Battle of Grozny (August 1996)
||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (August 2012)|
|Operation Jihad / Zero Option|
|Part of First Chechen War|
| Russian Federation
|Chechen Republic of Ichkeria|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Konstantin Pulikovsky
Various field commanders
| Aslan Maskhadov
Various field commanders, including Khattab, Ruslan Gelayev, Doku Umarov and Akhmed Zakayev
|Initially 12,000||Initially 1,300-3,000 (most probably around 1,500)|
|Casualties and losses|
|Officially 494 killed, 182 missing, 1,407 wounded (federal forces only, not counting the Chechen police force, which disintegrated)||Unknown|
|Estimated 2,000 or more civilians killed, 220,000 refugees|
In the August 1996 Battle of Grozny (also known as "Operation Jihad") Chechen rebels regained and then kept control of Chechnya's capital Grozny in a surprise raid. The Russian Federation had conquered the city during the Battle of Grozny (1994–1995) and posted there a large garrison of federal and republican Ministry of the Interior (MVD) troops, but a much smaller rebel force managed to infiltrate Grozny and then either rout or split the MVD forces there into dozens of small pockets of resistance, and over the next five days to beat back and decimate several Russian Ground Forces units that were sent to eject them from the city, resulting in the final ceasefire of the First Chechen War and effectively ending the 1994-1996 conflict.
In July 1996, Russian leadership decided to abandon an uneasy peace process in Chechnya and to resume military operations. Between July 9 and July 16, 1996, Russian forces carried out a series of major operations in the foothills and settlements of the mountainous south where the separatists had their bases. On July 20, Russian forces launched a large-scale campaign to pacify the south of the Chechen Republic, moving most of their combat troops there. On August 6, Russian forces began a major operation in the village of Alkhan-Yurt by moving 1,500 paramilitary Internal Troops and pro-Moscow Chechen policemen of Doku Zavgayev's government out of Grozny, leaving the city as their opponents were entering it.
Chechen units attacking Grozny consisted of 1,300-3,000 fighters (initially, Russian media reported that only 250 fighters had entered the city). Russian garrison inside the city consisted of some 12,000 troops. Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov employed infiltration tactics to overcome Russian superiority. In a carefully planned and highly-coordinated quick advance, Chechen units entered Grozny and avoided the network of Russian checkpoints and other positions using their intimate knowledge of the city, before attacking or blocking their selected targets located deep in the Moscow-controlled territory. According to Chechen commander Tourpal Ali-Kaimov, 1,500 Chechen fighters had infiltrated the city and 47 of them were killed in the initial assault. Their four main objectives were "the command and control assets at Khankala military airfield, the northern airport, the FSB HQ, and the GRU HQ," and they also "conducted supporting attacks, and manned blocking positions in four surrounding areas, along the three main avenues of approach into Grozny, and to the north of the city."
The main attack in Grozny started at 5:50 AM local time and was over in three hours. Rather than trying to capture or destroy all individual fortified checkpoints (blokpost), barracks, or police stations and other Russian positions, the rebel fighters simply cut off most of them, isolating them from each other, mining the approaches to prevent escape or reinforcements, and waiting for the demoralized government troops to surrender. By August 9, Russian news agency Interfax put the number of surrounded troops at some 7,000. Besides the MVD and FSB troops and non-combat personnel, there were also some military troops in the city. The largest pocket was the administrative complex in the city center, which included the interior ministry building and the republican FSB headquarters; a group of about 10 Russian journalists remained trapped in a hotel near the compound. The pro-Russian Chechen government fled to Khankala military base, just outside the capital. In another part of the city, several groups of Russian troops took shelter at the Municipal Hospital 9, where they took approximately 500 civilians hostage until they were allowed to evacuate.
At the same time, Chechen units also attacked other major towns in the republic, namely Argun and Gudermes. While Russian forces managed to hold the commander’s building (komendantura) in Argun, Gudermes was taken without a fight. A number of Chechens deemed to be collaborators were rounded up, detained and executed. According to human rights organization Memorial, reliable sources stated that the execution list for one region of Grozny comprised more than 200 names. Said-Magomed Kakiyev was the only survivor of the group of 30 Chechen OMON special police officers who were executed by the fighters of Doku Umarov and Ruslan Gelayev after the defenders of the city mayor's office surrendered on August 6, reportedly on the promise of free passage. According to Gelayev himself, "Zavgayev had either 15 or 18 thousand 'Chechen policemen' [in all of Chechnya], but as soon as we entered Grozny in August 1996, they all scattered and went home, then they went over to the Mujahideen, except for a few dozens of those who were guilty of shedding Chechen blood." Within a week, the strength of the rebel fighters in Grozny grew to between 6,000 and 7,000 due to defections from Zavgayev's forces changing sides as well as from an influx of reinforcements.
