The second armed conflict in Chechnya in less than a decade broke out after Chechen rebel forces invaded neighboring Dagestan in August 1999 and, in September, bomb explosions in apartment buildings in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia killed almost 300 people. Quickly blaming these attacks on Chechen forces, Russia launched a military campaign-officially dubbed an anti-terrorist operation-in Chechnya. In subsequent months, Russian planes and artillery subjected Chechen villages and towns to intense bombardment and shelling, causing the deaths of thousands of civilians.2
By the spring of 2000, Russian troops had established nominal control over most of Chechnya and large-scale hostilities ceased. As Russian troops moved further into Chechen territory, they conducted numerous so-called sweep operations to seek out rebel fighters and ammunition depots in villages and towns, often arbitrarily detaining large numbers of Chechen civilians along with captured fighters, and beating and torturing them in detention. Subsequent months marked the gradual transition from a conventional military operation into a classical "dirty war," where the targeting of civilians and not the taking or defense of territory are the hallmarks.
As Russian troops pursued their "dirty war" in Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, a deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation and the temporary civilian leader of Chechnya, started setting up new administrative and law enforcement structures, and tried to revamp the defunct educational system. The Russian government appointed loyal Chechens to head local administrations and, in June 2000, appointed Akhmad Kadyrov, a Chechen religious leader, as the head of the administration for all of Chechnya. In January 2001, Kadyrov appointed a former head of the Stavropol region in southern Russia, Stanislav Iliasov, as prime minister of Chechnya and asked him to form a new Chechen government.
Eager to convince an increasingly skeptical domestic public and a critical international community that the war was over, Russian government agencies sought to implement measures traditionally associated with the end of armed conflict in the first half of 2001. They announced a new military strategy that involved small-scale operations against specific rebel leaders, a significant cutback in troops, and the return of the Chechen government to Chechnya's capital, Grozny. They also actively sought the return of internally displaced persons from neighboring Ingushetia to Chechnya. However, the republic's harsh realities-with a continuing "dirty war" against civilians by Russian troops, increasingly bold and abusive rebel tactics, and a complete lack of trust in Russian government agencies among civilians-quickly proved these measures premature.
In January 2001, President Vladimir Putin told his government in a televised meeting that the armed forces had "completed their main tasks" in Chechnya. Announcing the partial withdrawal of troops, he handed control in Chechnya to the Federal Security Service (FSB), which has to continue the operation "with the use of different means and forces and with a different emphasis."3 A spokesman clarified that the FSB had been tasked to conduct "special operations to search for and neutralize the ringleaders of the bandit formations and their adherents."4
In February, Russian and Chechen government officials announced that they sought the return of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) to Chechnya before the end of the year.5 They said conditions were being created for Chechens to return, including temporary settlements for the displaced in various towns and villages in Chechnya. A few months later, in April 2001, the pro-Russian government of Chechnya announced that it would move its seat from Chechnya's second city Gudermes back to the capital Grozny, calling this a "symbolic event" that was to promote "stabilization."6
Most of the announced changes, however, appeared to be dictated by the need for a new public relations offensive and took little account of Chechen realities. As Chechen rebel attacks on Russian positions and assassinations of Chechen administrators continued unabated, the scheduled withdrawal of Russian troops ceased before it truly started. Federal forces, meanwhile, continued to conduct large-scale sweep operations that were no less abusive than those in earlier months. In such circumstances, most internally displaced persons-aware of the continuing abuses and guerrilla warfare-decided to await an improved security situation before returning home. Daily security incidents in Grozny forced the Chechen government to move its seat back to Gudermes after only two weeks in the capital.
5 RTR news, "Vladimir Elagin: Today We Need to Return Displaced Persons to Chechnya," January 31, 2001; Interfax news agency, "Vladimir Elagin: Return of Displaced People to Chechnya Before End of Year - Difficult But Achievable Task," February 6, 2001; RIA Novosti news agency, "Stanislav Iliasov: Before End of Year the Tent Camps Must Disappear, Displaced Returned to Chechnya," February 26, 2001.