The now-dormant battle between Russia and Chechnya has been a steady cycle of resistance and reprisal.[1] All through the epochs of imperialism, socialism, and federation, the inhabitants of the North Caucasus have blunted the Russian spearhead by way of asymmetrical warfare. On the core of Chechen martial doctrine lies the follow of hostage-taking. Since Russia’s first incursions into the area, highlanders have made the alternate of abductees a prolific enterprise. Their imperial adversaries adopted go well with, utilizing Caucasian strategies to subdue Caucasian unrest. This continued commerce of lives could be complemented by a commerce of deaths within the nineteenth century, and throughout the Caucasian Struggle, terrorism grew to become a punitive measure employed by Chechens and Russians alike. The tit-for-tat atrocities dedicated by each Slavs and Caucasians served because the animus for warfare lasting properly past the imperial period.

Nonetheless, the occasions of the current Chechen Wars seem like past the scope of those historic ways. International media sources attributed the hostage crises on the Dubrovka Theater in 2002 and Beslan College Quantity One in 2004 to international Wahhabi militants. Then again, Putin’s consolidation of authority over home information shops has led to an understatement of the state terrorism perpetrated by Russian forces.[2] Nonetheless, when making an attempt to rationalize the macabre ways of the current Chechen Wars, we should look at the historic precedents of terrorism and hostage-taking within the Caucasus.

The Imperial Period

The follow of kidnapping by the highland tribes was commonplace lengthy earlier than their contact with the Slavs. Important to inter-village cavalry raids, or nabegi, was the seize of hostages as collateral.[3] Abduction was culturally integral to the area—mountaineer mythology depicted “sport thefting” as a heroic, ancestral pursuit. Caucasian hostage-taking additionally had precedents within the follow of bridal kidnapping, which the highlanders inherited from the Arabic, Turkic, and Mongol peoples that had filtered by way of the area over time.[4] The mountaineers readily expanded such strategies throughout the mid-sixteenth century when Ivan the Horrible despatched the primary Cossack settlers into the area. The unpredictable risk of nabegi terrorized the tsar’s expeditions. Most Russian captives had been auctioned within the Ottoman slave commerce, making mountaineer raids a worthwhile endeavor. By 1551, the tsardom had imposed a nationwide tax to repay ransoms for abductees, whereas the Cossacks took issues into their very own palms, holding Chechen prisoners of warfare hostage. On the early half of the seventeenth century, round 150,000 to 200,000 Russians had been captured by the highlanders.[5] These mass abductions later subsided below Romanov rule with the creation of the defensive North Caucasus Line over the next century. The perimeter consisted of Cossack garrisons and watchtowers alongside the Terek River and allowed for Slavs and Caucasians to steadily intermingle as hostilities abated. Reliable commerce changed the alternate of prisoners to a exceptional extent.[6]

The relations between mountaineers and the Russian Empire deteriorated in the beginning of the nineteenth century, which prompted the Chechens to resort to nabegi in self-defense. In 1816, the jingoistic Basic Alexei Yermolov was appointed commander of Caucasus operations. Envisioning the acquiescence of mountaineers to imperial rule, he boasted to the tsar: “I need that the phobia of my title ought to guard our frontiers extra potently than chains or fortresses.”[7] Yermolov ignited the decades-long Caucasian Struggle by ordering his troopers to advance past the North Caucasus Line. The Russians bolstered their offensives by establishing fortresses similar to Grozny, a base on the Sunzha River notorious for its bloodbath of tons of of mountaineers in a single night time.[8] Yermolov additionally appropriated the highland methodology of hostage-taking. He negotiated for Pavel Shvetsov, an officer kidnapped throughout a nabeg, by haphazardly arresting giant swathes of Chechen villagers and holding them as counter-hostages till the marauders obliged.[9] Furthermore, Yermolov ordered scorched-earth offensives into the highlands, wielding terrorism and collective punishment in opposition to the mountaineers. Most notable of Yermolov’s retaliatory strikes was the 1819 bloodbath on the Chechen village of Dadi-Yurt, ordered in response to mountaineers driving off Russian workhorses. The highlanders refused to give up, so Yermolov’s Cossacks incinerated homes and obliterated them with cannon fireplace. Following their pillage of Dadi-Yurt, the troopers captured girls and kids, whereas “solely fourteen males remained alive.”[10] The terrifying, disproportionate use of pressure integral to the “Yermolov system” galvanized Chechen unrest past the final’s demotion in 1827, setting the stage for the Murid Struggle, the following part of the Caucasian battle. Yermolov’s repressive ways had undermined themselves fully.[11]

