From Chechnya to Georgia, Moscow’s military interventions from the fall of the Soviet Union to the invasion of Ukraine
Thirty years of history, nineteen conflicts. A military intervention every eighteen months. When it is said that the Cold War ended with the death of the Soviet Union, it must be added that the birth of Russia it has involved dozens of other frozen or white-hot wars. Declared, secret, disguised, by proxy. Officially, all moved by the desire to restore imperial prideto quell clashes between ethnic groups, to protect Russian minorities, to establish friendly governments.
We always have an adequate military response to any adventurism, he recalled Vladimir Putin
day of 2015, conversing about Ukraine with
. And the Chancellor understood well what she was referring to: whether it symbolizes victory (Za Pobedy), peace (Za Mir) or the people (Za Nashikh), the white Z of the Tsar that Putin’s soldiers carry on armored vehicles today and on uniforms the perfect synthesis of the reasons that have always pushed Moscow to organize its special military operations. Pure propaganda, of course: in Georgiathe Russians went to help the Ossetian brothers threatened with genocide, in Chechnya to defend Christianity from Islam, in Kazakhstan to restore social order. Everywhere, they have regularly rushed to make it clear that (again in the leader’s words) no one should have the illusion that they can achieve military superiority over Russia, that they can put any kind of pressure on it.
In the beginning it was Georgia. When two months after the dissolution of the USSR, at the dawn of the Yeltsin era, the pro-Russian region of South Ossetia began to roar. of that imposed, with the Ossetian separatists who do not accept the new course of Tbilisi and in February 1992 they obtained the first, sporadic military support of Moscow: the Bear woke up, the world chancelleries first are amazed and then alarmed, and yet to avoid an open confrontation with Russia suggest that Georgia immediately accept a truce, signing the patrol of Russian troops. the first overseas mission of the new de-Sovietized Kremlin.
A few months, and here the other separatist region explodes, Abkhazia: a war in which Yeltsin declares himself neutral, alternating for negotiation proposals with real military support for the Abkhazians. Moldo-Russian war instead the name that, in ’92, is given to the clash in Transnistria between the Cossack militias armed by Moscow and the government of the newly formed Republic of Moldova: a lightning-fast war that broke out almost simultaneously with another, in the North Ossetia-Alania, which will kill 700 and push Russia to commit the largest of its contingents, 1,500 men. These are the turbulent years of a shattered empire. Of the awakening of ethnic divisions, of religious divisions, of democratic aspirations. And the military operations of the Kremlin serve, in most cases, to buffer the embers of hatred that the Soviet repression had kept under the ashes for more than seventy years. As in the civil war of Tajikistannow forgotten, but which causes five years of devastation, almost 50 thousand deaths, the exile of one in five Tajiks: the first open conflict in Moscow, which supports the old post-Soviet guard, against Islamic movements organized and inspired by the neighbor Afghanistan.
The first Russian Vietnam (or Afghanistan) for Chechnya. The shameful adventure, as the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, described it. Madness in its purest form, in the words of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Which in its first round (1994-1996) is resolved in a resounding defeat and in the second (1999-2009) it turns into a ferocious victory. The First Chechen War looks like many others: in the whole of the former USSR, there are 70 percent of ethnic Russians who have to contend with a hundred other nationalities and with a myriad of independent republics. In Chechnya, the challenge to proclaimed Republic of Ichkeria, 1,600 kilometers south of Moscow, which drags Yeltsin into one of the bloodiest military campaigns in its history. One hundred thousand civilians killed, ten thousand guerrillas killed, and no one ever knew how many Russian soldiers: 5,500 (official source) or fifteen thousand? From Peter the Great to Stalin, Chechnya has always been the thorn in the Russian side and this war is no exception when former Soviet general Dzochar Dadaev throws the local Communist Party leader out the window and proclaims himself the first independent president. The internal fringe, the attacks, the attempted poisonings do not give results and even those that Yeltsin hopes are only surgical attacks: the conflict degenerates into a bedlam of missiles, hostage-taking, human shields, desertions, gas, beheadings and war crimes assorted. The Chechens and the Ingush neighbors call on jihadists from half the world, much more motivated than the Russian recruits and a public opinion that in Moscow is increasingly opposed to the carnage: It will be a bloodbath, another Afghanistan, a deputy minister foresees before resigning. of Defense, Boris Gromov, and his turns out to be a very easy prophecy. In 1995, Grozny was hit by the worst rain of bombs in Europe since the Second World War and in Dresden: 35,000 civilians killed, 5,000 of whom were children. The Chechen wounds of Yeltsin’s hemorrhage.
