Terrorism25 Years Later, Budyonnovsk Hostage Crisis Seen as Horrific Harbinger of Terror

By Tony Wesolowsky and Yevgenia Kotlyar

Published 17 June 2020

Twenty-five years ago this week, on 14 June 1995, Chechen nationalist militant Shamil Basayev led a group of fifty Chechen terrorists in seizing the Budyonnovsk Hospital in Russia’s southern Stavropol region, taking 1,500 people hostage in the process. Five days later, after a botched Russian attempt to liberate the hostages – an operation during which the Chechen terrorists killed 129 of the hostages – Basayev and his people were allowed a free passage in exchange for releasing the remaining hostages. Russian commandos killed him and five of his senior aids in 2006. Twenty-six of the terrorists were captured and are in Russian jail; twenty-three are still being pursued.

Nadezhda Alyokhina was hauling a refrigerator home with a friend when the first of a string of deadly hostage dramas began to unfold in the south of Russia 25 years ago.

Chechen militants led by Shamil Basayev on 14 June 1995, took about 1,500 people hostage and seized a hospital in Budyonnovsk, in Russia’s southern Stavropol region.

As she was driving the city streets, Alyokhina said she witnessed firsthand as the militants rounded up hostages across the city.

A woman…was running down the street, a man with an automatic weapon behind her. I thought it was her husband chasing her,” Alyokhina told Current Time, a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

He then pointed in the direction of our car. These guys were armed to the teeth, and fired on whatever they wanted to. They saw a house they didn’t like, broke down the front gate, and shot out the windows. It didn’t matter who they shot at — kids, men, women, it was all the same, ” Alyokhina recounted from the family furniture store in Budyonnovsk, adding she was convinced she would die that day.

When it ended five days later, a total of 129 people would be dead owing to the militant assault and a botched Russian commando raid. As for Basayev and his fighters, they were given free passage out of the city after agreeing to release their hostages.

Human Rights Watch in 1996 called the assault in Budyonnovsk “perhaps the most heinous humanitarian law violation known to have been committed by Chechen forces.”

The hostage drama would not be an isolated incident — it was to be followed by the Beslan, Nord-Ost, and Kislyar-Pervomaysk hostage crises — nor would the reaction of Russian forces, who would come to rely on an array of tactics to deal with hostage crises, usually with much innocent blood spilled.

In December 1994, the Russian Army marched into Chechnya, a restive region in Russia’s North Caucasus where separatists yearned for independence from Moscow. Basayev organized the defense of Grozny, the regional capital that would eventually be reduced to rubble as a result of Russian bombing.

Basayev began his campaign against Russian rule over Chechnya in 1991, when he participated in the hijacking of a Russian passenger aircraft flying from the southern town of Mineralnye Vody to Turkey and onward to Grozny.