The tribes of the North Caucasus unified the next decade below the Avar imams, who enlisted the Chechens and their ways to withstand imperial conquest. The unified Caucasian Imamate triumphed below the prowess of Shamil, the ultimate imam. Shamil made nabegi a potent pressure of terror, destroying Russian strongpoints together with his cavalry and taking imperial troopers captive in guerilla ambushes.[12] The longevity of the Murid resistance stemmed from Imam Shamil’s proficiency in amanaty, the diplomatic use of hostages. Shamil deterred Russian encroachments with captured imperial troopers held in underground pits, or zindan.[13] Throughout his 1837 battle within the village of Tilitl, Dagestan, Shamil’s forces had been encircled by the Russian military of Basic Fese. In alternate for a brief armistice, he provided his last-resort captives to his Russian counterpart; Fese agreed to finish the siege, giving Shamil essential time to retreat. The imam proclaimed: “Giving hostages…we concluded a peace with the Russian Emperor.”[14] The Murids used this decisive ceasefire to reconstruct their fortress at Ashilta bordering Chechnya, conserving Shamil within the warfare.[15] Shamil likewise employed amanaty in 1854, capturing two Georgian princesses to get better his son, who was held hostage by the Russians.[16] Though Shamil was routed in 1859, he demonstrated the capability of terror and hostage-taking in contesting the numerically-superior forces of the tsar.

The Socialist Period

At first of the twenieth century, the mountaineers got one more probability at freedom amidst the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Nonetheless, the Mountain Republic they established was fragile, and it will fall below Pink Military occupation by 1920. The Chechens went into revolt in opposition to their Bolshevik hegemons, but Soviet secret police crackdowns decapitated resistance management and disarmed the populace considerably by the start of Stalin’s five-year plans.[17] To implement regional agricultural collectivization efforts throughout the Thirties, Chekists revived Murid Struggle ways, utilizing amanaty to self-discipline the mountaineers.[18]

Regardless, Russification and Soviet persecution of Islam would result in one other Chechen riot that coincided with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. In 1944, Stalin commissioned collective punishment in retaliation for Caucasian “collaboration” with the German foe.[19] Operation Lentil, the NKVD’s mass deportation of mountaineers to the Kazakh and Kyrgyz SSRs, was a totalitarian replace to Yermolov’s ethnic cleaning technique. By mechanizing the imperial follow of state terrorism, the Soviets successfully demoralized the Chechen trigger. Systematic pressured labor and publicity to the weather killed an estimated 144,704 of the roughly 650,000 relocated to “particular settlements.”[20] Following de-Stalinization, the survivors had been allowed to return to their homeland, solely to be subdued by a long time of Soviet indoctrination that sought to get rid of their cultural identification. However, amidst the nationalist zeitgeist of the Gorbachev period, the mountaineers had been as soon as once more enchanted by separatist ambitions.[21]

The Federal Period

The standard ways of the Caucasian Struggle reemerged because the Chechens rose in solidarity from the fracturing Soviet Union to declare the unbiased Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1991. When Boris Yeltsin despatched an invasion pressure into Dzhokhar Dudayev’s nascent nation in 1994, nabeg and amanaty grew to become viable, historically-proven resistance strategies. Hostage-taking resurfaced throughout the First Chechen Struggle, as flippantly armed guerillas attacked convoys,  abducting ill-prepared Russian conscripts.[22] Using the counter-hostage methodology of Yermolov, Russian troopers kidnapped Chechen villagers and leveraged them in opposition to the warlords—this follow of obmenni fond typically concerned the detainment of random civilians.[23] The alternate of captives subsequently thrived below the unrest of the First Chechen Struggle, preserving the strategies developed throughout the Shvetsov incident virtually two centuries prior.

