RESEARCH DOCUMENT /// Chechnya, Yeltsin, and Clinton : The Massa cre at Samashki in April 1995 and the US Response to Russia’s Wa r in Chechnya

Chechnya, Yeltsin, and Clinton : The Massacre at Samashki in April 1995 and the US Response to Russia’s War in Chechnya

Grozny after bombardment, early 1995. Photo courtesy of

Published: Apr 15, 2020

Briefing Book #702

Edited by Svetlana Savranskaya and Matthew Evangelista.

Translations and editorial assistance by Sarah Dunn.

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

The Memorial Society prepared an extensive report on the events in Samashki. It was published on May 15, 1995.

Washington D.C., April 15, 2020 – As the coronavirus puts at risk Russia’s celebration of Victory Day on May 9, 2020, with its huge military parade on Moscow’s Red Square, we are reminded of another event that threatened to undermine the festive atmosphere 25 years ago: the massacre by Russian troops of scores of Chechen civilians and the burning of their village of Samashki on April 8, 1995. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. The 50th anniversary came just a few years after the demise of the Soviet Union and offered an opportunity for foreign leaders to celebrate the defeat of Nazism in Moscow as guests of the first freely elected president of post-communist Russia, Boris Yeltsin.

President Clinton and President Yeltsin toasting at the state dinner, Hall of Facets, The Kremlin, Moscow, May 1995.
(Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP)

Yet Yeltsin’s brutal war to suppress the Chechen movement for autonomy from the Russian Federation cast a pall over Victory Day and made some observers wonder if President Bill Clinton might decline the invitation in protest of Russia’s egregious violations of human rights and the laws of war. As newly declassified documents make clear, the Clinton administration faced a difficult choice between, on the one hand, showing respect for Russia’s historic sacrifices in the struggle against fascism and support for the country’s democratically elected president, and on the other, defending fundamental human rights by criticizing the atrocities committed by a Russian government moving increasingly toward authoritarianism.

Today the National Security Archive publishes for the first time declassified records from the State Department, CIA, and DIA along with Russian materials from the Memorial Society and the State Archive of the Russian Federation that document the internal opposition to the war and the reaction of the U.S. administration. The posting includes an introduction by Cornell University professor Matthew Evangelista, author of The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2002) and Archive senior analyst Svetlana Savranskaya.

The Massacre at Samashki and the US Response to Russia’s War in Chechnya

by Svetlana Savranskaya and Matthew Evangelista

As the coronavirus puts at risk Russia’s celebration of Victory Day on May 9, 2020, with its huge military parade on Moscow’s Red Square, we are reminded of another event that threatened to undermine the festive atmosphere 25 years ago: the massacre by Russian troops of scores of Chechen civilians and the burning of their village of Samashki on April 8, 1995. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. The 50th anniversary came just a few years after the demise of the Soviet Union and offered an opportunity for foreign leaders to celebrate the defeat of Nazism in Moscow as guests of the first freely elected president of post-communist Russia, Boris Yeltsin.

Yet Yeltsin’s brutal war to suppress the Chechen movement for autonomy from the Russian Federation cast a pall over Victory Day and made some observers wonder if President Bill Clinton might decline the invitation in protest of Russia’s egregious violations of human rights and the laws of war. As newly declassified documents make clear, the Clinton administration faced a difficult choice between, on the one hand, showing respect for Russia’s historic sacrifices in the struggle against fascism and support for the country’s democratically elected president, and on the other, defending fundamental human rights by criticizing the atrocities committed by a Russian government moving increasingly toward authoritarianism.

The difficult decisions made by the Clinton administration reflected at least in part the U.S. lack of clarity about its own priorities. Democracy was the catch phrase, and Yeltsin was seen as the best hope for Russian democracy, but in fact, when it clashed with perceived security and economic interests, support for democratic process and principles such as human rights moved to the backstage. Before the war in Chechnya started, the United States and Russia had been successfully cooperating on issues crucially important for the U.S. and international security such as the Nunn-Lugar program (links to postings: Briefing Book #571 and Briefing Book #691) that helped Russia safely dismantle its nuclear weapons under the START I Treaty and withdraw nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Russia was a reliable, albeit reluctant, partner in Bosnia, on the Test Ban Treaty and in global non-proliferation. Russia implemented unpopular economic reforms in the form of “shock therapy” promoted by U.S. economists and policy makers. Yeltsin accepted the U.S. agenda for Russian reform and seemed to embrace democratic values. The Clinton administration saw him not only as Russian democracy personified, but also as a junior partner who could deliver solutions to U.S. priorities. President Clinton was genuinely committed to reform in Russia and to his relationship with Yeltsin, the brave leader on the tank who stood up to the hard-liner coup in 1991 (link to posting: Briefing Book #640)

The events that culminated in Russia’s military intervention in Chechnya in December 1994 began four years earlier when the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush Republic issued its “declaration of state sovereignty” in November 1990—part of a widespread movement throughout the USSR in reaction to the hypercentralized system of rule from Moscow. Although mainly peaceful, some popular movements for independence or sovereignty provoked violent reactions – in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988, in Tbilisi in 1989, and in Latvia and Lithuania in 1991.[1]

Dzhokhar Dudaev, the leader of the Chechen independence movement and Chechnya’s first president, had served in Estonia as a general in the Soviet air force and commander of the strategic air base at Tartu. Dudaev was widely admired in Estonia for his refusal to allow his troops to be used to suppress protests in favor of Estonian independence. The protest movements there in turn inspired Dudaev to support similar independence efforts in Chechnya, which he led until his death in 1996, targeted by a Russian missile that homed in on his satellite telephone as he was negotiating a possible ceasefire (the US Defense Intelligence Agency had reported Dudaev’s vulnerability to such a strike more than a year earlier[2]).

Under the administration of President George H.W. Bush the United States had opposed the independence movements of the Soviet republics, except for those in the Baltic republics of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, whose incorporaton into the USSR the U.S. had never formally recognized. The U.S. valued stability and economic reform in the Soviet Union as a whole over freedom and independence for its constituent republics. Once the USSR fell apart anyhow, thanks in part to the machinations of the Russian republic’s leader, Boris Yeltsin, the U.S. continued to favor stabilility and economic reform. It opposed any further disintegration of post-Soviet Russia, a federation made up of some 89 “subjects,” including the small republics of the North Caucasus, such as Chechnya. President Clinton and his advisers endorsed Yeltsin’s official position, that the Chechen movement for autonomy threatened the territorial integrity of Russia, and that the effort to suppress it with violence was an internal matter.

