Year in review





"I do not deny my share of the blame."

Defining moments in Chechnya in 1996
February 15: Boris Yeltsin vows to end war before the election
April 21: Rebel leader Dzhokar Dudayev is killed in rocket attack
May 27: Peace pact is signed
July 9: Days after Yeltsin's re-election, Russian troops violate the cease-fire
August 9: Rebels re-take Chechen capital, as Yeltsin is inaugurated
August 27: Another peace pact is signed
November 23: Yeltsin orders last troops withdrawn

The war in Chechnya brought suffering and death to tens of thousands -- mostly civilians -- and gutted cities and towns in that Russian republic. At the beginning of 1996, President Boris Yeltsin agreed to end it, fearing it was about to claim yet another casualty -- his political career.

In December 1994 Yeltsin dispatched troops to crush a revolt by a government that declared itself independent. Chechnya, made up mostly of Muslims, is rich in oil. To Yeltsin, Chechnya was a test of his power to keep Russia's 89 republics from breaking away. But the war, whose miseries could be seen on Russian television, was much hated by the public.

Yeltsin was up for re-election in 1996, and feared the war might cost him a victory. On the day he began his campaign, he promised to end the war. The next month he declared a unilateral cease-fire, but Russian troops ignored it. In May, barely two weeks before the voting started, his government signed a cease-fire, agreeing to exchange prisoners and negotiate a permanent peace later.

The cease-fire held long enough for Yeltsin to survive the run-off election in July, but days later Russian troops started bombing again. The rebels fought back, and re-took the capital, Grozny, timing it to coincide with Yeltsin's inauguration on August 9.

With the help of Alexander Lebed, his security chief -- a critic of his handling of Chechnya -- another peace agreement was reached later in the month. Russia agreed to withdraw by the end of January 1997, when elections would be held. The final decision on independence was put off for five years.

Even though he declared victory in May, the Chechnya affair can be called a defeat for Yeltsin. He gained nothing and barely escaped with his political skin. At year's end he was forced to withdraw even the two brigades that had been stationed there before the war began.

There were "serious mistakes and miscalculations," he told Russian troops when he visited Chechnya in May. "I do not deny my share of the blame."


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