Elena Bonner's testimony on Chechnya - Nov, 4, 1999

Washington, DC
Source: Human Rights Network/Memorial/Karta
Date: November, 4, 1999


On November 4, 1999 the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held hearings on :Chechnya: Implications for Russia and the Caucasus. The witnesses were Stephen Sestanovich, Ambasador at large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the new Independent States, Dr. Elena Bonner, Chairman of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation and Paul Goble, Director of Communications of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Below we reproduce Mrs. Bonner's text. She started her testimony by telling the senators that a few hours before she spoke with the President of the Republic of Chechnya, Maskhadov, who repeated, once again, and asked her to transmit it to the senators, that he is willing, immediately, to enter into negotiations and dialogue with the Russians to stop the war. That introduction was especially important coming after Mr Sestanovich had read from his prepared testimony that "Unfortunately, neither the Russian government nor Chechen leaders have shown much interest in such a dialogue...".

Statement of Elena Bonner for The Senate Foreign Relations Committee
November 4, 1999

The main cause of the second Chechen war must be sought in particular features of the current Russian political scene. The first war was needed in order to reelect President Yeltsin. This war is needed to raise the standing in the polls of the current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, whom President Yeltsin has publicly endorsed as his chosen successor.

For the Russian army, the war is attractive because it gives the generals an opportunity to take revenge for their defeats in the Afghan war and in the first (1994-1996) Chechen war. They believe that perestroika and Gorbachev prevented their victory in Afghanistan, and that in Chechnya, Alexander Lebed, Russia's free press, and public opinion were to blame. For the military-industrial complex -- in reduced circumstances since the collapse of the Soviet Union -- war means money and new orders. For the presidential administration, for government ministers, and for Duma politicians, the war is needed to resuscitate patriotic slogans and divert the public's attention from corruption and financial scandals to the enemy -- in this situation, the Chechens.

The regime hasn't found any way other than war to rally the public, of whom one third or 51,000,000 persons live below the poverty level. The frequent replacement of prime ministers this past year (it is noteworthy that the last three have all had KGB connections) has possibly been the result of a conscious or subconscious search for someone capable of deciding for war.
Primakov was too cautious. Stepashin's dismissal most likely was the result of his willingness to talk with Chechnya's president Aslan Maskhadov, and even to arrange a meeting of Maskhadov with Yeltsin.

Putin took Stepashin's place, most likely because he recognized the Kremlin's wish for war, not peace. It's worth recalling that last August, in one of his first interviews as prime minister, he answered a question about his attitude toward his appointment by stating: "I'm a soldier."
Later, Putin - not the President - was the first to declare that the Khasavyurt agreement and the peace treaty, signed by Yeltsin and Maskhadov, were meaningless scraps of paper Putin falsely claimed that Maskhadov is not a legitimate president, so that there is no sense entering into negotiations with him. Russian public opinion has accepted that the blowing up of apartment houses in Russia and the hundreds of deaths that resulted, even though a Chechen connection to these explosions remains unproven, and the raid into Dagestan justify the anti-Chechen campaign.

The explosions have allowed our Russian politicians to call this war a fight against international terrorism and Russian officers to announce to the whole world that they will prosecute this war to the very end and will not let any civilian casualties stop them. An unprecedented anti-Chechen campaign has been launched in the mass media, especially on TV. Chechens have been banished from Russian cities, with Moscow leading the way in violating their legally protected rights.

Between 100,000 and 130,000 persons perished during the first Chechen war. The fate of more than 1,500 persons who disappeared during purges of the local population and from detention camps remains unknown. All cities in Chechnya, many of its towns and villages, its whole infrastructure, its institutions of education, medicine and culture, and its factories and other enterprises were destroyed. After the war, almost the whole urban population of Chechnya was left without jobs. Crime increased. Kidnapping for ransom becamed an everyday occurence. And yet, with incredible effort, after the war ended, people somehow repaired their homes, farmers gathered the harvest, and Chechens managed to survive the winter. All this was accomplished without financial help from Russia, which, despite its own poverty, should in all justice should have assisted the reconstruction of Chechnya after a peace treaty was signed by Maskhadov and Yeltsin.

Russia couldn't find any money to ensure peace. But Russia can find the money to make war.

