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1 Mar, 2020 20:30

Unfadable courage: Putin, Shoigu commemorate paratroopers who heroically died in battle against extremists two decades ago

Unfadable courage: Putin, Shoigu commemorate paratroopers who heroically died in battle against extremists two decades ago

Twenty years after heroic but vastly outnumbered Russian paratroopers bravely battled jihadist forces in Chechnya, President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu have honored the fallen.

“Today… we commemorate the brave paratroopers, pay tribute to their courage and their heroic deed,” Putin said as he reviewed the troops of the Pskov Airborne Division. He and Shoigu arrived in the northwestern Russian city of Pskov, the hometown of Russia’s oldest and most elite airborne division, to lay flowers at a memorial for those who fell in Moscow’s second anti-terrorism campaign in the early 2000s.

They stood in the way of hundreds of militants and entered their last battle as true heroes, staying true to the best traditions of their brothers-in-arms that are held dear by all generations of airborne troops.

The president also attended a memorial service in memory of the paratroopers at the local St. George's church and met with their relatives.

Last stand

The sixth company of the Pskov Airborne Division made their last stand in late February 2000, when the anti-terrorism campaign was reaching its conclusion. At the time, the Russian Army sought to surround a large force of Chechen militants – supported by Arab mercenaries linked to Al-Qaeda – who were pushed out of the regional capital of Grozny and blocked into the Argun Gorge to the south of the city.

The paratroopers were ordered to seize a high point overlooking one of the passes leading out of the gorge. However, before they even managed to reach their destination, they were attacked by the vanguard of the extremists, which launched a surprise attack in an attempt to get out of the cauldron.

RT

Soon, just 90 paratroopers found themselves facing the bulk of the jihadist force led by Khattab, one of the leaders of Arab Al-Qaeda mercenaries, and notorious local warlord Shamil Basayev. Outnumbered almost 30 to 1, the paratroopers fought bravely against some 2,500 extremists between February 29 and March 1. The battle was so intense that the Russian forces seeking to back up the company could not fight their way to the surrounded military.

The militants were attacking the company wave after wave, “with their eyes wide open and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar!’”, one of the few survivors of that battle, Guards Sergeant Andrey Proshnev, recalled later.

On March 1, 2000, the remaining few paratroopers ran out of ammunition and their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Evtyukhin, called an artillery strike on himself in an attempt to stop a massive onslaught launched by the extremists.

The Russian artillery plastered the hill, where the paratroopers had previously been entrenched, with fire. Supported by artillery, the paratroopers eventually killed between 400 and 500 extremists, reportedly including at least one senior jihadist field commander.

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Out of 90 paratroopers, 84 died, including 13 officers. Twenty-two of them received the nation’s highest military award – Hero of Russia – all but one posthumously. Sixty-eight soldiers and officers were also awarded the Order of Courage.

The remaining extremist forces still managed to slip through a gap in the encirclement. However, all the jihadist commanders leading the charge at that time, including Khattab and Basayev, were hunted down and killed in Russia’s anti-terrorist operations in the years that followed.

The paratroopers’ heroic deed has since inspired a number of movies, TV series, and even a 2004 musical. Several books were also written about the stand, while various Russian music performers – including the famous Alexandrov Ensemble of the Russian Armed Forces – dedicated songs to the memory of the paratroopers.

Russia is proud of its paratroopers, Putin said on Sunday, addressing the soldiers who have joined the ranks of the famous division which has, since that time, taken part in many operations. This includes the deployment of its medical specialists to Syria.

“We believe that you will firmly guard Russia’s interests, provide security and protect the lives of our citizens,” the president said. “Thank you for your service.”

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