Going through vital losses, the Russian Federation recommissioned the terroristic Yermolov system. The military fought a warfare of obliteration; chauvinism was practically as rife below the Yeltsin administration because it was in the beginning of the nineteenth century.[24] When insurgents pushed the preliminary Russian advance out of the Chechen capital of Grozny, the Kremlin responded by ordering the destruction of the town by way of indiscriminate bombardment, all through which 25,000 civilians perished. On the very location the place Yermolov constructed his first fort in 1818, relentless artillery strikes echoed the imperial normal’s bravado.[25] This heavy-handed terror marketing campaign totally did not extinguish the Chechen rise up, as an alternative hardening the resolve of the mountaineers.

Then again, the up to date capability of amanaty was reasserted by warlord Shamil Basayev, Dudayev’s deputy. By mid-1995, the Chechen models had been pushed again into the mountains and splintered by Russian artillery barrages. On June 14 of that 12 months, Basayev led a detachment of mountaineers to the city of Budyonnovsk in Stavropol Krai; they held 1,600 residents at gunpoint and compelled them into the native hospital, demanding a right away ceasefire and association of peace talks. After a failed raid by Russian commandos, Basayev executed hostages and used human shields to discourage additional makes an attempt. After 5 days, Yeltsin conceded, offering the militants with secure passage to Chechnya. Basayev’s actions proved decisive for the warfare effort.[26] The exhausted Chechen resistance motion recuperated throughout the ceasefire, regaining the power to push Russian forces out of Grozny the next 12 months.[27] Violating worldwide humanitarian regulation, Shamil Basayev renovated the ways of his namesake. Simply as Imam Shamil staved off Russian forces at Tilitl by releasing captives, Basayev harnessed hostages to extort the Yeltsin administration 158 years later, demonstrating the tactical reliability of amanaty properly into the First Chechen Struggle.

In October 1999, Russia invaded Chechnya as soon as once more below the management of Vladimir Putin. The army operation was “justified” by a collection of residence bombings carried out throughout Russia that had been instantly blamed on Basayev and his associates, so the Kremlin readily christened the battle as a “warfare in opposition to worldwide terrorism.”[28] The “daring and harmful individuals” despised by Basic Yermolov had been focused utilizing the extra fashionable designation of “terrorists.”[29] The Chechen authorities collapsed following Putin’s well-organized invasion, ushering in one other insurgency. Chechen ambushes had been swift, with nabegi harassing Russian detachments; following their hit-and-run assaults, guerrillas would flee by way of close by villages into the mountains. These “collaborating” communities had been collectively punished with Russian artillery fireplace typically far after the militants had depared. One such village was Duba-Yurt, which was destroyed by federal troops in February 2000, “out of revenge and bitter sorrow for his or her perished comrades.”[30] That very same month, residents of the city of Novye Aldy pleaded with a neighborhood Russian detachment to stop artillery strikes. The following day, Particular Goal Police forces performed a counterterrorism “sweep,” razing and looting households at random. With out provocation, the troopers shot 56 civilians.[31] The strategic initiatives behind such retaliatory ways paralleled these behind Yermolov’s assault on Dadi-Yurt in 1819. To cope with the individuals of the highlanders, terror was as soon as once more fought with terrorism.

