Coding Notes: Chechnya ’91-‘97

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Coding Notes: Chechnya ’91-‘97

These coding notes are based on the narrative for Chechnya ’91-‘97 in this website. See also, Journeys, Ch. 5, pp.103-127, and the discussion on Coding Procedure in this website. It should be observed that Vorkuna did not provide us with her full coding of events in terms of her very interesting Galtung-inspired signals/symptoms of violence (for a description of this approach, see Journeys, pp. 124-127).


Chechnya was the first North Caucasian republic to declare independence from the post-Soviet Russian federation. In 1990, a newly formed Chechen National Congress (CNC) claimed sovereignty, while Moscow expressed fear that the Chechens’ example would encourage further secessions. In Chechnya, domestic political polarizations over the leadership’s legitimacy in the new Chechen government resulted in increasing social tension and sporadic conflicts, which was stimulated by external factors. This case is essentially about a conflict between the group around President Dudaev and the Chechnyan establishment on the one hand, and between the group around Dudaev and the Soviet/Russian government on the other.

The graph represents both internal (Episodes 2 and 3) and external parts (Episodes 1 and 4) of the Chechen conflict as two overlapping and interacting narratives, which are disaggregated into four main episodes for reasons of analytical clarity.
Episode 1: Chechnya-Russia (August 1991-June 1993)

This represents the early international part of the Chechen conflict.

Vorkunova begins her narrative of the Chechnyan conflict in 1990 when the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen Soviet Republic declared the sovereignty of the republic. "This declaration did not cause particular concern, despite the implicit upgrade in status from that of Autonomous Republic within the Russian Federation" (emphasis added, Journeys, p. 118). Hence, no crisis was created by the mere declaration of an improvement of status.

(Phase 1: Dispute)

25 November 1990: The convocation of a National Congress of the Chechen People

27 November 1990: The Supreme Soviet of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR declares sovereignty

Spring 1991: CNC calls for elections and sets terms for any treaty with Russia or USSR

(Phases 2-5: Crisis and Abatement)

6 September 1991: Dudaev's armed supporters penetrate the building of the Supreme Soviet during its regular session

October 1991: A National Congress of the Chechen People declares the mobilization of all males between 15 and 55 years of age

8 October 1991: A National Congress of the Chechen People declares the only power in Chechnya

27 October 1991: President and Parliament elections are held in Chechnya; Dudaev elected President by a “very questionable ballot” (Journeys, p. 120)

1 November 1991: The Chechen Republic declares its sovereignty

2 November 1991: The Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR declares the elections in Chechnya illegal

7 November 1991: the President of the RSFSR declares a state of emergency in Chechnya. The newly elected Chechen parliament responded by voting emergency powers to Dudaev, who ordered martial law and mobilized the National Guard.

11 November 1991: the Presidential decree is set aside by the Supreme Soviet of the RF

November 1992: The first attempt to use the Russian Army against Chechnya
January 1993: Negotiations in Grozny between the Russian delegation and representatives of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic. Moscow has a policy of peaceful coexistence with the Grozny authorities until spring 1994
Change of episode: After Moscow declared a state of emergency in the Republic and attempted unsuccessfully to deploy Russian troops in Grozny, the Russian Supreme Soviet refused to endorse the state of emergency decree. The conflict then shifted into a phase of abatement were conflicting claims about Chechnya’s status were made: “Chechnya attempted to assert the prerogatives of an independent sovereign state, while Russia continued to regard the Chechen republic as part of the Russian federation and subject to its laws” (Journeys, p. 120).  This phase lasted for three years. However, during this period a new conflict erupted, this time opposing the groups around Dudaev and other Chechen groups.1

Episodes 2 and 3: Dudaev-Opposition: From dispute to limited violence (Aug. 1991-1997)

This is the domestic part of the Chechen conflict. We infer from the narrative that increasing instability in the Chechen republic in 1992-1993 derived from contradictions between the Chechen parliament and President Dudaev, which eventually escalated into violent conflict. Moreover, political tensions in Chechnya were reinforced by the competition between several major teips (clans) which started to struggle for control over oil, narco-trafficking and arms smuggling.

(Episode 2: Phase 1: Dispute)

We understand from the narrative that the dispute was initially about Chechnya’s status (autonomous or independent), for transforming into a dispute (and a subsequent crisis) about political leaderships’ legitimacy.
In August 19, 1991, while the President of the Chechnyan republic was in Moscow to sign the proposed Union Treaty, the coup in Moscow triggered a conflict between the Chechnyan government and other Chechnyan groups lead by Dudaev. Whereas the former pursued the autonomy of Chechnya, the latter called for an independent Chechnya. This claim gave rise to expectations about an impending crisis, and thus the conflict entered a dispute phase.2 Dudaev enjoyed great popular support and succeeded to form a national guard that stormed the Chechen Supreme Soviet, acceded to power (through an election on October 1991 questioned by the opposition in the Chechen parliament), and forced the president to sign his abdication. From the perspective of the political establishment, both in Grozny and Moscow, the conflict shifted into a crisis phase.3

(Episode 2:Phase 2: Crisis)

March 1992: opposition’s attempted coup crushed by force

June 1992: Dudaev dissolves the Parliament and introduces direct presidential rule

June 1993: Dudaev dissolves the Parliament in order to avoid a referendum on a vote of non-confidence. He also orders the dislodging of the opposition from Grozny to Nadterechny district. Limited clashes continued after this, but we coded this phase as abatement, in order to distinguish it from the following escalation episode starting with another coup attempt

Dec.1993: opposition organizes a Provisional Council as a potential alternative government for Chechnya, calling on Moscow for assistance.

