Kizlyar-Pervomayskoye hostage crisis
|Part of First Chechen War|
|Chechen Republic of Ichkeria||Russian Federation|
|Commanders and leaders|
|200, later about 400||More than 3,000|
|Casualties and losses|
|Estimated 96 killed||Estimated 200 killed|
|Estimated 26 or more civilians killed|
The Kizlyar-Pervomayskoye hostage crisis, known in Russia as the terrorist act in Kizlyar (Террористический акт в Кизляре) took place in January 1996 during the First Chechen War. What started as a raid conducted by a force of Chechen separatist guerrillas led by Salman Raduyev against a federal military airbase near the city of Kizlyar in the Russian republic of Dagestan turned into a massive hostage crisis involving thousands of civilians, most of whom were soon released. The crisis culminated in a bloody, full-scale battle between the Chechens and the Russian special forces in the Dagestani village of Pervomayskoye, which was destroyed by Russian artillery fire. In the end, the Chechens escaped from the siege with some of their hostages, while at least 26 hostages and more than 200 combatants on both sides died.
Kizlyar raid and hostage crisis
On January 9, 1996, the "Lone Wolf" force of about two hundred Chechen guerrillas led by Salman Raduyev, allegedly acting on orders by the Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev (Dudayev would later deny it), launched a raid in the style of the Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis. The city of Kizlyar in the neighbouring republic of Dagestan was chosen as the target as the site of the first Imperial Russian fort in the region and many historical batles, and due to its proximity and easy access as it was located only two miles from the Chechen border across a flat terrain. The guerrillas began the raid with a night-time assault on the Russian federal airbase at Kizlyar, where they destroyed at least two or three helicopters (contrary to their plan of attack, only a few helicopters were present there at that time) and killed about 33 servicemen.
At 6 a.m., pursued by the Russian military reinforcements, the withdrawing Chechen fighters then entered the town itself, where they took some 2,000 to 3,400 people hostage (according to Russian official statements, there were "no more than 1,200" hostages taken); the hostages were grouped and held them at the city hospital and a nearby high-rise building. A field commander Khunkar-Pasha Israpilov later said that he has taken over command of the operation from Raduyev after the latter had failed in his mission, which was to destroy not only the airbase, but also Kizlyar ammunition factory and other military and police installations in and around the city. In all, at least 46 people died during January 9.
All but about 120 of the captives were released the next day, after Russian authorities said that the guerrillas must first release their hostages to be granted a safe passage back to separatist-controlled areas of Chechnya. On January 12, the rebels freed the women and children; they said they would release the male hostages only if four named respected Russian officials would take their place. However, while the named liberal opposition politicians Grigory Yavlinsky and Yegor Gaidar quickly agreed to take part in the exchange, the retired army generals Boris Gromov and Alexander Lebed refused to get swapped into captivity.
An alternative deal was negotiated by the Interior Minister of Dagestan Magomed Abdurazakov: the rebels would be allowed to leave and return to Chechnya through a safe corridor, traveling in a convoy of 13 vehicles along with about 150 hostages who would volunteer to be kept as human shields in order to deter a Russian ambush along the route. Without Abdurazakov's knowledge, at least 150 Russian paratroopers were flown out of their base in the Chechen capital Grozny to nevertheless intercept the convoy as it would enter Chechnya.
