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Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya: Military Strategic Culture and the Paradoxes of Asymmetric Conflict
by:Robert M. Cassidy
On Christmas Eve in 1979, Soviet forces conducted a conventional assault on Kabul and other key points in Afghanistan with the aim of implanting a stable Soviet-friendly government and of quelling an insurrection. Almost 10 years later, Soviet forces withdrew after suffering close to 14,000 killed, leaving behind a very precarious pro-Soviet government...
On Christmas Eve in 1979, Soviet forces conducted a conventional assault on Kabul and other key points in Afghanistan with the aim of implanting a stable Soviet-friendly government and of quelling an insurrection. Almost 10 years later, Soviet forces withdrew after suffering close to 14,000 killed, leaving behind a very precarious pro-Soviet government and an ongoing civil war. In December 1994, Russian forces invaded Chechnya, employing almost the same conventional template used in Afghanistan. On New Year’s Eve 1994, Russian forces launched their main assault on Grozny, initially suffering huge losses and meeting with failure. The goals in Chechnya were almost the same as the goals sought in Afghanistan 15 years earlier, to implant a pro-Russian government and to stabilize the Chechen republic. Russian forces pulled out of Chechnya almost 2 years later after suffering close to 6000 killed, having failed to meet their objectives. As a great power, the Soviet Union failed to win a small war in Afghanistan. As a former great power, Russia failed to win in Chechnya. In both cases, Soviet/Russian forces possessed a technological advantage and a latent numerical advantage in forces. In both cases, Soviet/Russian forces fought conventionally against an adversary who fought unconventionally. In both conflicts, the Russians faced ideologically-driven indigenous movements fighting for independence. The significant differences between Afghanistan and Chechnya were: 1) the structure of the international system underwent an enormous change, from bipolar to unipolar; and 2) Russia ceased to be a great power. Notwithstanding these two enormous changes, this study postulates that one would observe continuity in Russian military-strategic cultural preferences in Chechnya because not enough time elapsed between the end of the Cold War and the conflict in Chechnya for a cultural change to occur, military cultural change normally takes 5-10 years. Thus, one would expect to observe continuity in Russian preferences for the use of force, these preferences should reflect a focus on the big war, or conventional, paradigm for war.
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