Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#8 - JRL 7067
February 18, 2003
Second Chechen campaign takes its toll
By Boris Sapozhnikov

On February 17 some Russian news agencies cited sources in the military as saying that in 2002 nearly 5,000 Russian servicemen were killed during counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya. Later the same day the Defence Ministry angrily refuted the reports and announced that 4,572 servicemen had indeed been killed and 15,549 wounded, but between September 1999 the beginning of the second Chechen campaign and December 23, 2002.

However much the military officials try to play down their losses, it transpires that over the past three years the Chechen rebels have killed the equivalent of two motorized divisions. Even in Afghanistan the Soviet Army never suffered such high losses.

According to the Defence Ministry reports, the official casualty toll of all the power-wielding agencies with troops deployed in the separatist province in the period from September 1999 to December 2002 currently stands at 4,572 servicemen killed and 15,549 wounded a total of 20,121 servicemen enough to man two motorized rifle divisions.

It took the rebels a little over three years of war to achieve, which, given the federal forces overwhelming advantage in terms of manpower and military equipment, makes Russias losses excessively high.

The military refuses to disclose the total losses incurred by the federal forces in the course of both campaigns in Chechnya (1994-1996 and 1999-2002). However, on Monday the Defence Ministry eventually found it possible to publish certain figures reflecting the official death toll in the second war in the Northern Caucasus. In particular, the military officials announced that in the period 1999-2002 the Defence Ministry alone has lost 2,750 servicemen killed and 6,569 wounded.

Considering statements by top state officials that ''the army has fulfilled its task'' in Chechnya, and for more than a year now no major military operations have been carried out in Chechnya, one has to admit that the rebels continue to put up quite effective resistance to the federals, inflicting considerable damage on the police and Interior Ministry troops. The Defence Ministry on Monday indirectly acknowledged that.

The last time the military agency published the North Caucasian casualty toll was in August 2002. Then the ministry said it had lost 4,280 servicemen, including those killed in clashes with the Chechen rebels on the territory of Dagestan, at the very beginning of the second campaign.

In December 2002 the death toll climbed to 4,572. It transpires that 292 military servicemen of the federal troops were killed over the past four months, which the military said was the most peaceful period in the republic for a while.

The losses in Chechnya during the second campaign are comparable with those that the Soviet army suffered in Afghanistan. In the 10 years of that war the number of Russian soldiers, who paid with their lives in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan exceeded 14,000, which means, the Soviet Union was losing on average 1,400 servicemen per year.

The average losses incurred by Russia troops in Chechnya are approximately the same 1,400 servicemen per year. The official death toll released by the Defence Ministry does not include the losses incurred by the military agency and the Interior Ministry in Dagestan in August-September 1999. For some reasons, the military decided against including them in their statistics, and is just one of many unanswered questions.

In truth, many things remain ambiguous. Whether or not the official figures include those who died in hospital of wounds, or just those killed in action is unclear. There are no statistics on those who were wounded and then returned to the ranks, and no reports on the seriousness of the wounds and injuries that the military servicemen have suffered in Chechnya. It is obvious that prominent human rights groups, and in particular the respected Soldiers Mothers Committee will again harshly criticize the Defence Ministry for its attempt to downplay the militarys losses.

As of September 2001 the group estimated Russias losses in Chechnya at 6,500 servicemen killed in action alone, excluding those who died later of their wounds. The total number of losses, including those who died later, was estimated, according to the Soldiers Mothers Committee, at 10,500 servicemen, which means the activists believe the true casualty toll to be twice as high as that published by the military.

Back to the Top    Next Article