Dmitry Belyakov / Associated Press
Russia unleashed a massive bombing campaign, rubble cities and towns, and killed thousands of civilians.
Russia did this twice in Chechnya in the 1990s (against fellow Russian citizens). It raises the question of whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the same playbook that is at war in Ukraine today.
In Chechnya, a small Islamic republic in southern Russia with a population of only 1.5 million, resistance to Russian rule dates back at least two centuries. Rebels there began to sway for independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Years after heightened tensions, Russia unleashed a massive invasion characterized by relentless airstrikes and heavy gun salvo, killing thousands of fighters and tens of thousands of Chechen civilians. Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, was wasted.
For each block, almost all buildings were completely destroyed. For decades, no other city has been bombed so hard. The devastation evoked black-and-white photographs of European cities destroyed in World War II.
Russia campaigned for two years, and its powerful army repeatedly failed to crush a small group of rebels, but surprisingly, Russia was defeated.
President Boris Yeltsin’s government signed a peace treaty with Chechnya in 1996, excluding all Russian troops from the territory and giving Chechnya widespread autonomy, albeit not formal independence.
Putin takes power
But three years later, when Yeltsin was about to resign, he appointed a politician who turned into an unnamed spy as prime minister — Vladimir Putin.
Putin took office on August 9, 1999, and by the end of the month Russia had launched a new bombing campaign against Chechen rebels to reverse the previous humiliation.
The Second Chechen War, though proven to be more effective, was also brutal. Russian troops ruled the secession republic only a few months later.
In March 2000, Putin, who had won the presidency by this time, flew to Grozny on a Russian fighter. He emerged from the aircraft in a full pilot suit to commemorate his victory.
Putin has set up Akhmad Kadyrov, a Kremlin-friendly leader, to strengthen control of the territory. Kadyrov was assassinated in 2004, but his son Ramzan Kadyrov now governs Chechnya.
In the current battle in Ukraine, Chechen troops were dispatched to fight Russian troops.
Mindaugas Kulbis / Associated Press
Similarities between Chechnya at the time and Ukraine today
Journalist Thomas de Waal, who reported on Chechnya in the 1990s, states that there are many similarities between the time and the present.
De War, who is in London with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, said, “There are some pretty disturbing similarities. The use of heavy artillery, indiscriminate attacks in the city center. They bring back pretty terrible memories. The Chechen War in the 1990s. We covered. “
He said there were also political similarities.
“There was a project to bring Chechnya back under Russian control, and today in 2022 there was a project to bring Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence, and there was no Plan B. Surprise in Chechnya and Surprise in Ukraine. There was no political plan B on what to do with resistance, coming as. “
He said Putin expected little or no pushback, as it happened when Russian troops seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula quickly and bloodlessly in 2014. Instead, Putin acquired Chechnya in 1994.
After more than two weeks of fierce fighting in Ukraine, Russia’s invasion is proceeding much slower than planned.
With their excellent firepower, Russian troops are close to Ukrainian cities, but Ukrainians are still fiercely resisting, holding the capital, Kyiv, and the heart of other big cities.
Meanwhile, tolls for civilians are increasing.
Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, said in an open letter last week, “When Russia says’no war with civilians’, it first calls on the names of the murdered children.” .. Invasion is a victim of a child. “
At least 549 civilians were killed and nearly 1,000 were injured, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. According to the agency, the actual numbers could be much higher.
“Schools, hospitals and kindergartens have been hit and have very devastating consequences,” a UN agency said in a statement. In or near a densely populated area. “
US intelligence officials painted a dark picture last week, predicting that the city war could be even more intense in the coming weeks.
Director of National Intelligence Abril Haines testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday: “Our analysts are unlikely that Putin will be deterred by setbacks, but instead escalate and essentially double. I’m evaluating it as possible. “
Greg Myre is a National Security Correspondent at NPR. Follow him on Twitter. @ gregmyre1..