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Following the 1991 declaration of independence and sovereignty by General Dzhohkar Dudayev's regime in Chechnya, the Caucasian territories of the Russian Federation became increasingly volatile. The unsuccessful effort to replace Dudayev in Chechnya in late 1994 led Russian troops deeper into the Caucasus.
After the USSR broke apart, then Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi noted that some tactical nuclear weapons were missing but never said what had happened to them. In September 1993, Moscow News reported that the Chechen republic had paraded SS-20 missiles at a military review in Grozny. The SS-20 is a solid fuel, mobile missile system with a range of 5 to 9,500 kilometers, capable of launching a powerful nuclear charged warhead. All were supposedly destoyed under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. All the missiles of this class have probably been destroyed. However, there were many SS-20 models for crew training. One of these models, allegedly written off, could have gotten into the hands of Chechenya. The Kapustin Yar launching site is situated, like Chechnya, in the North Caucasian Military District.
In November 1994, General Dudayev requested special UN troops to come in and protect weapons of mass destruction from attack by Russian special forces. This was generally regarded as a deceptive move by Dudayev to scare Russian decision makers into thinking he had nuclear weapons. The report quoted an unidentified missile expert in the following way:
"Whether nuclear weapons were in Dudayev's control or not, the Russian military and political leadership had a reason to feel more than the normal psychological tension involved in intervening in the internal affairs of its own republic. The revenge instinct of the Chechen leadership certainly carried heavy weight in this part of the world and added to the tension. The Chechen leadership could take parts of Russia with it to the grave through the use of suicide unit attacks on nuclear or biological facilities, or through the use of nuclear weapons (if in fact Chechenya possessed them)."
Chechen separatist leader Shamil Basayev was a prominent field commander during Russia's civil war with Chechnya. In a television interview aired on October 15, 1995, Russian Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov stated that Basayev might have radioactive waste or radioisotopes taken from the Budyonnovsk hospital seized by Chechen rebels the previous spring. Basayev claimed in early November 1995 that several containers of radioactive material attached to explosive devices had been planted in Russia. On November 23, 1995, acting on a tip from Basayev, Russian television reporters discovered a 32 kg container--reportedly holding cesium-137--in a Moscow park. The container was reportedly removed and turned over to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). FSB officials stated that an official investigation was underway and that no further comments would be made until the inquiry was completed, accor ding to press reports. Television reports quote a highly-placed FSB officer as stating unofficially that the object was a piece of a hospital x-ray machine.
Following the Russian incursion into Chechnya in October 1999, each side accused the other of preparing chemical or toxic agents for use in the conflict. Chechen parliamentarians said they had information that Russian troops attacked two districts in Grozny with chemical weapons in early December 1999, though this report could not be independently verified. They said they were afraid Russian troops might destroy a nuclear waste storage facility just outside Grozny if the military was forced to leave. The Russian military said Chechen militants exploded canisters of toxic agents in a village on the outskirts of Grozny on December 10, 1999. General Alexander Baranov said he believed the canisters contained chlorine and ammonia and the blast resulted in a cloud of fumes. There was no way to verify the claim, since the Russian military had a near-monopoly on information coming from Chechnya.