The crisis grew more intense the more Dudaev lost popular support, which the author attributes to his failure to obtain international recognition. As an interesting counterfactual argument one can therefore propose that the conflict could have been terminated if the international community had recognized the Dudaev regime.4
Episode change: Following an abatement phase (episode 2: phase 5), the dispute escalated again into a crisis and limited violence phases. From the author's description it is difficult to discern whether the Russian assistance or other factors accounted for the shift to a phase of limited violence. However, the systematic use of limited violence characterized the conflict in the summer of 1994. It is again unclear whether any expectations of systematic violence existed at this point.
(Episode 3: Phase 3: Limited Violence)

Spring 1994: Opposition receives financial and military assistance from Moscow in order to overthrow Dudaev

Summer 1994: internal clashes in Chechnya has escalated to full-scale civil war

November 26, 1994: Opposition assault on Grozny is repelled, Moscow denies any involvement, but dozens of Russians officials captured by Chechen government confirmed the contrary

Episode change: the Russian military attack on Grozny marks a sharp escalation in the conflict, and a rupture with previous phases with the clear intervention of an external actor in Chechnya’s conflict. According to the author, Dudaev’s case in struggling with internal opposition then transformed into a case of “standing firm against international intervention”. When the decisive attack against Grozny on November 26, 1994 was successfully repelled, the Russian involvement in the opposition's military campaigns was revealed. This revelation transformed the conflict. While the opposition forces had believed to be fighting for the re-establishment of an autonomous republic, they now realized that they had been manipulated by Moscow. At the same time, Dudaev's forces realized that they had not been fighting an internal opposition but Moscow,5 which we graphed as an arrow pointing at the transformation of the definition of the conflict. It is unclear what the conflicting parties expected to happen next, and it is therefore difficult to explain the massive use of violence that followed.
Episode 4: Chechnya-Russia (Dec. 94-May 97)

This refers again to the external/international part of the Chechnyan conflict.

(Phases 4-5: Massive Violence to Abatement)

December 1994: Active Russian military operations in Chechnya

March 1995: The State Duma adopts a resolution which excludes the possibility of direct negotiations with Dudaev

Russian troops launched a massive attack on Grozny on December 11, 1994 including the use of 40,000 troops, 500 armored vehicles, and indiscriminate bombardment. Although from the Russian perspective this attack could have been a limited use of violence, it was a massive use of violence from the Chechen's perspective.6 Although Chechen forces had to abandon Grozny, they retreated into the countryside and avoided defeat. A phase of abatement was entered when Yeltsin declared the termination of the military operation.


March 1996: President Yeltsin presents a Plan of Peaceful Conflict Resolution in Chechnya

March 1996: The Congress of Vainakhs in Volgograd. Alternative plan for peaceful Chechen conflict resolution

27 May 1996: An Agreement on ceasefire and the end of military operations in the Chechen Republic is signed between Yandarbiev and Chernomyrdyn

25 June 1996: A Decree by President Yeltsin on the withdrawal of Russian troops until the 1st of September 1996

(Phase 6: Settlement)

January 1997: Presidential elections in Chechnya

12 May 1997: An Agreement on Peace and Principles governing relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic Ichkeria and economic inter-government treaties are signed by Presidents Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov.

In 1996, Moscow approached the Chechens for a cease-fire and a subsequent conflict settlement7. However, the agreement reached merely calls upon both parties to refrain from using force. The determination of Chechnya's status has been postponed to the year 2001. In the meantime, sporadic violence has been reported so in 1997 (the end of Vorkuna’s account) the conflict remained in a phase of abatement.

1. Based on the author’s account, it remains unclear who the groups were that made up the opposition forces, what their claims were, what they were fighting for, and whom they were fighting against. Similarly, the account is focused entirely on the person of Dudaev without explaining who he was, and who the groups who were either supporting or deserting him.

2. A better description of the dispute phase is warranted, especially as it relates to the Russian position. It might be useful to explain in greater detail whet the Union Treaty encompassed and what it meant for the status of Chechnya.

3 . To satisfactorily code this phase as a crisis we would need to know whether the systematic use of violence could be expected.

4 . However, more specific arguments would have to be added that take account of possible Russian responses to the recognition of Chechnya.

5. The revelation of Moscow's involvement deserves much greater exposure, for it constitutes a turning point in the conflict. We are, in fact, dealing with a covert operation gone wrong. For instance, we would have to explain why the Russian blunder was not equivalent to the Bay of Pigs. One element is certainly that Cuba was internationally recognized while Chechnya was not. But can this alone explain why the United States did not follow up with a full-fledged invasion while the Russians did?

6. We believe that the Russians the conflict also entered a phase of massive violence when they encountered strong resistance, suffered heavy losses, and loosened their restraints on their use of violence.

7. This gap needs to be filled. What characterized the situation in Chechnya from the ending of the Russian intervention to the beginning of the Russian peace initiative?

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