Pervomayskoye hostage crisis
The rebels then headed in the direction of Chechnya in a column of 11 buses and two trucks, but they were stopped short of the border between the two republics when a Russian attack helicopter suddenly opened fire on their convoy's lead vehicle, which was a Dagestani police car escorting the column. (According to some reports, the bridge on the border was blown up as well, but journalists later witnessed it being intact.) The Chechens captured some 37 Novosibirsk OMON special police officers, who surrendered to them at a border checkpoint. The convoy immediately rushed for cover in the nearest village, Pervomayskoye (also transliterated Pervomayskoe, Pervomaiskoye or Pervomaiskoe; it was a home to about 1,200 residents), where the rebels quickly installed most of their hostages in a local school and a mosque and set up defensive positions, putting the captured policemen and some of civilian hostages to work digging trenches. According to Russian state agency Itar-Tass, an additional 100 hostages were seized from among the population of the village.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin spoke on national TV on details of the operation against the hostage-takers, famously demonstrating through gestures how "38 snipers" were supposed to cover the village and eliminate all the rebels. Yeltsin's remarks were later ridiculed to the point where it was denied he had ever made them. Prior to launching an assault on the village, Russian officials falsely claimed that the rebels there have publicly hanged six captured Russian servicemen. For the next three days, a collection of Russian special forces detachments from various services, numbering about 500 men in total and supported by tanks, armored vehicles and attack helicopters, tried to break into the village. They were beaten back and suffered heavy losses including at least 12 killed (an official figure); among the dead was the commander of the Moscow SOBR special police force, Colonel Andrei Krestyaninov. Surviving commandos described the fighting as "hell".
After the assault attempts failed, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov and the Federal Security Service (FSB) Director, General Mikhail Barsukov, both falsely declared that the hostage-takers had executed their captives. FSB General Alexander Mikhailov announced that the Chechens "had shot or hanged all or most" of the hostages and federal forces now planned to "flatten" Pervomayskoye; Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin also claimed that no hostages remained alive. Russian commanders then ordered their forces to open indiscriminate fire on the village from heavy mortars, howitzers and multiple rocket launchers. American correspondent Michael Specter noted that the Russians were "firing into Pervomaskoye at the rate of one a minute - the same Grad missiles they used to largely destroy the Chechen capital Grozny when the conflict began." Specter reported: "The Grads fell with monstrous concussive force throughout the day. In this town, about four miles away, where journalists have been herded by Russian forces, windows cracked at the force of the repeated blasts," adding that "[General] Mikhailov said today that he was adding up the Chechen casualties, not by number of corpses, 'but by the number of arms and legs.'" General Barsukov later said, laughing, that "the usage of the Grad multiple rocket launchers was mainly psychological" and CNN noted that "the general's answers were openly mocking." Russian troops deployed to the village included the FSB agent from Nalchik, Alexander Litvinenko, whose ad-hoc unit came under friendly fire from Grad rockets. Heavy losses and friendly fire incidents resulted a collapse of morale among the ill-prepared Russian forces. Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer reported that "based on information from observers and participants of the fighting, it can be concluded that Interior Ministry officers were on the verge of mutiny." It was reported that some demoralized, frozen and underfed Russian troops in the siege were forced to beg the locals, even offering to sell their ammunition in exchange for alcohol and cigarettes.
Meanwhile, a large crowd of people, the relatives of the hostages, gathered near security checkpoints located 10 kilometers from the settlement and watched there in silence how Russian troops bombarded the settlement where their relatives were being held with rocket launchers, other artillery, helicopter gunships and combat jets. Russian authorities sought to minimize coverage of the crisis by blocking the access to the scene with guard dogs, turning journalists away with warning shots and confiscating their equipment. The dogs injured several journalists, including a television cameraman from the American Broadcasting Company and a correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, and one reporter's car was fired upon by soldiers at a military checkpoint despite receiving a permission to drive. Russian forces also turned away the arriving relief workers, including representatives of Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Reporters Without Borders publicly protested at Russian security authorities' intimidation of the press at Pervomayskoye as well as the Russian military authorities' ban on medical assistance to civilians and their refusal to allow evacuation of the wounded.