Not all of the international response resembled the U.S. position. The EU members had a stronger and a more public reaction to the use of force in Chechnya both at the government level and among NGOs. Thanks to a joint memoir written by eight of Yeltsin’s advisers we have some specific details about the early response to the invasion of Chechnya. On December 27, 1994, for example, a group of Finnish parliamentarians expressed their concern to governments and presidents of Russia and the United States, to the United Nations, and to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).[3] The next day, an assistant to President Yeltsin met with officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who conveyed their view to the Russian president that the situation in Chechnya now attained “the legal status of an armed conflict of a non-international character.” That status, according to the Red Cross “above all signifies that the government authorities involved in the conflict must adhere to specific humanitarian obligations.”[4] From this point, as Yeltsin’s advisers have documented, Russia’s president was made aware of his international legal obligations with language taken directly from the 1977 protocols to the Geneva Conventions. Expressions of international concern intensified in the next few days, as German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel made an “emotional call” to his Russian counterpart Andrei Kozyrev on behalf of prime minister Helmut Kohl and the European Union.[5] In contrast to the Finns, Germans and others, the U.S. government responded quite late to the Russian invasion. President Clinton did not contact Yeltsin to discuss the situation until February 13, 1995, two months into the conflict (Document 10).

Democratic forces in Yeltsin’s own parliament were opposed to a military solution in Chechnya and sent several delegations to Grozny to try to prevent military escalation in November and December 1994. The head of one parliamentary delegation, chairman of the Defense Committee of the Duma Sergey Yushenkov, was negotiating directly with Dzhokhar Dudaev about the release of Russian detainees (Document 1). The Chechen side requested direct negotiations with Yeltsin, but he never agreed to it because of the concern that it would give recognition to the Dudaev government as party to the conflict (and not just as a leader of bandits as Yeltsin tried to portray him). The same insistence on direct negotiations and warning of a major humanitarian disaster that would hurt many Russian citizens along with the Chechens was voiced by Sergey Kovalev, a hero of the Russian human rights movement, (who is still actively involved in human rights work in Russia today and just celebrated his 90th birthday on March 2, 2020), who led the resistance to the war as the first Russian Commissioner for Human Rights (Document 3). Kovalev, who was a Duma deputy but also a member of the leading human rights organization Memorial Society, spent three weeks in Grozny in late December 1994 to mid-January 1995 with Oleg Orlov, Lev Ponomarev and other members of Memorial. Risking their lives, these observers were sending daily telephone reports and appeals to the President, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin (Document 8) and other political leaders trying to bring attention to atrocities and human rights violations in Chechnya. Vladimir Lukin, the prominent Duma member, former ambassador to the United States, and founder of the Yabloko political party, opposed the use of military force in Chechnya and posed tough questions to Yeltsin as the head of the Russian permanent delegation to the Council of Europe, which Russia aspired to join (Document 9).

Most liberal supporters of Yeltsin and leading democratic intellectuals opposed the war in Chechnya. They faced a conflict between the need to expose human rights violations and their allegiance to Yeltsin, fearing that he would lose the forthcoming election. Privately, Yeltsin’s liberal advisers tried to dissuade him from using military force (Document 4), but found their voices silenced by the hardliners led by Yeltsin’s head of security service and tennis partner Alexander Korzhakov, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and vice-prime minister Nikolay Yegorov—the main proponents of the military solution.[6]

Reports from nongovernmental organizations, such as Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch), as well as intergovernmental bodies, such as the Council of Europe, provided great detail on the damage to civilians inflicted by Russian attacks. The most important and reliable information about the consequences of the Russian invasion came from the brave Russian human rights activists who were on the scene and upon whose testimony the international organizations depended (Documents 3, 8, 18). Representatives of the OSCE who conducted a fact-finding mission to Chechnya “were appalled by the magnitude of destruction and compared the condition of Grozny with that of Stalingrad during World War II.”[7] The State Department received a summary of the OSCE findings a day before the Victory Day celebration in Moscow (Document 26). Others compared the situation in Chechnya to that of Bosnia when its capital city was under siege by Serbian militia forces and the Serbian army—actions that eventually provoked NATO intervention. In the winter of 1995 “at the height of the shelling of Sarajevo there were thirty-five hundred detonations a day, while in Grozny the winter bombing reached a rate of four thousand detonations an hour.”[8]

Recently declassified documents trace the development of the US position on Chechnya through a series of State Department directives for handling inquiries from the press. On April 12, four days after the Samashki massacre, to a hypothetical question about “reports that the Russians are massacring civilians and engaging in a scorched-earth policy in Chechnya,” the Department advised responding that “we continue to be deeply disturbed” and that “the fighting must stop and that it is having a corrosive effect on Russian democracy and on U.S.-Russian relations” (Document 15). To the accusation by Russian human-rights activists that Russia was carrying out a policy of genocide, the press guidance provided the text of the 1948 Genocide Convention, with its emphasis on “specific intent” to commit the crime, and averred “we have not seen evidence to support a conclusion that Russian actions in Chechnya constitute genocide” (Document 15).

Just over a week later, a new press guidance addressed directly the question of the Samashki massacre (Document 21). It repeats the “deeply disturbed” language and goes on to endorse the credibility of the reports coming from multiple Russian human-rights organizations and international institutions, such as the ICRC and the OSCE. In contrast to those organizations, however, the U.S. position attributes the massacre to “inadequate military discipline” and calls on the “Russian troops” to adhere to the Geneva Conventions—even citing specifically Common Article 3 and Protocol II to the 1949 treaties, even though Russian soldiers were in no position to know what those were.[9] It makes no mention of the responsibility of Russian political or military leaders.

By contrast the position of the European Union, as reported to the State Department by the U.S. embassy in Paris, was much harder hitting: it “utterly condemns atrocities against civilians in violation of basic human rights” and it “appeals to the Russian authorities to put an end to the violence against the people”(Document 22). By placing blame on the authorities rather than ordinary soldiers, the OSCE echoed eye-witness reports such as one by Memorial’s Sergei Kovalev from the early days of the war, when he accused Russian leaders of committing a crime “not only against the people of Chechnya, but also against Russian soldiers” by placing them in an untenable position of opposing a mass-based armed independence movement (Document 3). Kovalev presciently predicted further civilian casualties. On May 8, the embassy in Vienna sent a report summarizing an investigation by the OSCE that included a site visit to Samashki that corroborated reports that “that federal troops occupied the village without meeting resistance but burned and destroyed the houses after looting them, with great loss of life.” It also revealed the existence of “filtration camps,” where suspected rebels were tortured and killed, and the vast destruction of the indiscriminate Russian bombing strategy (Document 26).

