As the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late 1980s, air force general Dzhokhar Dudayev, a Chechen, became sympathetic to the independence movement in Estonia, where he commanded a division. Dudayev refused orders to mobilize his forces to take control of Estonia's parliament and broadcast facilities, then resigned from the military in 1990 and returned to Chechnya to lead the separatist movement there. A full-scale war with Russian forces began in late 1994. Although Russian forces inflicted enormous damage, the rebels fought them to a standstill. In the fall of 1996, several months after Dudayev was killed in a rocket strike, the army withdrew.
Chechnya then fell into appalling lawlessness, plagued by widespread ransom kidnappings; some abductees were beheaded. Dudayev's successor, Aslan Maskhadov, unsuccessfully tried to rein in a rising strain of Wahhabi Islam violence led by his rival, warlord Shamil Basayev. After Basayev initiated an invasion of neighboring Dagestan in 1999 to try to form an Islamic caliphate, Chechnya's days of de-facto independence were numbered. Russian forces pulverized Grozny again and the rebels fled the capital, but tormented Russian soldiers with hit-and-run attacks for years afterward before fading from view.
Years of terrorism
Before the insurgents were quelled, they mounted several grisly terrorist attacks outside Chechnya.
In 2002, Chechens seized a Moscow theater and about 850 hostages, a siege that ended with 129 hostages and all 41 hostage-takers dead when Russian forces filled the auditorium with a narcotic gas.
In 2004, terrorists seized a school in the town of Beslan; more than 330 people, about half of them children, died by the siege's end.
A suicide bomber killed 37 people at Moscow's busiest airport in 2011.Chechnya now
Under Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya has quieted. A huge infusion of federal funds has turned parts of ruined Grozny into a shiny display of new buildings. However, Kadyrov is widely denounced for human rights abuses, including allegations of killing opponents.
He also has imposed some Islamic restrictions on the region, including mandatory public headscarves for women.