War of Dagestan
|War of Dagestan|
|Part of Second Chechen War[dubious ]|
Shura of Dagestan
|Commanders and leaders|
| Shamil Basayev
| Vladimir Putin
|~1,500 militants initially,
Up to 3,000 total
|Casualties and losses|
|~2,500 dead||279 dead|
The invasion of Dagestan, also known as the War in Dagestan and Dagestan War, began on August 7, 1999, when the Chechnya-based Islamic International Brigade (IIB), an Islamist militia led by warlords Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khattab, invaded the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan in support of the Shura of Dagestan separatist movement. The war ended with a major Russian victory and the retreat of the IIB. The Invasion of Dagestan was one of the major causes of, and served as the casus belli for, the Second Chechen War.
Having maintained de facto independence from Russia after the First Chechen War, Chechnya descended into anarchy and economic collapse. Aslan Maskhadov's government was unable to rebuild the region and to prevent a number of warlords from taking effective control. Relationship between the government and radicals polarized. In March 1999, Maskhadov closed down the Chechen parliament and introduced aspects of Sharia law. Despite this concession, extremists such as Shamil Basayev and Saudi-born Islamist Ibn Al-Khattab continued to undermine Maskhadov's government. In April 1998, this radical group publicly declared its long-term aim to be the creation of a union of Chechnya and Dagestan under Islamic rule and the expulsion of Russians from the entire Caucasian Region.
In late 1997, Bagauddin Magomedov, the ethnic Avar leader of the radical wing of the Dagestani Wahhabis (Salafism), fled with his entourage to Chechnya. There he established close ties with Al-Khattab and other leaders of Chechnya's Wahhabi community. In January 1999, Khattab began the formation of an "Islamic Legion" with foreign Muslim volunteers. At the same time, he commanded the "peacemaking unit of the Majlis (Parliament) of Ichkeria and Dagestan." A series of invasions from Chechnya to Dagestan took place during the inter-war period, culminating in the 1997 attack on a federal military garrison of the 136th Motorized Rifle Regiment near the Dagestani town of Buinaksk. Militants from the Wahhabist area ruled by the Islamic Djamaat of Dagestan took part. Other attacks targeted civilians and Dagestani police on a regular basis.
In April 1999, Magomedov, the "Emir of the Islamic Jamaat of Dagestan," made an appeal to the "Islamic patriots of the Caucasus" to "take part in the jihad" and to do their share in "liberating Dagestan and the Caucasus from the Russian colonial yoke." According him, proponents of the idea of a free Islamic Dagestan were to enlist in his "Islamic Army of the Caucasus", and report to the army's headquarters (in the village of Karamakhi) for military duty. Chechen separatist government official Turpal-Ali Atgeriev claimed to have alerted the FSB director Vladimir Putin, in the summer of 1999, of the imminent invasion of Dagestan.
Invasion and Russian counterattack 
On August 4, 1999, several Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) servicemen were killed in a border clash with a group of Magomedov's fighters led by Bagaudin Kebedov. On August 7 Basayev and Khattab launched an invasion into Dagestan with a group of roughly 1,500-2,000 armed militants consisting of Islamic radicals from Chechenya and Dagestan, as well as other international Islamists.
Khattab described himself as the operation's main strategist, while Basayev was said to be its field commander. They seized the villages of Ansalta, Rakhata and Shadroda and reached the village of Tando, close to the district town of Botlikh. On August 10, they announced the birth of the "independent Islamic State of Dagestan" and declared war on "the traitorous Dagestani government" and "Russia's occupation units."
The Russian military was slow to respond, and efforts to mobilize and counterattack were initially fumbling and disorganized. Because of this, all of the early resistance (and much of the later resistance as well) was undertaken by the Dagestani police, by spontaneously organized citizen militias, and by individual Dagestani villagers. Basayev and Khattab were not welcomed as "liberators" as they had expected; the Dagestani villagers considered the invading force as occupiers and unwelcome religious fanatics. Instead of an anti-Russian uprising, the border areas saw mass mobilization of volunteers against Basayev's and Khattab's army.
As resistance stiffened, Russian government forces finally intervened, launching air and artillery strikes against the invaders. The Russian Air Force also started bombing targets inside Chechnya. This conflict saw the first use of aerial-delivered fuel-air explosives (FAE) against populated areas by Russian forces, notably on the village of Tando. The rebels were stalled by the ferocity of the bombardments: their supply lines were cut and scattered with remotely detonating mines. This gave Russia time to organize a counterattack under Colonel-General Viktor Kazantsev, commander of the North Caucasus Military District. T-90 tanks were used for the first time during the operation. In the Kadar zone, a group of 8-12 T-90S tanks broke through stubborn resistance. One of the tanks was hit by seven RPG rockets, and remained in action. On August 23 Basaev and Khattab announced they were withdrawing their forces from Botlikh district to "redeploy" and begin a "new phase" in their operations.
Russian forces continued operations to mop up resistance. On the night of September 4, as the Russian Army was wiping out the last bastions of resistance in the Kadar region, a car bomb destroyed a military housing building in the Dagestani town of Buynaksk, killing 64 people and starting the first in the wave of the Russian apartment bombings. On the morning of September 5, Chechen rebels launched a second invasion into the lowland Novolakskoye region of Dagestan, this time with a larger force. The rebels came within a mere five kilometres of the major town of Khasavyurt. The second invasion at the height of the hostilities in the Karamakhi zone on September 5 came as unpleasant surprise to Moscow and Makhachkala. According to Basayev, the purpose of the second invasion was to distract federal forces attacking Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi. Intensive fighting continued until September 12, when Russian government forces supported by local volunteers finally forced the Islamists back to Chechnya, though sporadic armed clashes with remnants of Islamist forces continued for some time.