On the eighth night, despite Kulikov's assurances that three rings of security forces had surrounded the village, the Chechens suddenly broke out of the lines of encirclement and escaped in the early morning of January 18, 1996. They took with them about 20 Russian police hostages and several dozen civilians; a number of wounded guerillas were carried on stretchers by the hostages, who also carried the ammunition, while some 20 most seriously injured fighters who could not be moved have been left behind. Both sides suffered heavy losses. The Chechen group leading the breakout lost 17 out of 40 members killed as they fought their way out through Russian positions and navigated their way through a mine field, according to its commander Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev. According to Memorial, the Chechens completely destroyed a detachment of the Spetsnaz GRU 22nd Independent Brigade that tried to block their way out and killed almost all of them, including the intelligence chief of the 58th Army. The follow-up main group with the wounded and hostages lost 26 men killed, according to its leader Aydemir Abdullayev (an ethnic Avar); the rear guard group was commanded by Suleiman Bustayev. After the fight, the column crossed the border river using a gas pipeline and run through the frozen steppe, trying to escape to safety before dawn, and many Chechen fighters were then killed by strafing attacks by Mi-24 helicopters in the ensuing pursuit. Nevertheless, only three or four hostages perished and some managed to escape or got lost in chaos (as did some of the fighters).
At the same time, another 200 to 300 guerrillas arrived in the area from across the border from Chechnya where rebel fighters from all over Chechnya grouped under the command of Maksud Ingulbayev, having been called there by Dudayev. To aid the breakthrough they mounted a diversionary attack on the Russian lines from behind, briefly capturing a school building used by federal forces in the neighboring village of Sovetskoye, just a few kilometers outside Pervomayskoye. The Chechen relief force, like Raduyev's detachment earlier, has made its way through Russian-patrolled areas of Chechnya and Dagestan undetected, and Russian officials later accused the residents of two nearby villages of having colluded with the rebels.
After that, Russian forces finally entered a pulverized village, strewn with corpses of Chechen fighters, Dagestani civilians and Russian troops. When the fighting was over, a Russian soldier unintentionally fired a cannon on his BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle, hitting another armored vehicle that blew up and its fragments landed amongst the elite Alpha Group of the FSB, killing two commandos and injuring three more. The Chechens claimed to still hold more than 60 hostages, having evacuated them to separatist-controlled town of Novogroznensky (Novogrozny) in the Gudermessky District of Chechnya.
Raduyev's January 1996 indictment by a Russian prosecutor said 37 Russian troops and 41 civilians were killed at Pervomayskoye. According to Yeltsin, 82 hostages were rescued, but Chernomyrdin said only 42 hostages were freed. The full extent of civilian casualties is uncertain because the Russian army did not permit journalists access to the village during the attack and independent observers were admitted only after bodies of civilians were cleared from the ruins.
Chechen separatist chief-of-staff Aslan Maskhadov said 90 Chechen fighters died during the crisis, while Yeltsin announced 153 Chechen fighters were killed and 30 were captured. Western analysts estimated losses at about 96 Chechen fighters and at least 26 civilians killed, along with about 200 federal casualties (including those killed at Kizlyar). The hostages evacuated by their Chechen captors from Pervomayskoye included at least a dozen captured servicemen and police officers.
On January 19, Raduyev proposed to exchange the police hostages for the seriously wounded fighters he had left behind. Chechens also announced their readiness to turn over the remaining civilian hostages to Dagestani authorities. A special resolution by the Russian State Duma granted an amnesty for 11 captured guerrillas, who were then swapped in exchange for the Novosibirsk policemen seized near Pervomayskoye (a CNN report said the prisoners were "12 Russian soldiers and six police officers"). On January 27, the bodies of 26 dead Chechen fighters, swapped for civilian hostages and returned by Russian authorities through Dagestani intermediaries, were buried at the Tsotsin-Yurt village cemetery (considered a holy place because it holds the bodies of 400 Chechens killed while fighting Russian forces during the Russian Civil War in 1919). Meanwhile, the hostages who had been "freed" in Pervomayskoye were being held in degrading conditions in Russian "filtration points".
The Russian government reacted to the "liberation of Pervomayskoye" with triumphalist and hawkish statements. Yelstin initially declared that "all the bandits have been destroyed, unless there are some still hiding underground." He said the operation was "planned and carried out correctly" and "is over with a minimum of losses to the hostages and our own people." Chernomyrdin stated: "It is clear to everyone that it is pointless to talk to these people [Chechen separatists]. They are not the kind of people you can negotiate with." The U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry offered solidarity with Yeltsin's government, saying Russia was justified in using military force in response to hostage-taking.