Hostage-taking was additionally a considerable factor of counterinsurgency ways throughout the Second Chechen Struggle. Putin’s troopers entered the worthwhile Caucasian business of ransom-seeking by way of the “cleaning” operations of zachistki. Underneath the guise of trying to find terrorists, Russian patrols encircled Chechen villages with armored autos, forcing civilians by way of “non permanent filtration factors,” the place “militants” had been arrested and tortured with electrocutions, beatings, and mock execution.[32] Within the village of Makhety, troopers improvised zindan with rubbish pits for storing prisoners—they had been launched as soon as the group accrued sufficient cash to repay the Russians. If the burdensome ransom was not paid in time, the “militants” disappeared.[33] Zachistki advanced the traditionally profitable commerce of captives into an instrument of repression.

Initially, Russia’s use of state terrorism in opposition to the Chechens within the twenty-first century was as ineffective because it was throughout the nineteenth century. Relentless collective punishment and zachistki resulted in determined separatists returning to terroristic amanaty.[34] Movsar Barayev, an affiliate of Basayev, led a contingent of Chechen insurgents to grab Dubrovka Theater in Moscow in October 2002. Within the ensuing standoff, the Chechens thought federal representatives had been “coming for talks” and freed among the 979 hostages, specifically youngsters and pregnant girls, in good religion.[35] The Federal Safety Providers determined in any other case, pumping a fentanyl-based gasoline into the theater, eliminating all the separatists and 139 of their captives. Though many of those militants had misplaced complete households to Russian operations, the state and the worldwide media linked the incident to worldwide Islamic terrorism.[36] Nonetheless abiding by the vengeful Yermolov system, Russian troopers executed the civilian administrator of Alkhan-Kala, Barayev’s village.[37]

Putin staunchly prevented repeating the embarrassment of Budyonnovsk; the consequential collateral injury was excusable in his Struggle on Terror. Overstating Wahhabi extremism justified the Kremlin’s refusals to parley with the Chechens. Deemed irrational actors by the federal government, Chechen separatists couldn’t leverage amanaty.[38] In Putin’s personal phrases: “Russia doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. It destroys them.”[39] At Basayev’s subsequent main hostage disaster in September 2004 at Beslan College Quantity One in North Ossetia, the Russian authorities blocked off negotiators and restricted press protection; state-run shops falsely reported that Basayev made no calls for. Within the inevitable storming, 334 captives died, 186 of them youngsters.[40] The transaction of hostages was rendered non-negotiable as Chechen nationalism was equated with world Islamic terrorism, for even the Western media proclaimed Beslan to be “Russia’s September 11.”[41] The separatists nonetheless desperately sought negotiations, for Basayev reiterated, “I’m not a terrorist…I’m an odd Chechen who rose up in arms to defend his individuals.”[42] By asserting that the Chechens had been unreliable extremists, the Russian authorities refused the historic resolution of amanaty and stifled separatist pleas for peace.


Thus, Russian-Chechen fight remained characterised by acts of terroristic retribution properly into the twenty-first century, ensuing within the deaths of hundreds of combatants and civilians. Regardless of the misconstrued claims of international Islamic terrorism at Moscow or Beslan, the flagrant warfare crimes dedicated by each Russian and Chechen belligerents had been seldom unprecedented in motive and execution. After this predictable resurgence of taking and buying and selling lives, it seems as if the Yermolov system has overcome the indigenous ways of the mountaineers. The counter-insurgent doctrine of bombardments and zachistki might have fulfilled the ambitions of Yermolov, for Basayev and his associates have perished. With the area below the reign of Chechen warlord and Putin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov, the separatist motion lies dormant, concluding one other chapter of the Russian-Chechen battle. That being stated, it’s not possible to establish whether or not the “daring and harmful” spirit of the Chechens has been vanquished; in any case, historical past has confirmed the stubbornness of the mountaineers following a long time of Russian hegemony. If separatist aspirations return as soon as extra, the Chechens might incite one other cycle of resistance and reprisal with the terrifying, conventional ways of nabegi and amanaty at their disposal.


