Skip to comments.1994: NIGHT TANK ATTACK ON THE CITY OF GROZNY
Posted on 05/07/2002 5:09:28 AM PDT by g'nad
Ex-head of Chechen Nadterechny Regions administration, ex chairman of Supreme Soviet of Chechen Republic, Umar Avturkhanov tells about his three-year fight against Dudaevs regime.
Question. Umar, seven years ago, by the night attack on Grozny, military actions on Chechen territory were initiated.
Answer. Yes, at night on 25th to 26th November, the so-called tank attack broadly advirtized by mass media really took place. Though, as a matter of fact, the situation was different. December 1993, the most active levels of Chechen society who were against general Dudaevs policy, created Provisional Council of Chechen Republic in Urus-Martan settlement. I was elected the chairman of the council. The sitting was carried out in the house of Yusuf Urmuzaev, the head of Urus-Martan Districts administration. We tried to enlist the support of central Russian authorities. We addressed to the Ministry on Nationalities and Regional Policy, leaded by S.Shakhrai. I personally visited Moscow. We did not asked for so much: just to render a material help to us and to supply arms. Why arms? Dudaevs adherents were at that time armed very well. To successfully resist them in three Chechnyas regions and settlements which acknowledged our Provisional Council, we had to possess adequate possibilities.
Q. Did you feel the support of Chechen people?
A. Of course! Any other kind of military assistance was out of the question. We asked only for arms. At that time, the situation was unstable. In the republic, there was anarchy. Peoples masses were unsatisfied with the regime. February 1992, I was elected the head of Nadterechny Region of Chechnya, because I everywhere declared being opponent of Dudaevs policy. I occupied this post to the summer of 1995.
As I said, we also asked for money. At that time, there was a paradoxical situation in the republic. Since 1992, Chechnya did not pay taxes to the Federal Budget, while receiving money from the budget. All incomes from oil export also remained at the disposal of Dudaevs brothers-in-arms. Taking into account many-billion sums received through criminal ways, you could imagine which possibilities the rebel general and his surroundings possessed. While people received nothing. Regions resisting Dudaevs regime did not received money from the budget. We asked for financing separately. Finally, in 1994, something started to change.
Q. Tell me, please, have you always been Dudaevs opponent?
A. The story is so. In 1991, I was a rather successful businessman, the president of a stock company. Political passions roared in the country, which finally reached our republic. In Groznys squares and streets, many-thousand crowds of people appeared: on one hand that were supporters of then-First Secretary of the Regional Committee, Zavgaev, while on the other hand that were general Dudaevs supporters. At first, I was neutral. I attended at meetings of both groups. Though, gradually, I understood the real essence of the ideas and demands of All-Chechen Congresss leaders. I understood that people like that could not do Chechen people good. Though, I still was aside.
Autumn 1991, an election took place in Chechnya, in which Dudaev won a victory. Lawlessness was literally unlimited during the election. I could see it in Nadterechny Region. We possessed irrefutable proves that the results of the election had been falsified. The Supreme Soviet of Chechen Republic did not recognize the results. The Supreme Soviet issued two decrees about it. While, we, in Nadterechny Region, passed two resolutions: Jokhar Dudaev exists de-fact and possess presidential power, while de-jure we do not recognize him, because he had been elected lawlessly. Afterward, of course, we could not have good relations.
Later, the settlements of Nadterechny Region elected Coordiantion Council (in the early 1991), while I became its first chairman. Next February, I was elected the head of the regional administration. In our region, we carried out elections in accordance to Russian legislation. Therefore, my three-year opposition with Dudaev started. Now, the country can every day see faces of Dudaevs adherents in TV bandits and terrorists. It doesnt matter, whether they are now supporters of Basaev, Gelaev or Hattab. In Chechnya, we could see them much earlier, and not only in TV. At that time, all sensible people simply shuddered. Something should be done against that danger. So, we created Provisional Council of Chechen Republic in Urus-Martan. Earlier, there was a Coordination Committee, to which I also belonged, however I did not belong to its Presidium. The first appearance organized by the Coordination Committee took place March 31, 1992. Actually, it should take place April 6. We came to the square and acted not very actively, so we suffered a defeat. At that time, Dudaev remained in power. We understood that we should act more actively and consolidate our forces. In the meanwhile, the situation in the republic became more and more critical. There was no democracy at all, theft, robbery were prospering. As a result, Chechnya suffered probably the most powerful social and economical crash in Russia. Dudaevs leadership tried to suppress it with an aggressive nationalist anti-Russian rhetoric.