The timing of the Samashki massacre was especially inconvenient for Western leaders as it came a month before the Victory Day celebration in Moscow. Some observers suspected that the approach of the anniversary might itself have contributed to the Russian decision to terrorize Samashki in order to speed the end of the war before the Western visitors arrived—a view shared by the CIA (Document 14).[10] As the Clinton administration planned for the president’s trip to Moscow, the State Department drafted a series of talking points for the press and the public. This document clarifies President Clinton’s priorities. His advisers knew that Russia’s war against Chechnya posed a problem for bilateral relations. They referred to the conflict as a tragedy, rather than, say, a crime: “Russia’s conduct in Chechnya has been tragically wrong.” But they put it in the same category as other disagreements between the two countries, such as U.S. opposition to Russia’s cooperation with Iran’s nuclear program: “Because of the stakes involved, we cannot and will not hold our relationship hostage to one issue—our differences over the sale of reactors to Iran, for instance, are serious.” Chechnya would not stand in the way of the primary US objectives: 1) the continuing dismantlement of Russian nuclear weapons; 2) Russian acquiescence in the enlargement of the NATO alliance, including US development of theater ballistic missile defenses in Eastern Europe; and 3) political and economic reforms in Russia. The talking points specifically celebrate “a landmark $6.4 billion agreement with the IMF, which requires Russia to continue its fight against inflation, implement an austere budget and free more prices from state control” (Document 25).

Most of the U.S. response to the war in Chechnya was premised on the assumption that everything must be done to support President Yeltsin as the only hope for Russian democracy and economic reform. Electoral gains by communists and supporters of the fascist politician Vladimir Zhirinovskii were particularly worrying to U.S. officials who sought to avoid weakening Yeltsin any further with their criticism. U.S. policymakers, from President Clinton on down, referred to the war in Chechnya as an “internal matter” and compared it to the U.S. civil war, implying that all-out war, with massive civilian casualties, was fully justified to preserve the country. Warren Christopher, the U.S. secretary of state, explained that “Russia is operating in a democratic context,” and therefore the United States should “not rush to judgment.”[11] The view was so widespread within the U.S. government that a report from the Defense Intelligence Agency, ostensibly intended to summarize Russia’s military situation (it quotes one source to the effect that “a potential guerrilla war in Chechnya would necessitate the deployment of one hundred thousand troops”) could not resist editorializing in favor of Yeltsin as “the guarantor of democratic development in Russia…For the time being there is no acceptable alternative to him” (Document 5). In summing up the U.S. response to the war in Chechnya, a group of Yeltsin’s liberal advisers wrote that it seemed to follow a formula: “You there, straighten things out quickly please, while we close our eyes a little.”[12]

The newly available documents confirm that despite the horrendous crimes associated with Russia’s conflict in Chechnya, and epitomized by the Samashki massacre of 25 years ago, the Clinton administration deliberately played down its criticisms. Its priorities in relations with post-Soviet Russia were denuclearization, NATO expansion, and the opening of the Russian economy to foreign investment, not human rights. The Clinton administration was unwilling to link economic aid to Russian compliance with its international treaty obligations and observance of humanitarian law in Chechnya. On the contrary, it supported continued assistance from international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund. As Rachel Denber, the Moscow representative of Helsinki Watch, pointed out, “despite the Chechen conflict, 1995 must be considered a jackpot year for the Russians as far as funds from the international community are concerned.” The 1995 loan was followed by a further $10.2 billion from the IMF in early 1996. The two loans combined exceed most estimates of the total cost of the first Chechen war, leading some observers to argue that the West actually “paid for the Russian invasion.”[13]

The difficult decisions made by the Clinton administration in the winter and spring of 1995 put concerns about human rights on the backburner. Humanitarian tragedy turned out to be less important than other big issues on the administration’s agenda, such as European security and Russian reform. Chechnya was a “sore spot,” as Chernomyrdin called it in his conversation with Talbott (Document 13). It was something the top U.S. leadership preferred not to have to talk about with their Russian counterparts. During the Moscow summit, the discussion of Chechnya was limited to the U.S. request to search for the disappeared Fred Cuny, which might have left some with the impression that only his life mattered. On that occasion, it was NATO expansion that loomed large in the minds of American policymakers, adding to their inclination to put aside uncomfortable problems like Samashki. Accommodating Yeltsin on Chechnya might encourage the Russian president not to push back on the issue publicly and to join the Partnership for Peace. And for better or for worse, Yeltsin remained a reliable U.S. partner on many other international issues.

Read the documents

Document 01

Telephone Message from Chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee Sergey Yushenkov to Speaker of the State Duma Ivan Rybkin from Grozny [Translation]


Source: State Archive of the Russian Federation, Fond 10100, Opis 2, delo 130

Yushenkov sends this "telephonegram" to Speaker of the Duma Ivan Rybkin with a request to inform President Yeltsin about it in an effort to prevent a military escalation of the crisis in Chechnya. Yushenkov along with a parliamentary delegation that included some prominent Duma deputies, was negotiating with Dzhokhar Dudaev to release Russian prisoners who were taken by the Chechen military after the failed coup against Dudaev on November 26, which the Russian government had secretly supported. Yushenkov reports that the Russian parliamentarians were received "very warmly with the hope for a peaceful resolution," and that they had "confidence" in a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The tone of the message is urgent, as Yushenkov pleads with Yeltsin to "take all possible measures in order not to allow air strikes or any other military actions against Chechnya." Unbeknownst to Yushenkov, a secret session of the Security Council meeting had already been convened by Yeltsin on November 29, which decided on the use of force. Yeltsin signed a secret order authorizing use of military force in Chechnya on November 30, 1994.

Document 02

Talking Points for Vice-President Gore Meeting with President Yeltsin


Source: U.S. Department of State. Date/Case ID: 07 JUL 2004 200000983

Vice President Gore traveled to Moscow in December 1994 in the framework of the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission. However, his most important mission was to repair the damage after Yeltsin’s "Cold Peace" speech at the Budapest Summit on December 5 where he blasted the expansion of NATO to Eastern Europe. Gore’s most important repair work in Moscow takes place in Boris Yeltsin’s hospital room, where the Russian president is recovering from what was officially described as a "nose operation" while Russian troops are pouring into Chechnya in the early stages of a brutal war. The talking points prepared for Gore explicitly say they "[h]ave only one issue to discuss – President’s wish that we overcome disagreement in Budapest." Gore has two assurances to make, that Clinton is personally committed to partnership with Yeltsin, and that any NATO expansion would be "gradual, open" and not take place in 1995 "when you’ll have parliamentary elections." The delay in inviting new members would subsequently extend through 1996, when both presidents would face re-election campaigns. This document is an early signal that the expansion of NATO would be the Clinton administration’s main priority in 1995 and take precedence over other concerns like the war in Chechnya.