However, the operation sparked a widespread outrage in Dagestan as well as across Russia, especially in liberal circles. Yavlinsky declared: "It is time to face the fact that we are in a real civil war now in Russia. This was not a hostage crisis. It is a hopeless war, and it was started by Boris Yeltsin." Yeltsin's own human rights commissioner Sergei Kovalev resigned from all his posts in the presidential apparatus in a protest against the "cruel punitive action", while Gaidar drafted a letter calling on Yeltsin not to run in the new presidential elections. A January 19 poll published by Interfax showed 75% of respondents in Moscow and Saint Petersburg believed that all of the "power ministers" should resign.
The handling of the incident was also widely criticized by Russian and foreign journalists, humanitarian organizations and human rights groups. Russian press accounts of the carnage (including this by the Izvestia correspondent Valery Yakov, who witnessed the fighting from inside the village) described a chaotic, overmanned, and bungled Russian operation in Pervomayskoye; Felgenhauer wrote that the armed services involved in the assault displayed a "fantastic lack of coordination." The New York Times commented: "All this bloodshed and confusion was dressed up in Moscow with Soviet-style propaganda, including false claims about minimal Russian losses and the elimination of enemy forces. The use of force against terrorism should be commensurate to the threat and employed in a way that limits the loss of life. Military action should be accompanied by full disclosure of information about the conflict and casualties. The murderous assault on Pervomayskoye did not meet any of those tests."
The hostage crisis also caused a split among the Chechens, and Salman Raduyev was denounced by top Chechen rebel leaders. According to Polish foreign fighter Mirosław Kuleba (Mehmed Borz), who met Raduyev two months after the crisis, it was possible that Raduyev meant to ignite a broader civil war in Dagestan (Kuleba wrote he felt that Raduyev tried to hide in the conversation that capturing a hospital and taking hostages had been actually planned all along and was not a desperate measure). In March 1996, Raduyev was shot in the head in what some reports described as an ambush by rival guerillas and reportedly killed. He resurfaced alive (his shattered head was reconstructed using metal plates) following Dudayev's death and became an unruly and mentally unstable leader of his private militia "General Dudayev's Army" after the war.
Raduyev was eventually captured by the Russians during the Second Chechen War in 2000 and in 2001 he got sentenced to life in prison; he died in a prison colony in 2002. That same year, Atgeriyev (sentenced to 15 years) also died in prison; they both died in mysterious circumstances. At least two other participants of the raid were also convicted for it during the 2000s, despite having been officially amnestied in 1996 – Aslanbek Alkhazurov to five years imprisonment (he died in prison in 2004) and Husein Gaisumov to eight years. As of the other Chechen commanders in Pervomayskoye, Israpilov was killed in 2000 while leading another breakout, from Grozny (he went ahead to clear a path through a minefield with his own body, as did several other commanders), while Bustayev later left Chechnya to live as a refugee in the European Union, where he became active in Akhmed Zakayev's Chechen government-in-exile.
Related hostage crises
Turkish authorities meanwhile coped effectively with the hijackers of the Panamanian-registered ferry Avrazya, captured on January 16 by an armed group of nine Turkish citizens of Caucasian origin and sympathetic to the rebels besieged at Pervomaiskoye. Turkish authorities, in constant communication and negotiation with the captors and ignoring Russian demands for tough action, secured the safe release of the captives (177 mostly-Russian passengers and a Turkish crew of 55), unharmed and the surrender of the gunmen without bloodshed.
In another hostage taking incident, on January 17, a group of 29 employees of the Kirov heating plant near Grozny, Russian engineers sent from Rostov, was kidnapped for ransom by the group of Arbi Barayev. Some 38 other civilians, mostly ethnic Russians, also had been kidnapped during the previous week in Chechnya's rebel-controlled Achkhoy-Martanovsky District and offered in exchange for Chechen fighters in Russian captivity and civilian Chechen inmates of Russian "filtration camps" and their release was negotiated later that same month.
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