The Second Chechen War was the key to Vladimir Putin’s victory in the 2000 presidential campaign. The destruction of the Chechen separatist government cemented his image as a tough, decisive leader, in contrast to the bumbling ailing Boris Yeltsin, eased out to make way for him.
After their humiliation in the mid-nineties, Russian forces took no chances. They stood back at artillery range and flattened any settlement that did not surrender. The capital, Grozny (peacetime population around 400,000) was razed to the ground. Thousands of civilians died – how many is unknown because no one counted them, and Moscow still spares no effort to stop journalists reporting.
In spring 2000 the Kremlin declared victory; a lie, of course. The war is still festering, more barbaric with each passing year. The Kremlin claims the guerrillas are all but finished. But a new explosion is just a matter of time. I remember in one village at the height of the offensive an old man nursed his son, a hero of the 1994-5 war. (The son has since disappeared, killed or imprisoned). He pointed to his grandchildren playing by the family bunker. “This generation will lead us to freedom,” he said.
Text © Paul Quinn-Judge