Finally, the Russian leadership decided to pay attention to the republic and made a statement about its intention to carry out negotiations with any organiazations, authorities, and social levels acting positively. March 1994, the State Duma passed a decree on situation in the republic and with this decree practically excluded any possibility of negotiations with Dudaev. At that time, Shakhrai already three times suffered defeat in negotiations with Dudaev and was declared enemy number one of Chechen people.
While we, as representatives of anti-Dudaev opposition negotiated with the centre and asked for money and arms. Our requests were modest: we asked for 100 barrels for a district. We did not want to carry a war, we just wanted to feel capable to defend ourselves. And we also asked for being financed separately from Dudaevs Chechnya. Dudaev isolated us from the rest Chechnya, while he himself was isolated from Russia. We did not receive money till September, 1994. June 4, we carried a congress of Chechen people in Znamenskoye settlement. More than 2,000 delegates came to the congress, spite all menaces from the regime.
Among the delegates, there were even four field commanders. And suddenly we received a report, that from Goragorskaya settlement, a column of about 500 people was moving toward us. The column was sent by Dudaev to disperse our congress. I did foresee that something like that would happen. So, we made an ambush on their way. Moreover, some of their commanders were present in the congress. So, after having seen that everything was quiet and there was no war, they went away.
At that congress, I made a report: about the done work, about some measures, about our plans for reestablishing normal life. My actions were approved of as well as my candidacy as the leader of the Provisional Council. With this decision of the congress, we came to Moscow, where I presented my authority. Shakhrai started negotiations again, but I saw that nobody would help us.
Q. So, the question was about Sergei Shakhrai?
A. No, I felt that Sergei Shakhrai really wanted to solve these problems, thought there were also some other persons who surrounded the President and who were of a different view. I know, that many people do not like Shakhrai, though I am sure, at that time he really wanted to help Chechnya and Russia.
Q. So, the question was about Sergei Shakhrai?
A. No, a felt that Sergei Shakhrai really wanted to solve these problems, though there were also some other persons who surrounded the President and who were of a different view. I know, that many people do not like Shakhrai, though I am sure, at that time he really wanted to help Chechnya and Russia.
Q. And at that moment, Ruslan Khasbulatov appeared at the stage, though now he was not the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, but an authoritative politician with influence in his small motherland. According to him, in summer and autumn of 1994, he spent more time in Chechnya, than within the whole his previous life. They say, he could have stabilized the situation in Chechnya in a peaceful way, if not for Yeltsins personal negation relation to him. Is it so?
A. Once we permitted ourselves to express negatively about each other, though now I do not want to continue this tradition. However, everything must be explained. To be honest, namely Khazbulatov led Dudaev to the power. After August 1991, Khazublatov and Burbulis, accompanied by then-minister of the press, Poltoranin and singer Kobson, came to the city of Grozny. Zavgaev supported the putsch organizers in 1991, so you understand how the Russian authorities considered him. Khasbulatov publicly declared he would drive Zavgaev away in a cage. While Dudaev was declared democracys supporter, so his way to the power was cleanzed. Probably, Khazbulatov counted on influencing Dudaev, though his counts turned out to be wrong: the generals next step was his presidentship and afterwards declaration of Independent Ichkeria November 1991. Now, Khazbulatov could do nothing against it.
I have some materials about Dudaev, and I intend to issue a book in virtue of it. The book will content some unknown facts, different names. It should cover events which could not be understood so far. Everything will be put on its place.
I do not know, if at that time, in Grozny Khazbulatov and his companions suspected that not they, but some more powerful forces ruled Dudaev, that namely that forces had planned and prepared everything. That forces already predicted the USSR collapse and Caucasuss cut-off from Russia. Western special services who carried out their greatest operation on the USSRs territory already patronized Dudaev at that time. Did our democrats guess into whose hand they played? Or they did not understand that they ruined the great power?
But, parade of sovereignties started long ago before the USSRs collapse, because then-Russian President, while carrying out his pre-election campaign called to taking as much sovereignty as everybody can swallow. And what happened at that time in Chechnya? At that time, Doku Zavgaev ruled in Chechnya, who dreamed about turning his autonomous republic into a Union one. Apropos, that was not Jokhar Dudaev who declared Chechen sovereignty, but Chechen Supreme Council with Zavgaev at the head. Dudaev only confirmed this and developed this thesis by declaring Ichkeria the subject of international law. In the last months of Gorbachevs ruling, a Union agreement was being prepared, according to which the USSR should have turned from the unitary power into an amorphous state formation, while every local leader must have become a half-independent appanage prince, which they all wanted so much.
Though, the reality was even more than they expected. Thanks to the Belovezh Agreement, the Union republics at once became independent states, while autonomies became for Russia what earlier the Union republics were for the USSR. With such a weak centre, they became a destabilizing factor for Russia.