Document 03

Sergei Kovalev Telephone Report from Grozny [Translation]


Source: Memorial Society Archive, Moscow, Russia

This document is a summary of a telephone report from Sergei Kovalev, the human rights commissioner of the Russian Federation, to Ivan Rybkin, chairman of the Duma, as dictated to N. I. Semina, Kovalev’s assistant. Kovalev is calling from Grozny, on a trip with a group of Duma deputies to investigate the situation and the possibility of a peaceful resolution. The parliamentary delegation traveled to the areas of Achkoy-Martan and Novy Sharoy in Chechnya. The group had conversations with Russian soldiers, who were reportedly "distinctly" aware that the "development of the conflict" would lead to "increasingly more serious casualties among the civilian population," about which the soldiers had an "obvious" negative attitude. Kovalev had witnessed the bombing of the building that housed the Chechen Republic’s Department of State Security, and noted that the central authorities failed to mention the fact that it was located in "the midst of the heavily populated central area of Grozny." Kovalev describes a "chasm of misunderstanding" between the Russian authorities and the Chechen side, and believes that "a crime is being committed not only against the [Chechen] people, but also against Russian soldiers."

Document 04

Information Report by Yeltsin’s Security Service about the Meeting of the President’s Expert Analytical Council [Translation]


Source: Эпоха Ельцина : Очерки политической истории / Батурин Ю. М., Ильин А. Л.,Кадацкий В. Ф., Костиков В. В., Краснов М. А.; Предисл. Салмин А. М. – М. : ВАГРИУС, 2001, pp. 625-627

Yeltsin’s personal Security Service was headed by Alexander Korzhakov, longtime bodyguard, tennis partner, and unabashed advocate of force against Chechnya. This document is a report by the Security Service criticizing the discussion at a meeting of the Expert Analytical Council under the President of the Russian Federation to discuss the "political consequences of the entry of Russian troops into the Chechen Republic in order to disarm illegally armed groups on December 27, 1994." The document presents the experts’ discussion as anti-war and anti-Yeltsin. Oleg Lobov, secretary of the Russian Security Council, presented a report on the current situation in Chechnya, following which, council members offered their positions on events. In these presentations, the council members "nearly unanimously took an anti-presidential position." Council members discussed the "inconsistency" in the government’s actions, the need for negotiations between Yeltsin and Dudaev, the lost "political initiative" for solving the conflict, and the "deepening political crisis in the country due to events in Chechnya." Several members spoke of the impact of events in Chechnya on Yeltsin’s chances for re-election in 1996, saying that the possibility for his victory had been "nullified." Council member Gozman proposed approaching Yeltsin with a request not to run for re-election, and offered to "investigate ‘constitutional’ options" for Yeltsin’s "early removal." Minister for the Economy Yasin described the financial impacts of the conflict on Russia’s economy. The security services report that the council members essentially provided a political echo chamber for each other. The document makes clear the strong opposition to Yeltsin’s use of force in Chechnya from the most liberal, pro-democratic representatives of his government.

Document 05

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Information Report, "Chechnya Conflict"


Source: Defense Intelligence Agency FOIA release

This DIA report notes that although disagreements exist within the Russian political and military leadership regarding methods of dealing with Chechnya, "the country’s leadership is committed to not allowing the break-away of Chechnya […] and to using all means to accomplish these goals." The report mentions Western and internal criticism of the military campaign and how that brings the question of political power in Russia into focus by questioning Yeltsin’s role as "the guarantor of democratic development." However, the DIA analysts draw a political conclusion, somewhat unusually for a military intelligence report, that "for the time being, there is no acceptable alternative to him, therefore, Western support for Yeltsin will continue."

Document 06

President Clinton Letter to President Yeltsin


Source: State Department FOIA release, date/case ID: 25 Apr 2005 200403510

Clinton’s letter is a response to a letter from Yeltsin on NATO expansion, but it also raises the issue of the war in Chechnya. Reaffirming the U.S. official position that Chechnya is an internal affair of the Russian Federation and that the U.S. is against any changes of borders by force, Clinton expresses his distress over the loss of civilian life and prospects of a protracted conflict. The U.S. president strongly advises his Russian counterpart to take the offer of the European Union and use OSCE mechanisms in resolving the conflict. Clinton reiterates that "we will encourage any effort to find a lasting end to the bloodshed and a negotiated settlement to the dispute." He thanks Yeltsin for the invitation to come to Moscow in May to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Victory in World War II but does not make a firm commitment to come.

Document 07

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Report: "Military Disarray in Chechnya and Moscow."


Source: Defense Intelligence Agency FOIA release

This report from the DIA (much of it still redacted) describes Russian military operations in Chechnya, which "reflect a degree of disarray and disorganization not evident in Soviet times." The report goes through the various aspects of the issues with the operations, such as chaos on the battlefield due to a lack of unity of command, and general "incompetence and lack of coordination." There is a mention of poor troop morale, which is "compounded by lack of food and medical support, lack of sleep, and little concern…for soldier welfare." The report notes, "desertions are on the rise." Yeltsin’s bodyguard Korzhakov is described as "giving orders on Chechnya to Deputy Ministers of Defense, blatantly using his influence."

Document 08

Letter from Sergei Kovalev to Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin [Translation]


Source: Memorial Society Archive, Moscow, Russia

This letter from Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation Kovalev to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin addresses Chernomyrdin’s January 16 speech on the conflict in Chechnya. Kovalev, who at the time was still in Grozny, but about to fly back to Moscow, is writing to share his four key points for the negotiation process. The first is the "de facto recognition of the administration of General Dudaev as one of the parties to the negotiations," since the administration "is still recognized by a large part of the Chechens."

The second is the "gradual termination of military conflict, without setting preconditions at any given stage," as Kovalev believed that "even minimal success" would have "enormous public and international resonance" which would in turn "stimulate the continuation of the process."

His third thought concerns resolving "humanitarian issues," such as prisoner exchanges and assistance for civilians. His final point addresses the importance of "the quickest unveiling of the specific government plan," as well as the necessity of the "openness and transparency of the federal government’s position in the negotiations." Kovalev indicates that he will be available for a personal meeting with Chernomyrdin when he arrives in Moscow.

