English language jihadist forums have been circulating a piece which originated with Kavkaz Center reminding us of the recent 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Russian 6th Airborne Company at Ulus-Kert, Chechnya by a band of mujahideen. On 29 February 2000 an isolated company of the Russian 76th Guards Airborne Division was surrounded on Hill 776 in Chechnya by a band of perhaps 70 mujahideen led by the famous Ibn al-Khattab and almost entirely wiped out. (An account of the battle by American military analysts is here.) This battle became part of legend for both the mujahideen and the Russians.
For the muj, the event was not only a great victory but engendered yet another story about battlefield miracles. In the jihadists’ telling, Khattab did indeed lead the band of fighters who reached the top of the hill but they were not the ones who killed the Russians. Instead, they found the Russians miraculously already killed apparently by angels. In the present telling of the story:
About 100 Russian corpses were laying in one heap, as if someone specially dragged them into one place. A horror was written on the faces of all the commandos. Their faces had a sulfur-ashy color. Almost all of them had bullet holes in the head and breast just under the throat….Khattab who liked to speak about different episodes of various battles, practically never spoke about the battle of Ulus-Kert. The other fighters also didn’t speak much. When the Mujahideen asked Khattab to tell them about that battle, he usually answered briefly: “This was not our work…”
On the Russian side, the incident and the less-than-glorious larger battle of which it was a part, became another occasion for Russian government bumbling and dissembling on just what had happened. Eventually, however, the government and to some degree Russian society itself took the destruction of the 6th Company as a chance to build patriotic Russian spirit. Three different movies (or made-for-tv movies) have been produced on the topic. There has even been a stage musical! There are at least four monuments to the 6th Company in Russia. (For an excellent French-language discussion of all of this, see here.) For those with Russian–which I do not have to any appreciable extent–there is a Russian blog (Блог) dedicated to the event as well as a variety of other Russian websites. YouTube also has its share of videos devtoed to the topic. One for instance, is check out a contemporary Russian TV news account. One viewer left a comment suggesting the production of a movie in the spirit of The 300 about the 6th Company. YouTube also has this simple tribute to the Russian desantniki.
(As an aside, an American has made the battle of Ulus-Kert into a boardgame, too.)
I think this is another interesting example of how “victory” is not an objective term. Even a horrid defeat can be repurposed and turned into a positive. In one sense, the jihadists do this all the time when they celebrate the martyrdom of yet another fighter. (By the way, am I the only one who finds those martyrologies immensely boring??) Why shouldn’t the Russians do it on a larger scale, celebrating their glorious defeats?