Chechnya advanced more than others on this way. It was carefully protected, even a leader was found ahead of time. Though Dudaev was elected only in the second congress of Chechen nation. Afterwards, the Russian leadership behaved in the way as if there was no independent Chechnya at all. While at that time, the situation could have been settled without blood.
Q. Probably, there is one more fact connected with it, that too much armament was left in Chechnya when Russian Army was withdrawn from it?
A. From some unknown reason, this question is interesting for everybody and being discussed most of all. When Dudaev declared sovereignty of the republic, and when the Russian authorities declared an emergency situation, I was with my people in a building opposite the Internal Affairs Ministry. I had already about 1,000 people who had registered in my unit and who supported the existing power (of course, not that one of Dudaev), so we asked for arms. I am sure, we could have changed the situation. And we would have needed no landing, no emergency situation, which did not play any role and was soon cancelled.
Vakha Ibragimov, then-Chechen internal minister, shrank in the face of danger and did not take any measures, as well as before him, Alsultanov did not reestablish order in the republic. Now, they both justify themselves by stating as if they did not have such a task. Though, in addition to it, neither Grozny leadership, nor Moscow leadership showed their will. At that time, there were conditions for any adventures.
Formally, the USSR still existed, though it was already half ruined. While the Russian leadership also did not possess enough power. That was a real dual power.
And in such conditions, the emergency situation declared in the republic did not reach what it was aimed for. There were troops in Chechnya not enough even for keeping extremists within the limits of law and order. The Grozny regiment was on its place, as well as the tank regiment which was a training unit. In Shali, there were ammunition depots containing almost the whole arsenal of the Northern-Caucasian District. Dudaevs adherents became completely insolent: blackmail, menaces. There was a choice: to take resolute measures, or to withdraw troops and arms. The decision was taken, which is typical for our democrats as if defending interests of the country. The troops were fast withdrawn, while almost all arms were left in the depots. Dudaevs adherents got aircraft, 54 tanks, a great amount of shooting weapon, ammunition, armoured troop carriers, and cars. Could you imagine, what all that meant for a Caucasian man? Who gave such an order is still unknown. The military prosecutors office carried some investigations. In my view, it will long investigate this case. Probably, some time we will learn it But I suppose, the main reason was that unstable situation in the country: they were sharing power and intending to re-share property. At that time, Chechnya was not the main problem. This was why all our attempts to resist Dudaev were fruitless because of the Russian authorities indifference to them.
The March 1992 attempt of the Coordination Council supported by all sane forces of Chechnya failed to resist Dudaev, as well as the next attempt, so-called 52 days (namely for 52 days, our meeting in Grozny lasted). At that time, the city assembly was fired, people were killed and the chairman of the city administration, Gantamirov administration was wounded. The whole story is well-known. We asked the Russian leadership for carrying out a referendum about the republics status and about vote of confidence to the president and the parliament. If Dudaev had known that Russia will not allow to disperse the meeting and support our demands, he would not have use force. Thought, the centre did not reacted, so Dudaev understood, that the centre had given us up. The meeting was dispersed to avoid bloodshed. That was Shamil Basaev, who informed us about shooting down of our meeting.
Q. Therefore, the development was accelerating and finally ended with the tank attack of Grozny. How did you manage to convince the Russian leadership of necessity to do it?
A. After all disappointments and misfortunes, we one more time gathered with Khazbulatov: I had to go to Nadterechny Region and declare to the people that we had no support of the Russian government. And namely at that moment we got this support. I explained to the head of the President administration, Sergei Filatov what was the situation, that Dudaev had started mass annihilation of people. In particular, Dudaev sent a punitive expedition to Nadterechny Region: 1,000 people to execute intractable people in Tersky mountain ridge.
After having believed in the support, we asked for tanks, armoured troop-carriers, ammunition. Though, we did not received it at once. There were tanks, though we could not drive them, so we had to hire former militants. That were our only mercenaries. After the tank crews were completed, we moved the tanks to Grozny.
The city was practically occupied. We seized all key positions: buildings of the Internal Ministry and of Federal Security Service, television, radio, except for the presidents palace. We needed assistance of Russian internal troops so much, but we did not got it. Dudaev brought up his forces, so we were thrown back.