The Russian Army forces, stationed at nearby Khankala military airfield (the main and largest federal base in Chechnya) and at Severny airport, initially calculated that their opponents would leave Grozny of their own accord after the raid, like they did on the previous occasion in March, and thus did not hurry to the aid the Interior Ministry forces. The first attempts to alleviate the situation were not undertaken until the afternoon of August 7, when a large armored column from the "Cossack" 205th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade was sent to the aid of the besieged Russian positions within the city. However, the day before, a Chechen separatist group led by Akhmed Zakayev had captured a large supply of RPO rocket launchers by seizing Grozny's main railway station (according to the 2002 indictment by the Russian government, Zakayev's fighters killed or wounded more than 300 MVD troops at the train station). As a result, Russian tanks became much easier targets for Chechen mobile units. Russian military sent another column on August 8, but, like the New Year’s Eve offensive 19 months before, they were stopped and lost many tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) to Chechen ambush tactics. On the fifth day, 900 soldiers of the 276th Motor Rifle Regiment tried to take the center of the city, but failed at the price of about half of them being killed or wounded within two days. Over the course of five days, Russian army lost 18 tanks, 69 other armoured vehicles, 23 trucks and cars, and three helicopters. Only on August 11, the sixth day of fighting, did a few armored vehicles succeed in getting through to the city center, bringing limited supplies and evacuating some of the wounded. On the same day, Russian state television ORT journalist Ramzan Khadzhiev was executed by federal soldiers while trying to flee the city. The head of the International Red Cross in Grozny said that "most of the city is mined, and there's a lot of aerial bombardments." The European Union called on both sides to cease fire immediately, without effect. Instead, Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared a day of mourning for the victims in Chechnya. Battles also continued on the outskirts of the city and elsewhere in the republic.
On August 10, the Russian President's plenipotentiary to Chechnya Oleg Lobov was fired and the retired Lieutenant General Alexander Lebed was named in his place. Convinced that military victory was impossible with the means at his disposal, he decided to enter into negotiations with the separatists. On the night of August 11, 1996, Lebed opened negotiations with Aslan Maskhadov and compelled the commander of the grouping of federal forces in Chechnya, General Konstantin Pulikovsky, to join them. A new Minister of Defense, Igor Rodionov, had been appointed with Lebed’s personal recommendation, which enabled the latter to control the military. The hawkish Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov was also neutralized by Lebed. He also convinced Yeltsin of the correctness of his course, in part due to the extremely difficult situation of Russian forces (between August 11–13, the rebels captured or set on fire every strategic building in the city centre). Since August 14, Chechen forces had almost completely controlled Grozny. Russian command declined to take back the city and concentrated on retaining their bases at Khankala and at Severny. At that time, multiple Russian pockets of resistance within the rebel-controlled city still had some 2,000 servicemen blocked in their positions, with little ammunition, medicine, food and water, constantly harassed by mortar and sniper fire, and suffering from "friendly" air and artillery strikes. Argun and Gudermes were in the separatists’ hands, and Chechen forces were also increasing their activities around Urus-Martan and Vedeno. Under these circumstances, Lebed succeeded in obtaining a ceasefire in Grozny beginning August 14, and on August 17, 1996, General Pulikovsky signed an order terminating all military activity in the republic.
The last attempt to torpedo the peace process occurred on August 19, when Pulikovsky suddenly issued an ultimatum to the rebels to leave Grozny within 48 hours - in the event of non-compliance, attacks would be launched from all directions and with all available means. The threat resulted in mass panic among the remaining civilian population, estimated by Memorial at between 50,000 to 70,000. Air and artillery strikes commenced in the early hours of August 20, before the end of the deadline, condemning the remaining Russian forces in the city as well as the civilians. In chaotic scenes, as "the Russian bombs and shells destroyed entire apartment blocks and at least one hospital, and hit residential suburbs with wild inaccuracy'" (Human Rights Watch), terrified refugees tried to save themselves from the announced threat of carpet bombing; many of them were reportedly killed when their columns were hit by artillery fire. Males older than 11 were considered suspected fighters and were not let through the Russian lines. General Lebed, however, managed to mostly avert further bloodshed in Grozny, while the Russian offensive in the southern mountains continued. After returning to Chechnya on August 20, he ordered a new ceasefire and returned to talks with the rebel leaders, aided by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). On August 22, 1996, Russia agreed to withdraw all their forces in Chechnya to their bases at Khankala and Severny. On August 30, 1996, Lebed and Maskhadov signed the Khasav-Yurt Accord, an agreement that marked the end of the First Chechen War.
