War of Dagestan
|War of Dagestan|
|Part of the Chechen–Russian conflict|
Russian federal Spetsnaz forces in Dagestan.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Shamil Basayev
| Viktor Kazantsev
|~2,000–10,000 militants||17,000 soldiers,
thousands of policemen and volunteers
|Casualties and losses|
|~1,500–2,000 militants killed||275 servicemen killed and 937 wounded|
The War of Dagestan, also known as the Invasion of Dagestan, began, when the Chechnya-based Islamic International Brigade (IIB), an islamist group, led by warlords Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khattab, invaded the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan, on 2 August 1999, in support of the Shura of Dagestan separatist rebels. The war ended with a major Russian victory and the retreat of the IIB. The Invasion of Dagestan was the casus belli for the Second Chechen War.
During the inter-war period of 1996 to 1999, a war-ravaged Chechnya descended into chaos and economic collapse. Aslan Maskhadov's government was unable to rebuild the region or to prevent a number of warlords from taking effective control. The relationship between the government and radicals deteriorated. In March 1999, Maskhadov closed down the Chechen parliament and introduced aspects of Sharia law. Despite this concession, extremists such as Shamil Basayev and the Saudi-born Islamist Ibn Al-Khattab continued to undermine the Maskhadov government. In April 1998, the group publicly declared that its long-term aim was 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 followers 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 of Dagestan from Chechnya 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. 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 participate in "liberating Dagestan and the Caucasus from the Russian colonial yoke." According to this "prominent" Wahhabi's vision, proponents of the idea of a free Islamic Dagestan were to enlist in the "Islamic Army of the Caucasus" that he founded, and report to the army's headquarters (in the village of Karamakhi) for military duty. Chechen separatist government official Turpal-Ali Atgeriev claimed that he alerted the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) Director Vladimir Putin, in the summer of 1999, of the imminent invasion of Dagestan.
Invasion and the Russian counter-attack
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 Chechnya and Dagestan, as well as other international Islamists.
Khattab described himself as the "military commander of the operation" while Basayev was the "overall commander in the battlefield". They seized villages in the districts of Tsumadi (Echeda, Gakko, Kedy, Kvanada, Gadiri and Gigatl) and Botlikh (Godoberi, Miarso, Shodroda, Ansalta, Rakhata and Inkhelo). 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 federal military response to the invasion was slow, and the efforts were initially fumbling and disorganized. Because of this, all of the early resistance, and much of the later resistance as well, was undertaken by Dagestani police, spontaneously organized citizen militias, and individual Dagestani villagers. Basayev and Khattab were not welcomed as "liberators" as they had expected; the Dagestani villagers considered the invading force occupiers and unwelcome religious fanatics. Instead of a mass anti-Russian uprising, the border areas saw mass mobilization of volunteers against Basayev's and Khattab's army.
As resistance to the invaders stiffened, Russian artillery and airstrikes came into action. This conflict saw the first use of aerially delivered fuel-air explosives (FAEs) against populated areas, notably on the village of Tando by the federal forces. The rebels were stalled by the ferocity of the bombardments: their supply lines were cut and scattered with remotely detonating mines. This gave Moscow time to assemble a counter-attack under Colonel-General Viktor Kazantsev, commander of the North Caucasus Military District. On August 23 the Basaev and Khattab announced they were withdrawing from Botlikh district to "redeploy" and begin a "new phase" in their operations. The war also saw the first use of the T-90 tank. In the Kadar zone, a group of 8 to 12 T-90S tanks pushed through stubborn resistance. One of the tanks was hit by 7 RPG rockets, and remained in action.
On the night of September 4, as the federal forces were 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 kilometers of the major city of Khasavyurt. The second invasion at the height of the hostilities in the Karamakhi zone on September 5 came as an 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 federal forces supported by local volunteers finally forced the Islamists back to Chechnya, even though sporadic armed clashes continued for some time.
By mid-September 1999 the villages were recaptured from the routed militants, and they were pushed back into Chechnya. Meanwhile, the Russian Air Force already began bombing targets inside Chechnya. At least several hundred people were killed in the fighting, including an unknown number of civilians. The federal side announced that they suffered 279 dead and approximately 987 wounded.
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 (ChRI), opposed the invasion of Dagestan, and offered a crackdown on the renegade warlords. This offer was refused by the Kremlin. In October 1999, after a string of four apartment bombings for which Russia blamed the Chechens, Russian ground forces invaded Chechnya, starting the Second Chechen War. After the Russian victory, Dagestan has been a site of an ongoing, low-level insurgency, which became part of the new Chechen War. This conflict between the government and the armed Islamist underground in Dagestan (in particular the Shariat Jamaat group) was aided by the Chechen guerrillas. It claimed the lives of hundreds of people, mostly civilians.
The Invasion of Dagestan resulted in 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 and destroyed 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.
Despite the initial poor showing of the government forces (for example, military helicopters were hit by anti-tank guided missiles during a rebel raid on the Botlikh airfield), Moscow and Makhachkala were able to put together an impressive fighting force. For instance, the light infantry units were partially drawn from the Spetsnaz, paratroopers and naval infantry, crucial to mountain and counter-insurgency warfare.
