14 years ago the 6th company of the 2nd Battalion of the 104th Guards Regiment of Russia’s elite Airborne Forces' (VDV) 76th Pskov Division fought their last battle in the foggy snow-covered mountains of Chechnya, perishing almost entirely.
Search parties of the Russian special forces – that made it to the site of the February 29-March 1, 2000 battle after it was – counted bodies of 84 VDV soldiers strewn in the vicinity of Height 776 located in mountains that separate the villages of Ulus-Kert and Selmentauzen. Only six rank-and-file servicemen of the company survived the fierce gun fight. Commander of the 2nd Battalion Lt. Colonel Mark Yevtyukhin, his deputy Major Alexander Dostavalov and all of the 6th company's officers1 perished in the battle.
Sadly, this was neither the first nor the last time the Russian armed forces lost an entire unit in vicious fighting in Chechnya. The first Chechen-Russian war saw entire army companies perish almost entirely during the storming of Grozny in December 1993-January 1994. And just a week before the 6th company took it last stand, more than half of the 3rd company of the 2nd Separate Special Forces Brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces (GRU) perished near the Chechen village of Kharsenoi.
And, yet, the destruction of the 6th company stands out even when compared to the rest of the ruthless fighting of the two Russo-Chechen wars because it epitomizes many of the ills that the Russian military had suffered since disintegration of the USSR and which personnel of the 6th company had to compensate for by heroism.
The 6th company belonged to the elite of the Russian armed forces – VDV forces, which were designated to strike deep into the enemy’s territory as well as to serve as the last resort of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. They were supposed to get the best of the Russian military’s training and armaments. And yet, the 6th company perished within less than 24 hours of fighting an irregular formation.
The jury is still out on exactly what factors prompted the Russian top brass to order the tactical grouping of the 104th Regiment to spread rather thin over the area, where the Abazolgul and Sharo-Argun rivers join their streams, to try block a massive grouping of rebels that were thought to be retreating southeast from the Ulus-Kert area under the command of warlords Shamil Basayev and Khattab.
One such factor might have been the desire to disperse the grouping so that the Kremlin could declare the battle phase of the second Russian-Chechen war to be over before the March 2000 elections, in which both then acting President Vladimir Putin was to run on a platform that called for ‘pacification’ of Chechnya.
Obviously, both commander of the federal forces in Chechnya Gen. Viktor Kazantsev and his deputy in charge of the eastern grouping of these forces in the republic Gen. Gennady Troshev denied any rushing, but the fact is that Putin – who had been unknown to vast majority of the Russians until becoming the premier in 1999 – would have not won the elections if it were not constant stream of victorious reports from Chechnya by state-controlled TV channels.
Scholars of war are yet to fully discern what factors on governmental, organizational and personal levels have made this disaster inevitable, albeit the Russian blogger, who posts on http://6-rota.livejournal.com and who has served in VDV, has done a tremendous job collecting information of this tragedy, but he is yet to finish reconstructing and analyzing it.
Based on information collected by this blogger, other VDV veterans that frequent Desantura.ru forum, as well as on information I collected in Russian and foreign literature, I have compiled a list of the following factors that precipitated and facilitated the tragic outcome of the battle fought in mountains of Chechnya in 2000:
- Need to declare ‘war is over’ before the March 2000 elections, in which acting president Vladimir Putin was running on a platform that ostensibly promised to ‘pacify’ Chechnya.
- MoD’s need to try eliminate the bulk of the Chechen rebels’ forces – that congregated near Ulus-Kert – in one strike to declare ‘the war over’ in order to win promotions and hand over the messy job of pacifying Chechnya to the Interior Ministry.
- Poor training of forces dispatched to fight in Chechnya.
- Lack of personnel, which forces formation of improvised units where even members of the same company came from different regiments
- Inadequate equipment, including lack of all-weather 24-hour reconnaissance, transportation and strike systems.
- The fact that several special forces commandos had frozen to death weeks before in what forced commander of the 6th company Yevtyukhin to take iron ovens and tents for deployment to Height 776. As a result, the 6th company stretched over several kilometers during the deployment).
- Commander of the 2nd battalion Yevtyukhin and commander of the 6h company Molodov had no combat experience. Nor did most of the company’s servicemen.
- Yevtyukhin ignored orders of the 104th regiment’s commander Sergei Melentyev and chose a shortcut to Height 776 rather than deploy along a longer, but safer route, which lay through positions of other companies of the 104th deployment that had already dug in.
- Yevtyukhin chose not to order the company to dig in upon ascending what he thought was Height 776.
- Yevtyukhin failed to reach the designate deployment spot, pitching camp 300 hundreds meters away from Height 776, in what made the work of the artillery difficult during the battle.
- Yevtyukhin chose not to take an ground-based forward air controller with him in what made it impossible to guide attack planes and gunships to targets during the battle.
- The 6th company didn’t take sufficient quantities of encrypting devices for radio communications equipment.
(Sources: http://6-rota.livejournal.com, Desantura.ru, Russian press, Ulus-Kert: An Airborne Company's Last Stand. Military Review, by Wilmoth, Michael D.; Tsouras, Peter G. Military Review , Vol. 81, No. 4)