Following weeks of militaryh deployment along the border of the mostly Muslim autonomous province of Chechnya, and despite concurrent negotiations, Russian troops bombarded its capital city of Grozny on December 11, 1994, thus initiating a 21-month guerrilla and civil war that ended in August 1996 with a ceasefire and a peace accord. Chechnya, a small republic nestled in the North Caucasus Mountians between the Black and Caspian Seas, had declared its independence from the Russian Federation in 1991. However, Chechnya was not internationally recognized as a sovereign state, and western countries, including the United States, announced their intention to keep clear of what Russian president Boris Yeltsin (1931-) proclaimed a strictly domestic affair. Chechnya itself was divided into two main factions: one dedicated to total freedom from Russia, led by Chechen president and former Soviet air force general Dzhokhar Dudayev (d. 1996?), and the other favoring remaining part of the federation. Before Yeltsin's attack, the Chechen moderates were covertly supported by the Russians and proved effective in diminishing Dudayev's influence. However, once Yeltsin began his full-fledged military offensive -- motivated by a wish to bolster his flagging popularity and a desire to demonstrate Russia's strength, as well as a stated intention to crush Chechnya's notorious crime culture -- bonds with these Chechens were broken and they united with dudayev. Yeltsin's actions incurred widespread criticism, among not only troops and rival politicians but also prominent government and military figures, including Yeltsin's human rights adviser Sergei Kovalyov (1959?-), Deputy Defense MinisterGeorgi Kondratyev (1944-), Afghan war hero Boris Gromov (1943-), and celebrated army commander Alexander Lebed (1950-). fierce battles occurred between Russian troops with tanks and defiant rebels in Grozny, Kizlyar, and other cities; mercenaries fought on both sides; Chechen snipers killed numerous Russians. Yeltsin remained firm and the war continued, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, about 400,000 refugees, and the destruction of much of Chechnya. In May 1996 Dudayev was reportedly shot to death by Russian troops. In September 1996 the relatively moderate president Aslan Maskhadov, who had been Chechnya's chief commander during the war, presided over the ensuing peace. Although Yeltsin withdrew his forces from Chechnya and granted the Chechens self-governmetn, he did not confer complete independence. A stalemate situation prevailed, with Chechnya still refusing to consider itself part of the Russian Federation, and Russia refusing to let Chechnya go but later (March 1999) ordering all its officials out of the separatist republic, amid a Chechen campaign of kidnappings.