Document 09

Memorandum from Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Russian State Duma Vladimir Lukin to President Yeltsin [Translation]


Source: State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), Fond 10100, Opis 2, delo 131

Vladimir Lukin occupied one of the most prominent positions in Russia’s foreign policy elite in 1995. Yeltsin’s first appointed ambassador to the U.S., Lukin subsequently won election to the Duma (he was a co-founder of the Yabloko party) and served as chairman of the powerful International Affairs Committee and as head of the permanent delegation of the Russian parliament to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). In this memo to Yeltsin, Lukin is direct and assertive, making no secret of his strong opposition to the Russian government’s policy in Chechnya. Lukin demands that the president give concrete answers to the questions on the conflict in Chechnya that the Russian delegation will be asked at the PACE session, including exact numbers of casualties, information on human rights violations by the federal forces and by the militants, the names of people responsible for specific political and military decisions like the bombing of civilian areas, and an explanation of why members of the Yeltsin administration responsible for the Chechnya policy refused to appear at parliamentary hearings. Lukin informs the president that the issue of Russian membership in the Parliamentary Assembly has been removed from the PACE agenda because of the "accusation against the Russian federal forces of massive and cruel violations of human rights in the Chechen Republic in the process of carrying out of military operations."

Document 10

Memorandum of Telephone Conversation between President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin.


Source: Clinton Presidential Library declassification

This is the first conversation between the two presidents since early December 1994. The Clinton-Yeltsin personal relationship suffered some damage as a result of Yeltsin’s "Cold Peace" speech at the OSCE summit in Budapest on December 5, where Yeltsin blasted the United States for the plans to expand NATO. Here Clinton calls Yeltsin after a conversation with Helmut Kohl who encouraged Clinton to raise the issue of Chechnya with his Russian counterpart. Clinton reassures Yeltsin of his support and mentions the conversation with Kohl along with emphasizing that "both Kohl and I tried to be supportive and remind people that you stand for democracy in Russia and are the best hope of that." Clinton expresses his concern "that the heavy military fighting is doing heavy damage to Russia’s international image and aiding your critics at home and abroad." He mentions his own internal critics in Congress who would threaten Russia with sanctions for its use of force in Chechnya. Yeltsin defends his policy on Chechnya and the use of force to suppress an armed rebellion. He claims that there are "only police forces remaining in Chechnya to combat bandits who fire on our people," which shows how badly he is informed about the federal forces in Chechnya. Yeltsin agrees to follow Clinton advice "without fail" on OSCE and regarding his upcoming speech to the parliament. Clinton encourages Yeltsin to find a peaceful solution in Chechnya and to work closely with the OSCE. However, this phone call provides more reassurance than pressure. It certainly fails to ask the tough questions like those that his own Duma deputy Vladimir Lukin posed to Yeltsin (see Document 9).

Document 11

Department of State Cable: Deputy Secretary Talbott’s Meeting with Daniel Tarschys, Secretary General of the Council of Europe.


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

On March 30, 1995, Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state, met in Washington with Daniel Tarschys, secretary general of the Council of Europe, to discuss Russia. The meeting revealed significant differences between the U.S. and European approaches. The Council’s Parliamentary Assembly had suspended Russia’s application to join in reaction to the assault on Chechnya, whereas the Clinton administration had not implemented any changes in policy. Clinton had staked everything on his personal relationship with Yeltsin as the defender of Russian democracy, but Tarschys asserted that "the West should support policies rather than individuals." While in Washington, Tarschys had met with Yulii Vorontsov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, who expressed his support for trials of people convicted of war crimes associated with the conflict in Chechnya. The document conveys Talbott’s doubts by putting "crimes" in quotation marks and expressing the view that Tarschys should "not take those comments seriously." Moreover, "the U.S. and Europe might not want Defense Minister [Pavel] Grachev put on trial because we might be even less happy with his replacement." U.S. officials were counting on Grachev to help smooth the way to NATO enlargement since he had been helpful on Ukraine denuclearization and on Balkan peacekeeping.

Document 12

Defense Intelligence Agency report on Samashki


Source: Defense Intelligence Agency FOIA release

This daily intelligence summary from the DIA describes recent events in the Chechen conflict, including in Samashki. The document reports that Russian troops have taken the northern part of Samashki and that 130 Chechen fighters have died, as well as many civilians. The report mentions a claim made in the Russian press that Dudaev supporters killed a "group of Chechen elders from Samashki who wanted to offer no resistance," and that "Chechen strongman Dudaev recently threatened elders who cooperated with the Russians." According to DIA, media correspondents and medical personnel were not currently allowed into Samashki. DIA also reports the unprecedented news that 557 Russian officers were dismissed from the army for refusing to fight in Chechnya and "criminal cases were brought against them." To address shortages in personnel, the Defense Ministry was calling some 12,000 reserve officers and conscription would be extended from 18 to 24 months, while rotations of troops out of Chechnya continue on schedule.

Document 13

U.S. State Department Cable: Prime Minister Chernomyrdin: Meeting with Deputy Secretary Talbott.


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

As federal troops were engaged in a "mop-up" operation in Samashki, Deputy Secretary of State Talbott was in Moscow preparing for the upcoming visit by President Clinton to commemorate the 50th anniversary of victory in World War II. In this meeting with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin-who is also Yeltsin’s top person for dealing with Chechnya-Talbott and Chernomyrdin preview issues for the summit. Talbott delivers a message from President Clinton that he wants the summit to be a success with important discussions about the European security, not like the unfortunate experience of the Budapest summit. He asks Chernomyrdin to tell him about the situation in Chechnya as there are "many reasons for concern." Chernomyrdin replies that he spends about 30 percent of his time on Chechnya, but would like to discuss IMF, COCOM, and economic issues first. The Russian prime minister assures Talbott that "we are determined to stop military operation," and that "on the Red Square parade there will be no Chechen veterans and no Chechen-associated units." He also describes positive news from Chechnya such as opening of a railroad to Grozny and the beginning of "cleanup and restoration" of areas damaged by heavy fighting. He says that Russia would welcome an OSCE mission to observe elections in Chechnya. The report states that "the Deputy Secretary said he appreciated the briefing very much and expressed his support for success." It is notable that no hard questions about Chechnya were asked of the Russian side in this conversation.

Document 14

Central Intelligence Agency: National Intelligence Daily (NID). Excerpt.


