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You're reading: Former Russia defense chief Grachev dies

MOSCOW, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Former Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who said Chechen rebels could be crushed in a few hours with a single airborne regiment - ahead of a devastating 20-month war - died on Sunday aged 64.

The general
was defense minister under President Boris Yeltsin in 1992-1996 and was one of
the decision-makers behind the first war Moscow launched, in December 1994, to
defeat separatist forces.

Tens of
thousands of people, many of them civilians, were killed before the signing of an
August 1996 treaty that called for the withdrawal of federal forces and left
the region in the hands of separatist leaders.

Grachev
died at the Vishnyevsky military hospital outside Moscow.

Federal
forces returned to Chechnya in 1999, beginning another devastating war that
helped propel Vladimir Putin to Russia’s presidency and restored Russian rule
over the region but also fuelled an Islamist insurgency that persists today.

Grachev was
dogged by accusations of involvement in corruption linked to the Soviet
withdrawal from East Germany.

A
journalist who had linked Grachev to corruption in the military, Dmitry
Kholodov, was killed by an exploding briefcase in 1994, and his newspaper
pointed the finger at Grachev.

Grachev was
not charged in connection with Kholodov’s killing, but when testifying as a
witness he acknowledged using harsh words about the journalist when speaking to
subordinates.

It is one
of the many killings of Russian government critics that remain unsolved years
later.

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