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25 years later Five infographics demonstrating how two wars changed Chechnya’s demographics, economics, and public safety

Source: Meduza

On August 31, 1996, the Russian federal authorities and Chechen separatists signed the Khasavyurt Accord, officially ending what became known as the First Chechen War. According to the agreement, Moscow withdrew its troops from Chechnya, and questions about the republic’s future (whether it would become fully independent or remain a part of Russia) were put off until 2001. Both sides in the conflict pledged not to use force anymore. Within three years, however, the fighting resumed. The new conflict ended with the separatists’ defeat and the establishment of the Kadyrovs in power, who recognize Chechnya as a part of Russia. On the 25th anniversary of the Khasavyurt Accord, Meduza reviews the results of these two devastating wars.

How many people fought in Chechnya? How many of them were killed?

The exact number of all soldiers who fought in Russia’s Chechen War and North Caucasus “Counterterrorism Operation” is unknown. It is at least several hundred thousand people, roughly speaking.

At the peak of the conflict (between 1995–1996 and 2000–2001), the size of the United Group of Federal Forces in Chechnya and its neighboring republics was between 90,000 and 100,000 troops. Military personnel were constantly changing, however, and most officers and enlisted soldiers served multiple tours of duty. This complicates any effort to count Russia’s combatants.

All we have are rough estimates of the total number of veterans. For example, 600,000 people had participated in combat with Russia’s federal forces by 2009, when Moscow formally ended its counterterrorism operation in the North Caucasus, but troops remained in the region afterward, as well. 

It’s easier to calculate the conflict’s casualties, which are regularly reported in the State Duma. Even here, though, there’s no certainty that the data capture everyone lost by Russia’s federal forces. For example, these records do not include missing persons or prisoners of war.

We also have little idea what happened to most injured soldiers. Treatment outcomes are publicly available only for the first war (1994–1996), and a study by Russia’s Defense Ministry says about 80 percent of all wounded personnel were “returned to duty.”

Demographer Sergey Maksudov estimates that more than 36,000 Chechens (including 16,500 separatists) were killed in the republic’s two wars with Russia by 2005.

How many veterans have Russia’s modern wars created? How much are they earning in government benefits now?

Russia only recently started recording detailed statistics about its modern-war veterans, waiting until 2005 when state benefits were monetized and veterans began receiving monthly payments. 

Even these numbers, however, make it hard to decipher in which wars people fought. The data mixes veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War and Russia’s First Chechen War, as well as soldiers who served in the North Caucasus in 1999. In Dagestan, the Russian state still sends checks to former militiamen who repelled attacks by radical Islamists from Chechnya in August 1999 (this invasion is what started the Second Chechen War). 

From the turn of the century until 2016, these veterans’ lists almost entirely comprised individuals who served in the North Caucasus (in addition to the soldiers who fought against Georgia in 2008). That remained the case, though Russia’s counterterrorism operation formally ended in 2009 and the intensity of the armed conflict in the North Caucasus declined significantly after the late 2010s. Most of the names on the veterans’ lists belong to personnel from local Interior Ministry units. Despite the changed conditions, today’s veterans have the same rights to state support as the soldiers who fought in the bloody wars of the 1990s and 2000s. 

In 2015, Russia launched a military intervention in Syria. The following year, soldiers who served in this campaign became eligible for federal benefits, which is why the number of veterans has started to spike again in Russia.

In total, Russia’s modern wars have created roughly 1.5 million veterans. In 2021, each one of these people is entitled to monthly payments of 3,212.04 rubles (less than $45).

How many Russian-speakers are left in Chechnya? What’s the population’s ethnic breakdown today?

Before the collapse of the USSR, a significant part of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic’s population comprised Russian and various Slavic, Russian-speaking peoples. After Chechen nationalists led by Dzhokhar Dudayev came to power in 1991, ethnic Russians started leaving Chechnya — a process that accelerated in 1994 when the First Chechen War began.

After two bloody wars, ethnic Russians nearly vanished from the republic. At the same time, at least according to the official 2002 census data (which was conducted during active hostilities), the number of ethnic Chechens living in Chechnya exploded by almost 70 percent. Demographers argue, however, that these are inflated numbers designed to increase the amount of federal aid allocations to Chechnya. In reality, says scholar Sergey Maksudov, the Chechen population grew modestly over a 13-year period (thanks to the birth rate). At the same time, roughly 65,000 people fled the republic and another 36,000 were killed.

Data from Russia’s 2010 census reflected the “normalization” of the Chechen population and a further decline in the number of Russians and other Slavs. In other words, two wars effectively transformed Chechnya into a monoethnic republic.

What drives the Chechen economy?

A dozen years after Moscow ended its counterterrorism operation in the region, Chechnya’s economic situation is simple: the republic has almost no business sector of its own; of all Russia’s federal subjects, it ranks 72nd (out of 85) in terms of revenues and 78th in terms of profits. Meanwhile, only Ingushetia draws more subsidies from Russia’s federal budget than Chechnya.

Chechnya’s biggest commercial entities are still the gas and pharmaceutical companies that supply the local population with raw materials and medicines. In terms of accumulated funds, the largest organizations are nonprofit foundations, which Chechnya’s political leaders and their relatives typically administer.

What’s happened to the number of terrorist attacks in Russia over the past 25 years?

In the years between the two Chechen wars, the number of terrorist attacks in Russia was relatively low. When the fighting resumed, the number of attacks rose sharply, peaking in the mid-2000s before declining rapidly. That said, according to the government’s statistics, the number of terrorist attacks never fell to prewar levels. Also, the data show that most of these attacks still occur in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Text by Dmitry Kuznets, translation by Kevin Rothrock

Cover photo: Alexander Nemenov / TASS

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