Between 1994 and 1996 there was a violent conflict in the Caucasus that resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians. The war was between the Russian armed forces and Chechen independence fighters, and heavy Russian bombardment inflicted appalling casualties and obliterated the capital, Grozny, as well as much critical infrastructure. The war ended in August 1996 when, under the terms of the Khasavyurt Accord signed by Russian General Lebed and Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, Russia withdrew federal troops from Chechen territory and granted the country de facto independence.
WorldPR was hired by the government of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to communicate its identity as a new state on the international scene and help secure recognition, political support and inward investment. This was a difficult, complicated and sometimes dangerous assignment, fraught with obstacles and diplomatic hurdles. We organised two international delegations to Grozny led by Imran Khan, the current prime minister of Pakistan, and Lord McAlpine, former Treasurer of the British Conservative Party, accompanied by teams of bankers, investors and journalists, including the legendary war reporter, Sandy Gall. Working with the actress Vanessa Redgrave and Jeremy Corbyn MP, we supported an information campaign in parliament to brief MPs and gather support for the fledgling country. In the words of Vanessa Redgrave, “The important thing is to seek for truth, to help, to do something.”
In March 1998, we organised President Maskhadov’s first overseas visit to the UK, as he looked “to Britain and our friends in Europe to help rebuild our country”. While in London, Maskhadov dined at the Ritz Hotel with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, met with Foreign Office officials and attended a glittering party at Church House attended by, among others, Imran and Jemima Khan, Lord Tebbit, Lady Annabel Goldsmith and many European leaders of the exiled Caucasus diaspora. The celebrated British writer and journalist, Simon Sebag Montefiore, described this extraordinary event in a colourful article for The Sunday Times.
For a long moment Chechnya’s profile and the dogged bravery of its fighters had captured the hearts and the imagination of global audiences. But Chechen dreams of independence were to be short-lived. In September 1999, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his armed forces to re-occupy the country. Thus started the Second Chechen War. President Aslan Maskhadov was killed by Russian special forces in the village of Tolstoy-Yurt on 8th March 2005.