27 May 1996

First Chechen War: Russian President Boris Yeltsin meets with Chechnyan rebels for the first time and negotiates a cease-fire.

The First Chechen War was a conflict that took place between Russia and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, which sought independence from Russia. The war began in December 1994 and officially ended in August 1996. It was a significant and highly destructive conflict, characterized by intense fighting, human rights abuses, and widespread devastation.

The roots of the conflict can be traced back to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region located in the North Caucasus region of Russia, declared independence from Russia in 1991 under the leadership of Dzhokhar Dudayev. However, Russia did not recognize Chechnya’s independence and sought to maintain control over the region.

The war started when Russian forces, under the command of President Boris Yeltsin, launched a large-scale military intervention in Chechnya. The Russian government cited reasons such as the need to maintain territorial integrity and combat the spread of separatism and Islamic fundamentalism as justifications for their actions.

Initially, the Russian forces encountered little resistance and expected a quick victory. However, they underestimated the determination and fighting capabilities of the Chechen fighters. The Chechen rebels, known as the Armed Forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, employed guerrilla tactics and had local knowledge of the difficult terrain, which worked to their advantage.

The conflict quickly escalated into a full-scale war, marked by fierce urban warfare, heavy bombardment, and numerous human rights violations committed by both sides. Russian forces conducted large-scale airstrikes, artillery bombardments, and ground operations, while Chechen fighters used ambushes, hit-and-run tactics, and suicide bombings.

The war caused immense destruction and loss of life. Both military personnel and civilians suffered greatly. Civilian casualties were particularly high, with estimates ranging from tens of thousands to over 100,000 people. The capital city of Grozny, in particular, was heavily damaged, reduced to rubble by the end of the war.

International criticism of Russia’s conduct during the war was significant, with allegations of indiscriminate bombings, extrajudicial killings, and human rights abuses. The war also witnessed the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Chechen civilians, creating a humanitarian crisis.

In August 1996, a ceasefire was brokered, leading to the signing of the Khasavyurt Accord between the Russian government and Chechen separatist leaders. The agreement established a temporary cessation of hostilities and provided for negotiations on the future status of Chechnya.

The First Chechen War officially ended with the signing of the peace treaty known as the “Moscow Peace Treaty” in May 1997. The agreement granted a degree of autonomy to Chechnya within the Russian Federation but fell short of granting full independence. However, the conflict did not resolve the underlying grievances and tensions, and Chechnya remained a volatile region.

The First Chechen War had a significant impact on the subsequent conflicts in the region. It set the stage for the Second Chechen War, which began in 1999 and lasted until 2009, as well as ongoing instability and violence in the North Caucasus region.