Current Affairs History Military Politics

Lessons From The First Chechen War


For military analysts like myself the two most interesting conflicts of the last twenty years have been the First Chechen War of 1994-1996 and the Second Lebanese War of 2006. In the former conflict the tiny Chechen Republic of Ichkeria found itself taking on the decaying colossus of the Russian Federation in the aftermath of the collapse of the old Soviet Union. Despite the received wisdom of popular myth guerrilla armies do not always defeat regular armies, no matter how lengthy the conflict. In fact more often than not it is the irregular forces that succumb in one form or another, unless they manage to gain support from significant backers, invariably meaning a nation-state or states.

The United States lost in Vietnam because of the political, military and financial backing for the Viet Cong guerrillas and party in the south by the government of North Vietnam as well as the USSR and the Peoples Republic of China. The USSR was defeated in Afghanistan because of the support for the Mujahideen that flowed from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Britain and China. Likewise the support from Iran for the insurgency in Iraq was a major cause of the precipitous withdrawal of Coalition forces there.The evolving “defeat” (or at least “drawdown”) of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan was and is in part due to the backing of the Taliban / anti-Kabul forces by Pakistan and latterly Iran.

Without a national backer most historic insurgencies simply fizzle out. A notable exception is to be found in Ireland’s War of Independence which was fought by the revolutionary Irish Republic through Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the British Empire as a whole. Despite considerable sympathy around the globe, especially in the United States, Australia, France, Germany and Italy, very little direct aid was supplied to the Irish cause, and none from government sources. Instead the Irish Revolution was largely self reliant and self-sustaining, with help from individual Irish emigrant communities overseas, making its (partial) success all the more remarkable.

In contrast both the Chechen and Lebanese wars mentioned above relied on the succour of one or more nation-states to succeed. The Chechen guerillas had at their core the resources of their former Republic and initially the struggle was fought between two conventional military forces. They also had sympathetic neighbouring states, at least in the early stages of the conflict. When the Israeli Defence Forces or IDF invaded (or was lured into) southern Lebanon in July of 2006 it found itself confronted by Islamic Resistance, the military wing of Hezbollah, a nominally guerilla grouping. However thanks to the military and financial aid supplied by the Islamic Republic of Iran the Israelis were delivered a series of tactical defeats by a force that bordered the line between irregular and regular eventually producing something of an ignoble retreat by Israel.

The links below lead to PDF downloads of chapters from “Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000: Lessons from Urban Combat” by Olga Oliker for the RAND Corporation. They present a detailed military and political analysis of the failures (and successes)  surrounding Russia’s military expeditions in Chechnya.


  • Preface PDF
  • Figures PDF
  • Summary PDF
  • Acknowledgments PDF
  • Glossary PDF
  • Chapter 1 Introduction PDF
  • Chapter 2 Grozny I: 1994-1995 PDF
  • Chapter 3 Return to Grozny: 1999-2000 PDF
  • Chapter 4 Conclusions PDF
  • Bibliography PDF

7 comments on “Lessons From The First Chechen War

  1. There is only one thing I would like to add to the post that I feel is missing in relation to the Chechen conflict. As a renowned Russophile (though not in politics) I always found the aforementioned conflict incredibly tragic.

    I think that the big difference between the likes of Vietnam, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the recent Nato invasion of Afghanistan or Coalition invasion of Iraq is the permanence of the presence. The elite in Moscow view Chechnya as a part of Russia and further, they viewed it’s leaving Russia as a foretaste of the disintegration of Russia itself, a precursor existential event such as large tracts of Siberia going for independence, hence it’s desire to do whatever it took to keep it as a part of a federal Russia. There was never any plan or chance that the likes of Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq would be colonised or come under the direct remit of any outside nation state in the true sense of colonisation.


    • In relation to the tragic nature of the conflict, absolutely. Sorry if that didn’t come across. While it’s all well and good to sit back and study these things from a purely analytical point of view one must never forget the human cost involved in it all. And in the case of Chechnya it was particularly heavy. There is no doubt whatsoever that what happened in Grozny was a war crime and one unprecedented in Eurasia since the end of WWII (and I include the Balkan wars and Bosnia-Herzegovina in that). The second Russian campaign in particular was rife with barbarisms, absolutely unspeakable acts of violence and depravity that it turn bred their own horrors. Chechnya, like much of the Cuscuses, remains an anarchic basket case thanks the terrible wars there (both national and internecine). I can’t see that changing any time soon nor do I believe the Russian Federation would wish it otherwise.

      There is a fascinating article that I read a while ago that I must dig out on the hidden wars along Russia’s borderlands.


      • Thanks SoS. btw, I was never trying to imply that you were ignoring or brushing over the tragic consequences, many of which the people in the region have to live with today, I was merely noting my own thoughts on this much forgotten war and particularly the very different nature and circumstances of it compared to many other interventions across the globe.

        Ironically, there is an insane amount of investment going into Grozhny at the moment and it is seeing something of a boom in construction and commerce yet it still is a very dangerous place to be.

        Someone has noted elsewhere that one of the main problems facing Russia is that large tracts of its border is contested space, hence why we see it having such a strong focus on its military. I had the great pleasure of being in Novosibirsk back in October 2010 to visit a very good friend and watched an ice hockey game with her. The Russian national anthem plays in the arena as Novo were to take on Kazhan and at the end everyone deviates from the lyrics and shouts out at the end, drowning out the music, ‘NASHI SIBER!’ or ‘Our Siberia’. After a few beers and talking to some of the afterwards, they (the ones see themselves as people out civilizing this part of Asia, a Russian version of ‘Manifest Destiny’ if you will and I doubt they will give it or any of ‘their’ country up without a serious fight.


        • Certainly a forgotten war and for the West deliberately so. A tragedy made worse by the refusal of the EU and US to make any real attempt to intervene or prevent the levelling of an entire city of nearly 400,000 in the early 1990s.

          Just lately I’ve read quite a bit about Turkmenistan and Belarus. Interesting countries. I read one description describing them and others as the “detritus” of the old USSR which seems somewhat unfair.

          Its fascinating to see the background and wide range of interests and experiences of a new generation of Irish Republican bloggers. A cosmopolitan lot and greatly at odds with the impression one gains from the non-journalist or non-politician Unionist and British Nationalist blogs.


          • The former Soviet Union is just so very fascinating for me, it beggars belief that there is not more out there or more people going to places such as Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan or even the much forgotten Kirghistan, they are coming down with history and tradition whether it is their roles in the silk route, with Alexander the Great, interactions with India, China and Iran/Persia and then with Europe via Russia.


          • Oh and as for the background and range of interests of Irish Republican bloggers, as you know this should not be new news to anyone, and I am sure it isn’t for you either SOS 🙂


            • In relation to the Caucasus my own interests begin with the Proto-Indo-Europeans, the Tocharians and the early Greek city-states of the Black Sea (remnants of which survived until the early 20th century, astonishingly enough). Too many people live within too narrow a horizon, especially on this island-nation. Good to meet a fellow traveller! 🙂


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