Source: Central Intelligence Agency FOIA release to the National Security Archive

This NID includes a section on developments in Chechnya, titled "Russia: Settling Into Chechnya for the Long Haul." It includes mention of "battleworn" Russian military units being publicly withdrawn from Chechnya, while being "quietly" replaced with fresh units, for example "81 Motorized Rifle Regiment, decimated in the failed New Year’s Eve attack on Grozny, returned to its base in Samara." The NID also discusses events in Samashki as part of a new Russian offensive to expand control and seize "major rebel strongholds." The report adds that the "timing of these operations suggests the Russians are trying push Chechen rebels into the mountains quickly enough to claim early next month, when President Clinton visits Moscow, that they have won the war in Chechnya."

Document 15

State Department: S/NIS Press Guidance


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

In the days following the assault on Samashki, the State Department prepared to field questions from the press about Russian atrocities. Among the anticipated questions were ones concerning "reports that the Russians are massacring civilians and engaging in a scorched-earth policy in Chechnya" and "charges that Russia is engaging in a genocide in Chechnya." The proposed response – "we continue to be very deeply disturbed" – set the tone for subsequent responses to media questions about the conflict. With the memory of Stalin’s mass deportation of Chechens during World War II still strong, Chechen and Russian human-rights activists were quick to fear a new round of genocidal crimes as Russia responded with armed force to the Chechen independence movement. The State Department quoted one such activist and then averred, "we have not seen evidence to support a conclusion that Russian actions in Chechnya constitute genocide." The press guidance includes specific citations from articles of the 1948 Genocide Convention, with a focus on the criterion of "specific intent" to commit genocide. The Clinton administration’s experience of non-response and delayed response to the genocidal crimes committed in Rwanda and Bosnia, respectively, had prepared its lawyers to deal with the relevant legal details.

Document 16

Note to the Secretary Warren Christopher from Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

On April 13, 1995, less than a week after the Samashki massacre, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott wrote to Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, to report on a meeting that morning of "the President’s foreign policy team" (Christopher was absent) to prepare for the Moscow summit, the "centerpiece" of which ("for better or worse") had become the expansion of NATO. Talbott reported from his talks in Moscow, "virtually all major players in Russia, all across the political spectrum, are either deeply opposed to, or at least deeply worried about, NATO expansion." He indicated, "we cannot realistically expect a Russian blessing or endorsement of expansion now, or probably anytime soon." Talbott argued that Clinton should give a major address on foreign policy in anticipation of the summit meeting in order to convince the Central European states waiting to join NATO that the alliance would indeed welcome them, but at a pace intended to reassure the Russians, and-Talbott added-"the West Europeans, who are also nervous about ‘rush.’"

Judging by Talbott’s account, the war in Chechnya barely came up in the meeting to plan for the summit.President Clinton responded to Defense Secretary Perry by saying, "we definitely need this trip to be about something other than just NATO, Iran, Chechnya, and START II, especially since it looks like Yeltsin is going to stiff us on those, too." Vice President Al Gore sought to "highlight how the ‘glass is half full,’" by mentioning economic reform, privatization, the IMF loan, and issues related to Russian military activity in the former Soviet space. He optimistically mused, "their disaster in Chechnya has made the Russian[s] more dovish on their periphery." The meeting ended with President Clinton’s admonition to "bust your ass" to get a deal with Yeltsin that would combine his acceptance of NATO’s expansion with Russian membership in the Partnership for Peace.

Document 17

U.S. Embassy Moscow Cable: Russian Domestic Developments: April 14, 1995 Edition.


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

One of the Clinton administration’s main preoccupations on policy toward Russia was to maintain Boris Yeltsin as president, fearing that the alternative would be a communist or fascist. This report on Russian politics from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow includes a warning that "much of the material is rumor or speculation and should be treated with caution." It discusses rumors about whom Yeltsin might be grooming as his successor (no mention of Vladimir Putin) and infighting within the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party led by the fascist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Perhaps most interesting is that in 2020 the State Department has chosen to "sanitize" the entire section called "Why some democrats are in trouble." Historians are thereby deprived of a possible piece of evidence to understand why the Clinton administration insisted that Yeltsin was the only hope for Russian democracy, when in fact there were several figures with solid democratic credentials who were criticizing his increasingly authoritarian manner and his ill-conceived war in Chechnya. The report also contains speculation about whether the Chechen forces were capable of a sustained guerrilla resistance that would necessitate a "second invasion" by Russia to suppress it.

Document 18

A Brief Description of Events in the Village of Samashki: Russian NGO Combined Report [Translation]


Source: Memorial Society Archive, Moscow, Russia

This document from Russian human rights NGO representatives in Chechnya was drafted by Oleg Orlov and Sergey Kovalev of Memorial. It gives a blow-by-blow description of the events that occurred from April 6-10 in the village of Samashki, based on information from refugees from the area, media outlets, and other information available to the organizations. The document starts from the ultimatum given by Lieutenant General Antonov, deputy commander of the Russian Military Command in Chechnya to the village residents to hand over 264 assault rifles (which they were unable to produce), to the shelling of the village by Russian military forces, negotiations with village representatives, further shelling, the entry of Interior Ministry troops into the village, and the "mopping-up" operations conducted by the military. The report describes events following the taking of the village, such as the blockade of the village, refusal of passage for medical personnel, the beating of detained men from the village, and the detention camps they were finally sent to. According to the report, "beatings and torture were widely used (including torture with electric wires), during interrogations" and at the detainment camps. Eyewitnesses deny the claims that village elders were shot by Dudaev fighters as was reported in the federal press. Witnesses testify to the presence of Moscow special police units (OMON) and of Orenburg Special Rapid Deployment Forces during the operations as well as of very young conscripts.

Document 19

State Department: S/NIS Press Guidance – April 14, 1995


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive.

Anticipating a question about new developments in Chechnya, the State Department’s press guidance mentions that Russian federal troops "pounded the town of Bamut throughout the night," and that the fall of Bamut "would effectively give the Russians control of all the urban and agricultural areas in Chechnya." The U.S. government is also aware of the mopping-up operation in Samashki: "we are deeply disturbed by the continuing reports of atrocities against civilians in Samashki. We urge the Russian troops to respect the international humanitarian laws," such as minimizing damage to civilians and human treatment of captured individuals.

Document 20

U.S. Mission Geneva Cable. Subject: Severe Maltreatment of Chechen prisoners, UNHCR Witnesses Shelling at Borders.


