Lessons from Grozny

General of the Army Anatoliy Sergeevich Kulikov
describes the Russian Army's experiences in
"The First Battle of Grozny" at a RAND
Urban Operations Conference in March, 2000.

In December 1994, Russian troops embarked on a painful and bloody campaign to wrest the city of Grozny in the breakaway region of Chechnya from secessionist forces. At the cost of numerous casualties and severe damage to the city, the Russians eventually succeeded in this mission. But their victory was short-lived. Five years later to the day, Russian troops were once again battling rebel forces in the streets of Grozny.

Russia's experience in Grozny is important to western military planners and analysts for two reasons:

  • First, Russian operations both in the most recent battle and in its precursor of five years before can provide important insights into Russian capabilities, tactics, and its ability to learn from military experience.
  • Second, Grozny pitted a modern (if declining) military against an insurgency force on the latter's home turf.

Russia, like the United States, for many years prepared its soldiers for a war in Central Europe against a highly skilled, technologically advanced adversary.  In Chechnya, it found those skills and capabilities incompatible with the task at hand: overcoming a comparatively low-technology enemy on the streets and in the buildings of a modern city. 

With our world continuing to urbanize at a rapid rate, even as conflict and warfare show little sign of abating, every modern military stands to gain from understanding and learning from Russia's errors and successes in Grozny. In the forthcoming RAND report, Russia's Chechen Wars 1994-2000: Lessons from Urban Combat, Olga Oliker analyzes and compares the two primary battles of Grozny (winters 1994-1995 and 1999-2000) alongside other engagements in the towns and villages of Chechnya. Both Russian and rebel tactics and operations are examined, with a focus on how and why approaches changed over time. 

The study concludes that while the Russian military was able to significantly improve its ability to carry out certain tasks in the five-year interval between the wars, other important missions, particularly in the urban realm, were ignored. This conscious decision not to prepare for a most stressful battlefield met with devastating results from which the United States would be well-served to learn.