Q. Who promised you to render military assistance?
A. I would say so: the Russian leadership.
Umar avoided a direct answer. Though, ex-internal minister Kulikov and then-commander of United Group of Federal Troops in Chechen Republic, who was interviewed by me in 2000, said following: The beginning of the war, initiated by the tank attack increased Dudaevs rating and made him Chechen national hero. As for the opposition, I can say that the federal centre is guilty of it. The opposition headed by Avturkhanov addressed to the Russian government, so Russian functionaries: FSB head Stepashin, FSB Moscow departments chief Savastyanov, and the Presidents representative to the State Duma Katenkov proposed to send to the opposition volunteers of ex-servicemen and tanks. I personally supposed that should be mercenaries of the number of experienced militaries hired for big money. Though, Romanov, then-commander of Internal Troops group in Mazdok said me in 1994 that young sergeants had been sent there, who even were not quartered in barracks. Afterwards, the operation was carried by Avturkhanov. Neither the General Staff, nor Russian Defence Ministry participated in it. While we, workers of the Internal Ministry even did not know about intentions of that ones who had handed over arms and military equipment to Dudaev. I got to know about this storm from mass media, because all the intentions were kept secret. I can only say that arms and military equipment were handed over according to the decision of the Russian government. The Defence Ministry handed them over to the Provisional Council through the internal troops. Apropos, this case is still being investigated by the military prosecutors office.
Q. Though, you as a Chechen who knows local orders and customs probably understood that presence of Russian troops in Grozny would excite pro-Dudaev spirits in Chechens. And it did, after Dudaev showed to the people Russian tankmen taken prisoner by him after the tank attack.
A. We had supporters not only in Nadterechny Region. So we could have come to an agreement. I asked only for not bringing the troops and for not launching the military operation. I wanted us to come to an agreement by ourselves.
We had contacts with some field commanders, so we could have come to an agreement with them. We had a higher living standard in Nadterechny Region, which could not be compared with any disorders in the rest of Chechnya. We had almost the same law and order in Nadterechny Region, as we had in Soviet times. Many people wanted to live with us. That was a normal life, so our people did not want to be bandits.
So, I asked for an economical assistance to draw away people from Dudaev, while the military assistance was necessary for defence, but not for an attack. I was against that action of November 25. I proved that Chechens would support us. If my then-propositions had been understood, there would not have been other victims and passions.
Q. So, you suppose, somebody was interested in, so to say, increasing rating of Dudaev?
A. In Chechnya, economical and political interests of many groups are concentrated. And not only in Chechnya, in Caucasus in general. Interests, both private and state, of Russia, Turkey, USA, and other countries are mixed up here. Dudaevs regime was a bandit regime. He did not intend to develop economy, culture etc. While his authority was decreasing against the background of total poverty, he was popular when some tension took place. So, that ones who had lead Dudaev to power and armed him, from time to time took some measures to increase his rating. While he was grateful: through Chechnya, drags and arms were transported, other kinds of illegal business were prosperous.
In Chechnya, only a restrict circle of people make a profit out of this. At the same time, pensioners do not receive pensions. In villages, people live like in the Middle Ages. In the meanwhile, oil extracting and refinery works were never stopped.
Oil was exported. How? It is impossible without the centres participation. And one more question: where is money received for oil? Did the Russian government know nothing about it? I cannot believe it.
The whole army of functionaries has incomes from it. They have connections with criminals implicated in drag and people traffic.
Q. Was there an opportunity in summer of 1995 to finish with the militants?
A. In summer of 1995, the militants were locked in mountain gorges. While we had our people among them and were aware about their spirits. I know what Maskhadov said at that time: What does actually the Russian leadership think: will they annihilate us or not?
Alas, in the Russian leadership, there were probably people who thought it was premature to finish with the militants. That was why, later that situation in the city of Budenovsk took place. I suppose that the operation in Budenovsk was prepared both by Chechnya, and by Russia. With joint efforts. The troops were ordered to retreat, and the negotiations were started. By the way, at the beginning of the anti-terrorist operation I proposed: Let the Chechen Committee of National Concord to carry out negotiations! We will understand each other. But in addition to Russian side, there is also OSCE, UNO, NATO. And nobody remembers already about Chechen and Russian interests. The main task for them to satisfy interests of the West. While, it is well known, what are its interests.
We proposed to disarm Chechen units of both sides, to return Russian troops to barracks and to carry out a democratic election. The people will elect lawful authorities. Though, our opponents were leaded not with concern about the good of Chechnya, but with interests of some Western structures and of some Russian oligarchs. So, the negotiations were carried out by different figures. The Committee of National Concord also participated in it, though it did not have a deciding vote. We could only observe how interests of Chechnya and Russia were betrayed. Of course, the war must have been stopped, though through annihilation of terrorism and extremism on Chechen soil.
Umar Avturkhanov was interviewed by Ilay Tarasov
Translated by Vera Solovieva
Read the original in Russian: 1994: NIGHT TANK ATTACK ON THE CITY OF GROZNY. PART I
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