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

This cable from the U.S. Mission in Geneva includes information on reports of severe mistreatment by the Russian authorities of 85 Chechen prisoners, who had been "beaten upon capture," and believed to be mostly "civilians and not Chechen fighters as initially presented by Russian authorities." The cable also contains information from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR had witnessed shelling in Chechnya, within 10 km of the border with Dagestan, and also reported on the numbers of displaced persons crossing into Dagestan from Chechnya. Over "30,000…had crossed in recent weeks," and UNHCR was expecting "another 5,000." UNHCR operations were being phased down due to the program’s limits in "scope, nature, and time," and other organizations were reporting severe underfunding for their programs. There is also information within the cable from a redacted source on events in Samashki, which was described by this source as a "brutal attack," where the "means used to take the town were not in proportion with the needs." Included is an action request for the Moscow Embassy to provide information on the new military commander for the North Caucasus.

Document 21

State Department: S/NIS Press Guidance – April 18, 1995


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

Following up on the earlier press guidance, the State Department prepared responses to questions about "continuing reports of atrocities in Samashki," repeating the "deeply disturbed" language and indicating that the Moscow embassy was instructed to raise the issue with the Russian government, as opposed, for example, to a direct expression of concern from the White House. The Clinton administration attributed the Samashki atrocities, reports of which it found credible, to "inadequate military discipline" and urged "the Russian troops" to abide by the Geneva Conventions, even specifying the relevant treaties and articles. By contrast, European governments and organizations blamed the Russian government and military command for the crimes in Chechnya and made no effort to protect Yeltsin. The U.S. administration called upon Russia to abide by the code of conduct of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and "to respect the commitment to use force ‘commensurate with the needs of enforcement,’ and to ‘take due care to avoid injury to civilians or their property.’"

Document 22

U.S. Embassy Paris Cable. Subject: European Union (EU) Declaration on Chechnya.


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

A week after the Samashki massacres, the European Union issued a formal response, subsequently conveyed to the State Department by the embassy in Paris. In contrast to the "we are deeply disturbed" language favored by the Clinton administration, the EU "utterly condemn[ed] atrocities against civilians in violation of basic human rights" and "appeal[ed] to the Russian authorities to put an end to the violence against the people" and negotiate a cease-fire.

Document 23

Memorandum of Telephone Conversation between President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin.


Source: Clinton Presidential Library declassification

This conversation is a preview of issues for the Moscow summit. Clinton reaffirms his commitment to the integration of Russia into major European institutions, including the G-7 and the post-COCOM regime. The Russian president is extremely grateful for Clinton’s agreement to travel to Russia: "I am grateful to you for your bold step in deciding to come to Moscow for our celebration." He essentially promises positive resolutions of all Clinton’s agenda items: "I am confident that in our upcoming summit in Moscow we’ll be able to agree on all outstanding issues, because the personal relations between us are based on mutual respect and friendship." Yeltsin calls Clinton "a very good friend," and assures him that there is no question that they cannot agree upon. Clinton lists the items that he would like to resolve during the summit, with NATO expansion and Russia joining the Partnership for Peace as top priority. Only at the very end does Clinton mention "one more thing before we end our conversation," and that is Chechnya and the disappearance of Fred Cuny. Yeltsin says he signed a decree on a moratorium on military activity in Chechnya till May 15 (the interpreter mistakenly interprets it as a "moratorium …for the indefinite future"). Even that limited timeframe was never observed by Yeltsin’s own military (see Document 25).

Document 24

U.S. Embassy Moscow Cable. Subject: Russian Forces Attack on Samashki: Differing Views on Atrocities.


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

This Moscow Embassy report from Ambassador Thomas Pickering presents various accounts and information on the events in the village of Samashki in early April. One information source, whose name is redacted, says the claims of atrocities are exaggerated, especially accounts by the International Committee of the Red Cross of "premeditated" atrocities and "disproportionate and indiscriminate" use of force in Samashki. This source goes as far as to say that the ICRC "has lost its neutral status and become a party in the Chechen propaganda fray" (this could be seen as an early example of post-Soviet Russia’s effort at sowing disinformation to undercut NGO reports). The cable reviews other sources of information that agree with the ICRC point of view, even citing some "atrocities of an unusually sadistic nature." According to one source, 361 houses were burned down in Samashki "with many human corpses burned beyond recognition." The cable describes the debate in the Russian press and in the Duma about exactly what happened in Samashki, mentioning famous film director and Duma deputy Stanislav Govorukhin accusing the human rights community of falsifying reports from Chechnya. The embassy provides an interesting analysis of wide-spread cynicism among the Russian troops and their discontent that Yeltsin did not stop and visit the troops on his recent vacation trip to the North Caucasus. The cable displays a sense of uncertainty about the exact events and the accuracy of reports and seems to be treating the views of government apologists with the same seriousness as those of human rights activists.

Document 25

State Department Draft Talking points for President Clinton’s trips to Russia and Ukraine


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

In anticipation of President Clinton’s forthcoming trips to Moscow and Kiev, State Department officials prepared talking points in multiple drafts for each capital on a number of subjects, divided into "public themes" and "press themes." Chechnya is clearly not a priority. It is mentioned once under the heading "Moscow Summit – Public Themes," where it receives the same status as other issues of disagreement between the U.S. and Russia: "regular meetings between our presidents to address key issues in a business-like manner, including European security, Russian reform, Chechnya, arms control and non-proliferation, and Russia’s nuclear trade with Iran." Consistent with the other documents in this collection, promoting NATO enlargement assumes a high priority. The document also celebrates Russia’s economic reforms, the implementation of neoliberal austerity policies, and a recent loan from the International Monetary Fund: "Russia recently completed a landmark $6.4 billion agreement with the IMF, which requires Russia to continue its fight against inflation, implement an austere budget and free more prices from state control." A single page on "Chechnya – Public Themes" concludes with a prediction that the rest of this document-and the subsequent summit meeting in Moscow-call into doubt: "So long as the Chechnya conflict goes on, Russia will continue to pay a high price both at home and internationally."

Document 26

U.S. Mission Vienna Cable: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Report on Chechnya.


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

This report from the OSCE assistance group in Chechnya discusses the group’s activities and recent developments in Chechnya "with a view to the May 9 meetings in Moscow." The group, now allowed to operate in Chechnya by the Russian government, reports on the continuation of shelling and other military activities, despite President Yeltsin’s moratorium. The report cites instances of aerial bombing of Dudaev strongholds and nightly small-fire raids followed by heavy artillery shelling. It further describes the group’s visit to Samashki, stating that the "destruction committed there on April 7-8 was not part of a military action but was instead deliberate destruction of civilian homes […] with great loss of life." The group warns that "in anticipation of actions May 9, there are claims that federal forces have stepped up the campaign to detain young men on the grounds that their age group provides the bulk of the Dudayev fighters."