In the current budget, military expenditures have been increased by a billion dollars, orders to the military-industrial complex have been stepped up, and the prime minister has promised all soldiers involved in the fighting pay of $1,000 a month. Where will this extra money be found, since even without the war, revenues do not cover the ordinary budget expenditures? One way is by simply printing more rubles -- the resulting inflation will make the poor still more impoverished. Taxes will be raised, which will ruin many small and medium-sized businesses. And then there will be Western loans and money from the IMF and other international agencies, or at least whatever may be left after payment of interest on outstanding loans. The second Chechen war just like the first war is being indirectly financed by "The Big Seven" and other economically advanced countries.

The effects of the war can also be seen in recently adopted decrees and legal measures. The Constitutional Court has decided that students in private colleges and universities can be drafted before completing their studies. The President issued a decree that draftees can be sent into battle after six months training, violating the principle of using only volunteers to fight wars.

Information about the war is reviewed and edited by the newly-created "Russian Information Service" and by the military censorship. Virtually no Western or independent Russian journalists are allowed in the war zone. The work of humanitarian and human rights NGOs is obstructed. Access of UN and NGO observers to the region is restricted.

When they began their military action, the Russian generals stated that their goal was to create a cordon sanitaire along the border with Chechnya, but since mid-October and after the offensive against Grozny and Gudermes, it has become clear that this announcement was made only to appease public opinion. The rocket attack on the Grozny market, when more than 150 persons were killed, including 13 babies in a nearby maternity hospital, signalled the second, even more savage, phase of the war. It is typical that in this case as in all preceding and subsequent instances of ruthless bombardment of civilians, Russian officials, including Prime Minister Putin, have lied and denied that the incidents took place. President Maskhadov in his Octobr 29 appeal to Pope John Paul II on behalf of Chechnya's civilian population wrote that 3,600 persons, mostly women and children, have been killed and more than 5,500 wounded by Russian bombing, shelling, and other ordnance. That same day, a refugee convoy, which included five clearly-marked Red Cross vehicles, was attacked by Russian planes, and according to eyewitnesses, more than 25 persons were killed and more than 70 wounded. Every day, the casualties increase.

The number of refugees from Chechnya in neighboring regions has passed the 250,000 mark. The majority are in Ingushetia - about 190,000 refugees as of November 1. This influx puts an impossible strain on the infrastructure of a small republic, with a peacetime population of 340,000. Nevertheless, Ingushetia's President, Ruslan Aushev, protested when the Russian army sealed off the border with Chechnya. Aushev declared that Ingushetia is prepared to accept more refugees fleeing from the deadly bombing. The situation of the refugees is extremely difficult. The assertion that no humanitarian catastrophe exists in Ingushetia is just one more lie invented by the Russian government so that representatives of international organizations can be denied access to the refugees and prevented from witnessing the mass violations of human rights taking place. There are not enough tents, stoves, cots, blankets, or warm clothing, and at night the temperature already drops below freezing. There is not enough drinking water and sanitary supplies. The lack of doctors and nurses, medicine, and surgical supplies is critical. There isn't sufficient flour for the bakeries. Other foodstuffs are in very short supply, including milk and infant formula.

Every day dozens of people - primarily infants and the elderly - die from cold, disease and wounds. The aid from the UN and other humanitarian organizations which has reached the refugees so far is insufficient. Moreover, part of the assistance has reportedly fallen into the hands of the military. If the flow of assistance is not promptly and substantially increased, countless deaths from epidemics, malnutrition, and extreme cold weather can be expected. A humanitarian catastrophe already exists, and only major international aid can prevent its further advance.

Carpet bombing and shelling of cities, villages and refugee convoys attempting to escape the war zone constitute a grave violation of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and the Additional Protocols and demonstrate the Russian government's complete disregard for these extremely important international agreements.

The means used to conduct this war demonstrate plainly that this is not a fight against terrorists; the Russian generals are trying to annihilate a large part of the Chechen nation and drive out those who survive from their native land. Their aim is to keep Chechnya as part of the Russian Federation -- but without the Chechens. This is genocide. This is not just another routine violation of human rights -- this is a crime against humanity. And this can no longer be exclusively the internal affair of Russia, no matter how often President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Putin try to assert this point of view.


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