The government forces consisted of three main elements: light and airmobile infantry units able to operate in the mountains and in small ambush and assault forces; larger mechanized units to seal areas off and maintain area security; and artillery with air support elements that were able to interdict supply lines and box in the rebels. Most of the 'teeth' were drawn from regular army units, with the exception of the MVD's Internal Troops' 102nd Brigade, the Rus commando force and the local Dagestani OMON. Makhachala long expected an incident of this sort, and since its OMON troops proved ineffectual in 1996 when Chechen rebels seized hostages in the Dagestani city of Kizlyar, it placed a part of its scarce resources into turning this force into a small local army. The Dagestani OMON force numbers almost 1,000 men and, bar the absence of armour and artillery, they are equipped as motorised infantry; the force even had a number of BTR-60 and BTR-70 armoured personnel carriers and heavy support weapons.
At the end of 1997 the republic also began raising volunteer territorial militia. During the emergency, its ranks of reservists and volunteers almost reached 5,000. Their training and equipment were minimal, making them little more than a home guard force. However their motivation to defend and recapture their homes as well as intimate knowledge of the terrain made them a reliable garrison force.
The insurgents proved to be a collection of Chechen guerrillas, Dagestani rebels, Islamic fundamentalists and mercenaries from across the Arab world and Central Asia. Estimates of the insurgent forces' strength has been estimated of being 1,500-3,000 men. While mostly experienced veterans of the Chechen and other wars, they were lightly equipped. They possessed ample supplies of small arms, support weapons, several 9M111 Fagot ATGMs, mortars and ample ammunition but they appeared to have only two BTR-60s possibly captured from government forces in the first days of the attack, a single T-12 antitank gun and a few truck-mounted ZU-23 anti-aircraft guns to use as fire support.
Their first-among-equals leader was Basayev, Chechen rebel leader, erstwhile prime minister and founder of the CPCD. Basayev's position was in many ways an ambiguous one. He was a staunch Muslim but didn't share the extreme Wahhabism of many of his allies; however, he strongly believed that Dagestan and Chechnya should be one state. Although a seasoned and wily guerrilla commander, this war saw him used as a political figurehead. His CPCD was officially charged with forming new "structures of Islamic self-government" in rebel-held areas. The brevity of the occupation and the opposition of many locals to their "liberation" meant that this was never a serious process.
Ibn al-Khattab's Islamic International Brigade formed the core of the insurgent forces, accounting for perhaps half of the rebel fighters. Having fought against the Russians during the First Chechen War, he went on to wage an open campaign against President Maskhadov, whom he regarded as too close to Moscow. Khattab concluded a marriage of political convenience with Basayev, but in effect retained operational command and a veto on political direction.
The third element in the loose rebel triumvirate were the Dagestani Islamic militants. Besides Bagauddin Magomedov, the two key figures were Nadir Khachilayev and Siradjin Ramazanov. An ethnic Lak and former leader of the Union of Muslims in Russia, Khachilayev had a long pedigree of opposition to the local regime of Magomedali Magomedov. In 1998 he launched an abortive attempt to storm the government buildings in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala. Khachilayev escaped to Chechnya where he found sanctuary with Islamist guerrilla movements, eventually forging an alliance with Khattab. Despite their Dagestani origins, he and the self-styled prime minister of 'Islamic Dagestan', Ramazanov, proved marginal, reflecting their failure to bring recruits to their side after they launched the operation. The self-proclaimed Shura of Dagestan welcomed the "liberation" and declared an Islamic state, but proved to have relatively little authority.
Conspiracy theory of Russian government involvement
According to Boris Berezovsky, he had a conversation with the Chechen Islamist ideologist and Basayev's propaganda chief Movladi Udugov six months before the beginning of the rebel invasion of Dagestan. Allegedly, Udugov proposed to start the Dagestan war to provoke the Russian response, topple the Chechen president Maskhadov and establish 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. Putin double-crossed the Chechens and started an all-out war." A transcript of the conversation was leaked to one of Moscow tabloids on September 10, 1999. Nevertheless, even if the Russian Army would have stopped at the 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 to allegedly stop, had no major river crossing. Basaev claims that he would never sell Chechnya to Putin, and denies the makings of such a deal.
The Invasion of Dagestan leading to the start of the new Russian-Chechen conflict was regarded by the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya as a provocation initiated from Moscow to start war in Chechnya, because Russian forces provided safe passage for Islamic fighters back to Chechnya. However there were no Russian forces in the Chechen rear to prevent said passage from being safe. It was reported that Alexander Voloshin of the Yeltsin administration paid money to Basayev to stage this military operation. Basayev allegedly worked for Russian GRU. However, Basayev denied any involvement with the GRU, nor was there any actual evidence of Basaev's involvement as a GRU agent.
Conspiracy theory of Berezovksy's involvement
A member of Russia's KPRF (Communist) Duma Faction, Viktor Ilyukhin who served as a co-chair of the defense committee, charged the FSB with "failing to timely disclose the information about 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. Berezovsky had the motive of seizing the Caucasian Region due to its oil and gas reserves. Ilyukhin fails to mention how Berezovsky would have controlled said Caucasian Region's Government if his "plan" worked. One way of the finances is that the Chechens would capture civilians, and demand monetary compensation; yet Maskhadov and Basaev often complained that parts of the compensation were siphoned to mysterious third party.
When the FSB published their charges against Berezovsky, he responded by blaming the FSB for the apartment bombings, and stating that he had a film to show the Russian public that would be shown on TV-6 in 2002. However TV-6 was shut down by the Russian government, and the movie is yet to be seen or published.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to War of Dagestan.|
- War in Dagestan - Jane's Europe News (October 1999)
- ISN Case Study: The North Caucasus on the Brink (August 2006)