Document 27

Summary Report on One-on-One Meeting between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin, May 10, 1995, Kremlin


Source: William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Yeltsin was very appreciative that Clinton has come to Moscow to celebrate the 50th anniversary of victory in World War II. This long and wide-ranging conversation is remarkable as a glimpse into the Bill-Boris relationship. They cover all the important points, but the priority is clearly NATO expansion. Here Yeltsin presents his real cri de Coeur on NATO. He sees "nothing but humiliation" for Russia if NATO expands, calling it a "new encirclement." He says emotionally, "for me to agree to the borders of NATO expanding toward those of Russia-that would constitute a betrayal on my part of the Russian people."

In response, Clinton explains the U.S. position on NATO expansion at some length-it should be seen in the context of continuing U.S. involvement in European security and an effort to create a fully integrated Europe. He hints at trade-offs if Yeltsin accepts NATO expansion-Russia would be a founding member of the post-COCOM regime, join the G-7, have a special relationship with NATO-but only if Russia "walk[s] through the doors that we open for you." Yeltsin eventually agrees reluctantly to Clinton’s offer-no NATO decisions until after elections are over, only a study of expansion; but he also consents to no anti-NATO rhetoric from Russia, and agrees the Russians will sign the Partnership for Peace before the end of May.

The two presidents discuss Russian trade with Iran, COCOM, CFE, and then almost at the end of the conversation Clinton raises the issue of Chechnya. "On Chechnya, I’ve been as supportive as I could." He dismisses any notion that the conflict might have made him hesitate to attend the Moscow celebration or to consider leveraging uncertainty about his attendance to produce a more moderate Russian approach: "When I was preparing to come here, I never had a second thought, despite criticism and advice not to come." Yeltsin thanks his counterpart for his reserved stance. Clinton replies: "My concern is that the longer it takes to get this on a genuinely political track, the more it hurts Russia. Beefing up the OSCE would be a good thing to do. If the violence could be brought to an end, we’ll make more progress on other issues." So much for expressing "dismay" with the Russian actions in Chechnya. Clinton also asks Yeltsin for his help in the search for humanitarian aid specialist Fred Cuny, who disappeared in Chechnya around April 9.

Document 28

Memorandum on Conversation: Meeting with Russian Political Leaders


Source: State Department FOIA release to the National Security Archive

As part of President Clinton’s visit to Moscow to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, Thomas Pickering, the U.S. ambassador, hosted a reception at Spaso House, the ambassador’s residence, for various members of Russia’s political parties and regional officials. This document summarizes the president’s introductory remarks that followed the ambassador’s brief introduction, and then the comments by the Russian participants. Noteworthy is the fact that Clinton makes no mention of the grim situation in Chechnya, whereas many of his guests seem preoccupied by it. Moreover, given that the administration has staked all of its hopes on Yeltsin as the bulwark of democracy in Russia, it is striking how many of the participants stress the anti-democratic nature of his rule and the illegality of the use of armed force against Chechnya. Grigory Yavlinksy, a prominent liberal reformist, links the two issues in his remarks, referring to Russia as only "half of a democracy: the people and the press say (and write) what they want, and yet the war in Chechnya-which 80 percent of the people oppose-goes on."

Yeltsin has justified the invasion of Chechnya as necessary to keep the Federation from falling apart, yet the regional governors from Irkutsk and Orel denied that Moscow’s efforts to reimpose central control were necessary, averring that "devolution of power from the ‘center’ to the regions" was a positive development. Ruslan Aushev, president of the Ingush Republic that bordered Chechnya, "insisted that the overwhelming majority of the 110 ethnic communities in Russia want to live in peace with one another but that current policy" toward Chechnya "makes that difficult." As a military veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Aushev warns that the war in Chechnya "could produce another Afghanistan" and push domestic Russian politics toward fascism.

Finally, the guests challenge U.S. priorities in focusing on NATO enlargement and neoliberal policies while keeping silent on Chechnya. Boris Fedorov, a liberal reformer and former finance minister, highlights opposition to NATO expansion even among pro-Western politicians. Sergei Glazev, a leftwing parliamentarian, praises the legacy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but decries the austerity "policies of the IMF, which most Russians believe is an agency of the U.S. government," for their neglect of basic social protections and government support associated with the New Deal.

Sergey Kovalev giving press conference on January 2, 1995 in Moscow. (Photo: Memorial Society)

Arseny Rognisky, Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Sergey Kovalev, July 2015 (Photo: Svetlana Savranskaya)

Pavel Grachev (Right) Served Under Boris Yeltsin (Left) From 1992 Until He Was Fired 1996. (Photo: Gennady Galperin, Reuters)


[1] For an account of the background to and consequences of the war in Chechnya, see Matthew Evangelista, The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union? (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2002).

[2] DIA Information Report, Russian Air Force Shortcomings in Chechnya, March 7, 1995 points out the Russian capability to locate Dudaev by electronic means. DIA declassification, National Security Archive FOIA

[3] Iu.M. Baturin, A.L. Il’in, V.F. Kadatskii, V.V. Kostikov, M.A. Krasnov, A.Ia. Livshits, K.V. Nikiforov, L.G. Pikhoia, G.A. Satarov, Epokha El’tsina: Ocherki politicheskoi istorii [The Yeltsin Epoch: Sketches of a political history] (Moscow: Vagrius, 2001), pp. 622-623.

[4] Baturin, et al., Epokha El’tsina, p. 625.

[5] Baturin, et al., Epokha El’tsina, p. 631.

[6] See Grachev’s own account in Petr Aven and Alfred Kokh, Revolyutsiya Gaidara: Istoriya reform 90x iz pervykh ruk (Gaidar’s Revolution: History of the 1990s Reforms from First Hands) (Moscow: Alpina Publishers, 2015), pp. 350-353

[7] Svante E. Cornell, “International reactions in massive human rights violations: The case of Chechnya,” Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 51, no. 1 (January 1999), pp. 85-100.

[8] David Remnick, Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia (New York: Random House, 1997), pp. 263-264, original emphasis.

[9]Mark Kramer,Russia, Chechnya, and the Geneva Conventions, 1994-2006: Norms and the Problem of Internalization,” in Matthew Evangelista and Nina Tannenwald, eds., Do the Geneva Conventions Matter? (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017).

[10] Ken Fireman, “Russian Tactics Wrack Chechnya,” Newsday, 17 April 1995.

[11] Elaine Sciolino, “Administration Sees No Choice but to Support Yeltsin,” New York Times, 7 January 1995.

[12] Baturin, et al., Epokha El’tsina, p. 786.

[13] All quotes and figures from Cornell, “International reactions.”

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