We possess much more powerful means of destruction than we have so far used . . . [Chechen rebels] should be quite simply eliminated. There is no other solution.

-- Russian air force head Gen. Anatoly Kornukov, December 30, 1999

Russia has always been an empire, ruling over vast territories of many different ethnic and tribal groups. The Soviet Union represented the peak of the Russian Empire, reaching across much of Asia and Europe, with influence around the world. When the USSR collapsed, the empire shattered into pieces. Ethnic groups re-established old ties, old claims and old hatreds.

The region known as Chechnya is home to the Chechens, a predominantly Sunni Muslim group.

The First Chechen War: 1994-1996

In late 1994, the Chechens announced their secession from Russia. By the end of 1996, at least 30,000 people had been killed in the ensuing war.

The Russians quickly dominated Chechnya militarily, including the capital city of Grozny, sending in tens of thousands of occupying troops and patrolling with tanks and helicopters. But Russian troop morale and domestic support for the war quickly faltered, while the Chechen troops remained fiercely determined to regain their homeland.

From 1995 to early 1996, the Chechens waged a guerilla war against the Russians, attacking occupying soldiers at night, and committing bloody raids against Russian towns. The poorly equipped, ill-fed and demoralized Russian troops offered little resistance.

By February 1996, Chechen rebel leaders walked freely among the streets of the occupied Chechen farming town of Novogroznensky. Russian soldiers patrolled the area but avoided direct confrontation. In March, rebels launched a major assault on Russian troops occupying Grozny on the day before Russian military and political leaders met to discuss how to end the war.

In late March 1996, Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced his peace plan for Chechyna, which boiled down to "we're getting the hell out of there." In April two Russian battalions pulled out of the area. Russian troops evacuated Chechnya by the end of 1996.

After the peace plan, Chechnya became de facto independent, and part of Russia in name only. Russians became highly unwelcome in Chechnya.

1999: The Start of The Second Chechnya War

In September 1999, the neighboring province of Dagestan rebelled against Russian rule, with significant support from Chechnya. Support probably came from Islamic empire-builder Osama bin Laden as well.

As the fighting in Dagestan progressed, Russia began bombing targets in Chechnya. By late September, Russia had ammassed troops along the Chechen border estimated between ten and thirty thousand, and on September 24, Russia began bombing the Chechen capital of Grozny. On October 1, Russia troops began invading and taking Chechen towns.

By December 1999, the conflict had raised international tensions. Both the United States and the European Union strongly condemned Russian tactics, particularly killing of civilians, and urged a political rather than military solution. The leading Western countries "demanded" a ceasefire. Russia's response was essentially "mind your own business, and remember we have nukes."

In late December 1999, Russia mounted a new offensive to take Grozny, and controlled much of the region except rebel strongholds in the southern mountains. Russia began using fuel-air bombs against the rebels. Fuel-air bombs are the most damaging conventional bombs ever invented. Chechen rebels in Grozny began using primitive chemical weapons against Russian troops.

Also at the end of the year, Russia began fanning anti-U.S. sentiment. A December 27 statement by the Russian government accused the U.S.-backed Radio Liberty of giving aid to the rebels. Russia detained seven Western journalists and expelled them from the country. The U.S. government issued a travel warning recommending that Americans leave Chechnya immediately, including journalists.

2000: Weapons of Mass Destruction

Sources: February 5, 1996, New York Times News Service article, "As Russian morale falters, Chechens become increasingly defiant"; March 6, 1996, Associated Press article, "Rebels attack Grozny as Yeltsin prepares plan to end war"; April 15, 1996, Reuter Information Service article, "Some Russian units leave Chechnya, helicopter downed," September 24, 1999 Associated Press article, "Russia bombs Chechnya's capital," and other news reports.