While the independent republic plunges into a three-year period of anarchy, raids, local mafias, kidnappings and settling of scores, the countdown begins in Moscow. And when a Yeltsin cleared of alcohol and consensus hands the Kremlin over to Putin, in the summer of 1999, the first thought of the new Tsar to close his accounts with Chechnya, with Dagestan (Mad Vlad’s first military campaign, won in less than ‘a month), with Ingushetia and with those who undermined imperial pride. There Second Chechen War a desert that Putin, to this day, calls peace: a pounding firestorm with no discounts; a very select front line of Spetsnaz, special forces much better prepared than Yeltsin’s foot soldiers; an impotent resistance of guerrillas who try only with suicide bombers and targeted assassinations; a new attack on Grozny, so devastating that it led the UN to define it as the most devastated city in the world. Today in Chechnya there is a silent dictatorship and Moscow, obedient and faithful, where both the office of prime minister and civil rights have been abolished. Someone still remembers that the Second Chechen War began in ’99 – Putin had taken office for a month – with a strange series of attacks in Moscow and in Russian cities. Someone does not forget that the journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the former spy Alexander Litvinenko revealed that the FSB, the former KGB, was behind those attacks. Anna and Alexander killed them: and who speaks more of Chechnya now?
There is a word that always comes back in Putin’s speeches: Kosovo. He pronounced it to justify the intervention in support of the Russophile republics of Donbass, as he pronounced it in 2008 before entering Georgia. In Kosovo, the Russians were there: they were the first to enter Pristina, faster than the Americans to plant the flag on a victory that was not theirs. But Kosovo has always been the extra dose of salt on Moscow’s wounded pride: the independence snatched from a Slavic and brother country, Serbia, a recognition that the West granted without asking too many opinions, much less in the Kremlin. We intervene in Georgia in support of Russian speakers – Putin said in the summer of 2008 – just like NATO intervened in Kosovo to help the Albanians. The first war of the 21st century was very rapid, following the bombing of Tbilisi on South Ossetia (hundreds of deaths) and the ignition of hostilities also in Abkhazia. Six days, and Sarkozy’s French mediation stops the Russian tanks a few kilometers from the Georgian capital. One month, and Russia (unique in the world) recognizes the Ossetian and Abkhaz republics, what it has already done for the Transnistria: I copied the Kosovo solution, Putin closes.
How many divisions does Mad Vlad have? One wonders, retracing all the armed interventions of these decades, from the Batken dispute between Kyrgyz and Tajiks (1999), to ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan (2010). Because there was also the war on Isis in Northern Caucasus (209-2017), almost 4 thousand dead and the dismantling of the Emirate that wanted to bring the anti-Russian jihad from Azerbaijan to Kabardino-Balkaria. Not to mention the alliance in Syria alongside Assad, first with the air strikes and then with the troops on the ground. Eleven years of war, 400 thousand dead, eleven million refugees: it was thanks to Putin that the dictator of Damascus, now exhausted, managed to overturn the front and drive out rebel and jihadist factions. How many divisions does Putin have, then? The appearance of the mercenaries of the Wagner Group explained many things: Moscow deploys them almost everywhere, from Crimea to Libya, from Mali to Central Africa, military advisers without flags and without badges, little green men who exempt the Kremlin from the burden of declaring losses and defeats, but in the meantime they prepare the ground for (eventual) more massive interventions. He made them debut in Ukraine, in 2014, when he invaded Simferopol and Sevastopol without firing a shot, to prepare for today’s invasion of the soldiers with the Z. He was about to send them to Kazakhstan in January, when the angry mob drove out the pro-Russian dictator Nazarbayev. Then he thought better of it: better to use regular troops. In Kazakhstan it was a blitz, about ten days, to quickly close the practice. Hurry up, was the peremptory order to the men with the Z: there was only one month to invade Ukraine.