreign militants cannot be put in the same class as indigenous and misguided insurgents of local Kashmiri extraction. It is noteworthy that almost 80 per cent of the insurgents now operating in J&K are foreign militants or guest Mujahideen of Pakistani, Afghan and Middle East extraction. In Kargil, the Pakistani Army (The Northern Light Infantry Troopers) used the fig leaf of the Mujahideen to launch their massive intrusion. Once this fact was recognised, the degree of violence of the Indian response was increased correspondingly to the level of a local war. For the first time air power and artillery were employed extensively to shake out the intruders and division sized operations were launched to evict them. The Russian response in Chechnya marks a sharp contrast in operational methodology to the Indian response so far.
The Russian Military Doctrine: Transition from Local Wars to Full-Scale Conventional War.
The Russian response in Chechnya can be traced to the new developments in Russian Military Doctrine. The 1997 Russian National Security Concept had identified internal and local conflicts as the main threats to the State. A major ground attack on Russia was seen as highly unlikely. However all that changed in the wake of Bosnia and the expansion of the NATO eastwards to the borders of Russia itself. The conflict in the Balkans, combined with the NATOs newly stated mission of conducting out of area operations, impelled the Russians to modify their military doctrine. Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev said that Russia will revise its military doctrine to conform to the threat emanating from NATO military action in Yugoslavia. General Leonti Kuznetsov; Commander of the Moscow Military District, publicly criticised the National Security Concept of 1997 and said, our armed forces should be prepared for large scale aggression. He recalled how as chief of the Main Operations Directorate he had personally removed from the draft doctrine the provision that Russia needed to be ready for conducting only local and regional wars. 15
In pursuit of this new concept of fighting large-scale conventional wars, the Russian military conducted a series of large-scale exercises in a number of military districts (the quantity and magnitude of which had not been seen in recent times). An exercise in the Far East had used 40 tanks, 200 Armoured Fighting Vehicles, 75 aircraft and 11 warships. 16 These exercises and doctrinal developments seem to have influenced the Russian decision to conventionalise the conflict in Chechnya. The Russian military doctrine has clearly graduated from a local and limited war context to all out conventional war. The war in Chechnya is no Low Intensity Conflict. It is a full-fledged conventional military invasion to encircle and annihilate the Chechen terrorists in their own home bases. The deliberate bombardments of the Chechen cities seem to have been an outright reprisal for the terrorist bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities. True, informationally and diplomatically the Russian campaign has been somewhat of a media disaster but militarily it has been an unqualified success so far. Domestically, it has been highly popular, as it has served as a catharsis for the Russian people who have been feeling highly insecure and beleaguered. It must be noted however that throughout Russian military history, it has not maintained any distinction between civil wars with ideological class enemies and bandits and external conventional wars. Thus any operational comparisons with our campaign to counter the proxy war in J&K are very difficult to make. Taking a leaf from the first Chechen War when the terrorists withdrew into the concrete jungles of the built up area of Grozny and other cities (the comparison with the LTTE getting into Jaffna in 1987 is pertinent); the Russians launched rapid mechanised operations to encircle the city of Grozney (and other important cities). Having encircled Grozney and blocked all routes of escape, it was subjected to intense fire assaults from the air and artillery. Then ground attacks were launched from multiple directions towards the city center to destroy the 3000 odd Chechen fighters holed up in that city. The battle for Grozney has been a classic campaign in the built up urban terrain and merits close scrutiny by military experts the world over. Heavy and unrestricted use of air power and firepower has been made throughout the campaign to conserve Russian military casualties. Does the violence of the Russian military response set a new benchmark for response to internationally sponsored Jihads? It is a dangerous new ideology of conflict that refuses to recognise international boundaries. Should it therefore continue to be treated as insurgency or terrorism and low intensity conflict? Since foreign-armed mercenaries wage it, it deserves a massive conventional response. If one side does not respect national boundaries, why should they remain binding on the other? We are still very close to the event for a clinical and objective analysis. What will be equally critical is the post-invasion phase in Chechnya. How comprehensively have the Chechen rebels bands been destroyed? How much of the top rebel leadership has been eliminated? How long will the effects of the hammer blow last? Will the guerillas reemerge in the spring and summer? How much occupation force will the Russians need to retain comprehensive control? The situation will have to be closely monitored. Western military experts have been predicting that the Russians will face problems in the post-invasion phase. They aver that Russia has never developed a doctrine for fighting protracted insurgency campaigns. There are reports that the Russian Army wants the troops of the Interior Ministry (MV) to handle the insurgency phase.
The military success of the Russian Army in Chechnya definitely indicates a systemic revival in post Yeltsin Russia. The Russian economy is in better shape, thanks to over 3.5 billion dollars worth of arms exports in 1999 and a projected 4 billion dollars worth of arms exports expected in the current year. The rise of oil prices also netted the Russians another 3 billion in 1999 and has helped finance the Chechen War. Such an economic and military revival of the Russians could greatly hasten the onset of a truly multipolar or polycentric world order in place of the existing unipolar one. At the operational and tactical level, there are many useful lessons to be learnt from the Chechen military campaign. The performance of Russian weapon systems bears close monitoring and the tactical techniques employed for air land battle merit detailed study. The prime lesson so far is the need to go in for custom-built ground attack fighters like the Russian SU-24/25/34. These are sub sonic, two seater aircraft with upto 17mm titanium armour protection around the cockpit. The SU-39 has a range of 4000 km and hence can spend considerable time over the target. It has a high thrust to weight ratio which makes it more manoeuverable. With the A-10 Warthog, custom built for close air support, the Americans have adopted a similar philosophy. In the light of the Kargil experience, there may be an attack aircraft. Other new weapons tested by the Russians in Chechnya was the BMP-3 Infantry Combat Vehicle. Reportedly the V-92, a new 12.7 millimeter Sniper Rifle proved to be a failure. In addition the Russians tested their new KA-50 Attack Helicopter and the TOS-1 Fuel Air Explosive Rocket System mounted on a T-72 chasis. This large sized flame thrower apparently proved very useful in the fighting in the built up area. Lastly, very little authentic details are available of the Chechen War as yet. The Western media has mostly focused on the human rights aspect and collateral damage/casualties to civilians. There is possibly, a need for the Indian media to cover this war in much greater detail. We must also await more clinical and objective accounts of the fighting. The Second Chechen Campaign, however, has been a marked and significant military improvement over the First Campaign of 1994-1996. To that extent it does indicate an ongoing systemic and military revival in Russia. The Chechen War may well offer a new level of response to a Jihad ideology that respects no national boundaries.
Note 2: Lt. Col. (retd.) Timothy. L. Thomas Air Operations in Low Intensity Conflict: The Case of Chechnya. T.L. Thomas is an analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. p. 1. Back.
Note 15: Deborah Yarsite Ball (Russian Analyst at Livermore Lawrence National Laboratory California) Janes Intelligence Review. June 1999 Issue p. 17. Spurred by Kosovo: the Russian Military is Down but not Out. Back.