On this day in 1994, troops from the newfound Russian Federation entered Chechnya, a federal republic within Russia. The intervention – ordered by Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president – came as a result of ongoing civil war and unrest emanating from the Chechen capital of Grozny. Chechens had been fighting for their independence since the late 1700s, but the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 galvanized militant freedom fighters. Sensing a possible crisis (the Russian Federation was quite new after all, and could not afford to appear weak in the wake of the Cold War), Yeltsin directed his forces towards Grozny to quell the various warring factions. A massive Russian bombardment levelled the city and claimed thousands of civilian lives; shortly after, Russian troops were “humiliatingly” defeated on New Years Eve of 1995. The offensive continued until 1996, but not before serious blows had been inflicted upon Russian military morale and public prestige during what former premier Mikhail Gorbachev described as a “disgraceful, bloody adventure”.
Although the First Chechen War was an unrequited disaster, it paved the way for the next president – Vladimir Putin – to step in and massively overhaul the Russian political, economic and military system. Had it not been for the failure in Chechnya, Yeltsin – a hero of the last days of the Soviet Union who strongly desired good relations with the West – may have continued a long and successful tenure as president; and Russian history may have turned out quite differently.
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