By mid-September 1999 the villages were recaptured from the routed militants, and they were pushed back into Chechnya. At least several hundred people were killed in the fighting, including an unknown number of civilians. The federal side stated that they suffered 279 dead and approximately 987 wounded. Among battle casualties was a medical sergeant – Irina Yanina, who heroically died in the battle for Karamakhi village. She was the first (and until 2008 the only) female soldier to be awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation and a Gold Star medal (posthumously). Chechen Islamists suffered approximately 2,500 dead.
Russia followed up with a bombing campaign of southeastern Chechnya; on September 23, Russian fighter jets bombed targets in and around the Chechen capital Grozny. Aslan Maskhadov, the separatist president of Chechnya, opposed the invasion of Dagestan, and offered a crackdown on the renegade warlords. It was refused by the Kremlin and on October 1999, after a string of four apartment bombings, Russian ground forces invaded Chechnya, starting the Second Chechen War. Since then, Dagestan has been a site of an ongoing, low-level insurgency by a number of armed Islamist groups (such as Shariat Jamaat) which has claimed the lives of hundreds of people, mostly civilians.
The invasion of Dagestan caused the displacement of 32,000 Dagestani civilians. According to researcher Robert Bruce Ware, Basayev and Khattab's invasions were potentially genocidal in that they attacked mountain villages destroying entire populations of small ethno-linguistic groups. Furthermore, Ware asserts that the invasions are properly described as terrorist attacks because they initially involved attacks against Dagestani civilians and police officers.
Conspiracy theories 
Because the invasion of Dagestan served as a trigger for the Second Chechen War that led to an eventual Russian victory, a number of conspiracy theories claimed it was not a Wahhabi attempt to create a Caucasian Emirate, but rather a false flag attack orchestrated by the Kremlin.
Russian government involvement 
Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky claimed to have had a conversation with Chechen Islamist ideologist Movladi Udugov six months before the beginning of the rebel invasion of Dagestan. Allegedly, Udugov proposed him to start the Dagestan war to provoke a Russian response, topple Chechen president Maskhadov and establish a new Islamic republic made of Chechnya and Ingushetia that would be friendly to Russia. Berezovsky asserted that he refused the offer, but "Udugov and Basayev conspired with Stepashin and Putin to provoke a war to topple Maskhadov... but the agreement was for the Russian army to stop at the Terek River". According to Berezovski, "Putin double-crossed the Chechens and started an all-out war." A transcript of the conversation was leaked to a Moscow tabloid on September 10, 1999. Nevertheless, even if the Russian Army had stopped at Terek River, they could have still taken over Chechnya, as most of the Terek River flows through Chechnya, and the part that borders Dagestan, where the Russian Army was allegedly to stop, has no major river crossings. Basayev, who had an extensive knowledge of Caucasian geography as a result of having commanded numerous battles in the region, claimed that he would never have sold Chechnya to Putin, and denied the making of such a deal.
The conflict in Dagestan was regarded by Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya as a provocation initiated from Moscow in order to start war in Chechnya, with Russian forces providing safe passage for Islamic fighters back to Chechnya. It was further alleged that Alexander Voloshin, then an advisor to Boris Yeltsin, paid money to Basayev to stage this military operation in collaboration with Russia's GRU. However, Basayev denied any involvement with the GRU, nor was there any actual evidence of Basayev's involvement as a GRU agent.
Berezovsky's involvement 
A member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Viktor Ilyukhin, who served as a co-chair of the defense committee, charged the FSB with "failing to timely disclose the information about [Boris] Berezovksy's financing of Chechen rebel leaders". Ilyukhin believes that had Berezovsky's finances been timely exposed, the number of civilian and military casualties in Chechenya, on both sides, would have been greatly diminished; he maintained Berezovsky was attempting to take control of the region's natural resources. Ilyukhin did not mention how Berezovsky would have controlled the region's government had his "plan" worked. One way of the finances is that the Chechens would capture civilians, and demand monetary compensation; yet Maskhadov and Basayev often complained that parts of the compensation were siphoned to mysterious third parties.
When the FSB published the charges against Berezovsky, he responded by blaming the FSB for the Apartment Bombings, and stating that he had a movie to show the Russian Public that would be shown on the Berezovsky-owned channel TV-6 in 2002. However, TV-6 was shut down by the Russian government, and the movie is yet to be seen or published, despite other media outlets having been offered to Berezovsky.
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- CHECHEN DEPUTY PREMIER'S DEATH IN PRISON CONFIRMED
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- Alex Goldfarb, with Marina Litvinenko Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB, The Free Press, 2007, ISBN 1-4165-5165-4, page 216.
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- Блоцкий Олег Михайлович. Шамиль Басаев
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- Paul Klebnikov: Godfather of the Kremlin: The Decline of Russia in the Age of Gangster Capitalism, ISBN 0-15-601330-4
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- CHECHEN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER: BASAEV WAS G.R.U. OFFICER The Jamestown Foundation, September 08, 2006
- Analysis: Has Chechnya's Strongman Signed His Own Death Warrant? - by Liz Fuller, RFE/RL, March 1, 2005
- Блоцкий Олег Михайлович. Шамиль Басаев
See also