The Khasav-Yurt Accord paved the way for the signing of two further agreements between Russia and Chechnya. In mid-November 1996, Boris Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov signed an agreement on economic relations and reparations to Chechens who had been affected by the 1994-96 war. On May 12, 1997, Presidents Maskhadov and Yeltsin signed a formal treaty in Moscow "on peace and the principles of Russian-Chechen relations." The incursion into Dagestan in the summer of 1999, however, led to a breach of these treaties and the start of the Second Chechen War.
In 2000, Pavel Felgenhauer commented: "In 1996, Russian generals insisted that they could 'liberate' Grozny only by totally destroying the city with massive heavy gun and aerial bombardments, but such an indiscriminate attack was not approved by the Kremlin. In 1996, the Russian public, military and political elite were fed up and opted to withdraw Russian troops. Anyway, the destruction of Grozny in August 1996 was hardly a reasonable option: Thousands of MVD troops were trapped in the city and most likely would have perished together with the Chechens. Today heavy bombs and guns are used against Chechen towns and villages without limitations."
See also 
- Matthew Evangelista, The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union?, page 44
- The War in Chechnya, Stasys Knezys and Romanas Sedlickas, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX, 1999, page 288.
- Russia's Forces Unreconstructed, ISCIP, Volume X, Number 4 (March - April 2000)
- Robert Bunker, Non-state Threats and Future Wars, page 177
- Risky Walk in Rebel-Held Chechen Capital, The New York Times, August 14, 1996
- Fighting rages on in Chechnya; Situation said to be 'totally out of control', CNN, August 9, 1996[dead link]
- Civilians flee besieged Chechen capital, CNN, August 11, 1996[dead link]
- Rebel attack on Grozny intensifies, CNN, August 7, 1996[dead link]
- Occupation of Municipal Hospital No. 9, Memorial 1996
- The Violation of Human Rights and Norms of Humanitarian Law in the Course of the Armed Conflict in the Chechen Republic, Memorial
- Interview with Commander Khamzat Gelayev, Kavkaz Center, 27 October 2003
- PROSECUTOR DETAILS ACCUSATIONS AGAINST ZAKAEV, RFE/RL, November 5, 2002
- Residents flee in panic as Grozny becomes a battleground, CNN, August 11, 1996[dead link]
- Lebed Seeks to Avert Slaughter Of Civilians in Chechen Conflict, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 1996
- Lebed calls off assault on Grozny, The Daily Telegraph, August 22, 1996
- Chechen peace talks may resume; But civilian casualties mount in intensified fighting, CNN, July 22, 1996
- YELTSIN, MASKHADOV SIGN PEACE AGREEMENT., RFE/RL, May 12, 1997
- The War in Chechnya by Stasys Knezys and Romanas Sedlickas. Texas A&M University Press. College Station, TX. 1999.
- Hot August in Grozny by Oleg Lukin for Prague Watchdog
- The Battle(s) of Grozny by Ib Faurby, Royal Danish Defence College in co-operation with Märta-Lisa Magnusson, University of Southern Denmark[dead link]
- View From the Wolves' Den - The Chechens and Urban Operations: The Recapture of Grozny by David P. Dilegge[dead link]
- Smith, Sebastian (2001). Allah's Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya pp 240–256
- Oliker, Olga (2001). Russia's Chechen Wars 1994-2000: Lessons from Urban Combat MR 1289, Rand, Santa Monica, CA, ISBN 0-8330-2998-3 Chapter 2: "Grozny I: 1994-1995" pp. 30–32[dead link]
- Evangelista, Matthew (2002). The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union? Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., ISBN 0-8157-2498-5
- Youngs, Tim. The Conflict in Chechnya, Research Paper 00/14, February 7, 2000, International Affairs and Defence Section, House of Commons Library, London, UK