Akhmadov, Ilyas and Miriam Lanskoy. “The Hostage Commerce.” In The Chechen Wrestle Independence Gained and Misplaced. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Baddeley, John F. The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus. London: Longman, 1908.

Boykewich, Stephen. “Russia after Beslan.” Virginia Quarterly Evaluate, 81, no. 1 (Winter 2005).

Dunlop, John B. Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Battle. Cambridge: Cambridge College Press, 1998.

Dzutsati, Valery. “Regardless of Demise of Insurgency in North Caucasus, Russian Authorities Nonetheless Cautious of Its Remnants.” Eurasia Day by day Monitor, 17 no. 71 (2020).

Evangelista, Matthew. The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Method of the Soviet Union? Washington: Brookings Establishment Press, 2002.

Gilligan, Emma. Terror in Chechnya: Russia and the Tragedy of Civilians in Struggle. Princeton: Princeton College Press, 2010.

Grant, Bruce. The Captive and the Present: Cultural Histories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus. Ithaca: Cornell College Press, 2009.

King, Charles. The Ghost of Freedom: A Historical past of the Caucasus. Oxford: Oxford College Press, 2008.

Meier, Andrew. Chechnya: To the Coronary heart of a Battle. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003.

Moore, Cerwyn. “Counter-Insurgency and Counter Hostage-Taking within the North Caucasus.” The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, August 23, 2006.

Politkovskaya, Anna. A Small Nook in Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. Translated by Alexander Barry and Tatiana Tulchinsky. Chicago: College of Chicago Press, 2003.

“Russia has By no means Negotiated with Terrorists, Together with Chechen Separatist chief Aslan Maskhadov.” President of Russia. February 6, 2004.

Toft, Monica D. and Yuri M. Zhukov. “Islamists and Nationalists: Insurgent Motivation and Counterinsurgency in Russia’s North Caucasus.” American Political Science Evaluate, 109 no. 2 (2005).


[1] Dzutsati, “Regardless of Demise of Insurgency in North Caucasus, Russian Authorities Nonetheless Cautious of Its Remnants.”

[2] Boykewich, “Russia after Beslan.

[3] Moore, “Counter-Insurgency and Counter Hostage-Taking within the North Caucasus.”

[4] Grant, The Captive and the Present: Cultural Histories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus, 67-68.

[5] Ibid., 23.

[6] King, The Ghost of Freedom: A Historical past of the Caucasus, 30-41.

[7] Dunlop, Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Battle, 14.

[8] Baddeley, The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus, 107-108.

[9] King, 54.

[10] Baddeley,132.

[11] Dunlop, 17.

[12] King, 80-81.

[13] Meier, Chechnya: To the Coronary heart of a Battle, 39.

[14] Baddeley, 302-305.

[15] Ibid., 306-307.

[16] King, 58.

[17] Ibid., 187.

[18] Dunlop, 51-52.

[19] Ibid., 57.

[20] Ibid., 62-70.

[21] King, 211.

[22] Evangelista, The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Method of the Soviet Union?, 37-39.

[23] Akhmadov and Lanskoy, The Chechen Wrestle: Independence Gained and Misplaced, 102.

[24] Evangelista, 33.

[25] King, 235-237.

[26] Gilligan, Terror in Chechnya: Russia and the Tragedy of Civilians in Struggle, 127-129.

[27] Evangelista, 40-42.

[28] Gilligan, 206.

[29] Dunlop, 14.

[30] Politkovskaya, A Small Nook in Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya, 46.

[31] Gilligan, 55-58.

[32] Ibid., 62-65.

[33] Politkovskaya, 47-50.

[34] Toft and Zhukov, “Islamists and Nationalists,” 25.

[35] Gilligan, 134.

[36] Ibid., 135.

[37] Politkovskaya, 222.

[38] Toft and Zhukov, 21.

[39] President of Russia.

[40] Boykewich.

[41] Gilligan, 143.

[42] Ibid., 129.

Written at: Colgate College
Written for: Professor Alice Nakhimovsky
Date written: December 2019

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