Staunton, June 11 – This week, the Russian Interior Ministry for the first time published summary data on losses among MVD internal troops in the North Caucasus since 1988, information which allows Vladimir Mukhin of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” conclude that “officially” Russian forces have lost more than 10,000 dead in efforts to stabilize the North Caucasus.
General Nikolay Rogozhkin, commander of the MVD Interior Forces, said yesterday that since 1988, his units had suffered approximately 12,000 casualties in the North Caucasus, including 2984 dead and some 9,000 wounded, Mukhin reports in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” (www.ng.ru/regions/2010-06-11/2_kavkaz.html).
(Rogozhkin’s figures presumably include the 2178 combat deaths Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev reported in April 2010 when he reported about the losses his ministry’s personnel had suffered during ten years of fighting in Chechnya.)
The Russian defense ministry’s website provides data on losses among its personnel in the North Caucasus for the period 1999-2008. According to that source, the Russian military suffered 3684 combat-related deaths. In addition, “Krasnaya zvezda” lists for 1994-1996 say that 3927 soldiers and officers died in the first post-Soviet Chechen campaign.
That brings the total number of official losses there to 10,595, a figure that as Mukhin writes, “yet again confirms that attempts to establish peace and stability in the South of the country after the disintegration of the USSR are being achieved at the price of a large number of victims.”
These figures, Mukhin continue, say something else as well: They suggest that “the second Chechen war was more cruel, and arms were used by the militants more effectively” than in the first, given that every third Russian soldier wounded died while in the first this figure was on in every four or five.
At the same time, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist writes, it is important to reflect upon data Moscow has not yet published: the numbers of militants and numbers of peaceful residents of the North Caucasus who have died as a result of the fighting there, fighting which in one way or another continues.
Lt.Gen. Yury Netkachev, who served for many years in the North Caucasus, told Mukhin that “according to the experience of local wars, these losses are as a rule not less than the losses of the regular forces.” To the extent that is true, then “the summary human losses [killed and wounded] in the post-Soviet period may approach 100,000 people.”
Although Mukhin does not say so explicitly, many observers both in Russia and abroad believe that Moscow has understated its combat losses and exaggerated the number of militants its forces have killed, even while understating the number of civilians that Russian troops, be they regular army, internal troops or FSB, have killed or wounded.
But even if the official figures Moscow has now offered are close to being correct, they are certainly large enough to prompt more Russians to ask themselves and ultimately the powers that be in their country whether what has been achieved in the North Caucasus is in any way worth the price in blood that Russians have been forced to pay.
And to the extent they begin to ask that question, they almost certainly will begin to ask other questions, including but not limited to the way in which Vladimir Putin used the second Chechen war to launch his political career and equally important the way in which he chose to conduct it.
Obviously, nothing can be done to restore the tragic human losses of these Russian officers and men. But if enough Russians begin to ask the questions that such data inevitably provoke, the answers they come up with could change Russia’s future, especially as that country moves toward presidential elections in 2012.