Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003

Grozny, Chechnya: 2003

It was supposed to be a quick little conflict, more a boost for Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s poll ratings than a real war. It would, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said, take a few men and a couple of days to crush the impudent uprising in Chechnya. Instead, it became a bloodbath. In a horrendous botched assault on Grozny on New Year’s Eve, Russian troops suffered thousands of casualties at the hands of improvised groups of Chechen guerrillas. For the next 20 months, each grim turn of the war — from massacres to hostage takings to the Chechens’ final recapture of their capital — was covered by Russia’s newly independent media. In August 1996, a humiliating cease-fire was signed in which Russia tacitly recognized Chechnya’s independence. At least 6,000 Russian soldiers and an estimated 50,000 Chechen civilians died. It was Yeltsin’s darkest hour. And it isn’t over yet.