CHECHNYA WEEKLY - News and analysis on the crisis in Chechnya

Date: March 26, 2002
Source: Jamestown Foundation




Yevgeny Primakov, the former Russian prime minister, foreign minister and SVR director, has suggested that Russia adopt the tsarist "Finnish model" in an attempt to foster a settlement to the conflict in Chechnya. On March 11, the Russian website carried a Russian translation of an article written by a leading French journalist, Sophie Shihab, which had originally appeared in the March 8 issue of Le Monde. In her report, Shihab discussed Primakov's visit to Paris in late February to promote the new French edition of his memoirs, entitled: Au coeur du pouvoir, memoires politiques [At the Heart of Power: Political Memoirs]. In his book and in comments made to Le Monde, Primakov stated "almost iconoclastic" views on the subject of the war in Chechnya.


"Of course," Primakov said to Le Monde, "one must offer Chechnya special rights within Russia. Take the example of Finland: During tsarist times, [Finland] was granted an autonomy so broad that the Finns were able not to surrender Russian revolutionaries who had conducted a congress on their territory." In his recent encyclopedic study, The Russian Empire: A Multi-ethnic History (2001), Swiss scholar Andreas Kappeler discussed the "Finnish model" Primakov cited: "The autonomy granted to the Grand Duchy of Finland [by imperial Russia]," Kappeler wrote, "was considerably greater than it had been under Swedish rule. This manifested itself in the fact that the Grand Duchy had its own parliament and an administrative and judicial system staffed exclusively by [Finnish] bureaucrats. This was merely presided over by a governor-general as a representative of the tsar, and not placed under the direct control of the central Russian authorities. Furthermore, Russian military structures were not introduced into Finland, which did not have to supply recruits and was permitted to maintain a (small) army of its own. The fact that the Grand Duchy of Finland also remained separate from Russia in economic terms was demonstrated by its customs barrier, its bank and its coinage. Finland was linked to Russia through the persons of the tsar (Grand Duke) and his dynasty, and in the domain of foreign policy." (p. 96)

By citing the tsarist "Finnish model," Primakov has perhaps opened the door to a creative solution for a bloody and seemingly intractable conflict. Journalist Shihab observed in this connection: "The 'Finnish' model of Yevgeny Primakov goes counter to the program of the Russian regime. So does his refusal to treat as a 'terrorist' the Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected in 1997 in the presence of OSCE observers."


In recent comments, leading representatives of the Russian state and of the Chechen separatist leadership have underlined that bilateral negotiations between the two sides have ground to a complete halt. In an interview with Moskovskie Novosti, separatist deputy premier Akhmed Zakaev stated: "After the January session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, my contacts with [Viktor] Kazantsev have not been renewed, and this did not happen at my initiative" (Moskovskie Novosti, March 20). In an interview with RIA Novosti, Kazantsev, the Russian plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern Federal District, for his part, made it clear that "there was no sense in further contacts" with Zakaev. Zakaev, he said, was "obviously incapable of influencing developments in the republic" (RIA Novosti, March 15).


On March 15, the Public Consultative Council, established under the auspices of the State Duma-Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Working Group on Chechnya, met for the first time in Moscow. The group consisted of some thirty representatives of Chechen factions with widely diverging political aims and included backers of Aslan Maskhadov. According to the council's coordinator, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, executive secretary of the Duma-PACE joint working group, the forum "can function as a conduit whereby the Russian leadership can communicate with the Chechen president" (RFE-RL Caucasus Report, March 21). To date, neither Putin nor Maskhadov has directly endorsed the initial talks or delegated any representative, "but both are said to be closely monitoring them." Lord Judd of Great Britain, co-chair of the Duma-PACE working group, said that there was a possibility that the talks could "change the psychology" of the stalemate over Chechnya (New York Times, March 25).


In Moscow for meetings of the Duma-PACE joint Working Group on Chechnya, Lord Judd maintained on March 21 during an interview with Ekho Moskvy Radio: "You can't resolve the situation [in Chechnya] without a political settlement. Maskhadov is the political reality of today's Chechnya. If you search for a political solution without his participation, it will simply not be a political solution." President Putin's human rights representative in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, then accused Judd of "playing political games," insisting that ordinary Chechens did not support Maskhadov and instead wanted "law and order" provided by the Russians (Agence France Presse, March 21). On the same day, Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii took exception to a statement by Lord Judd that the upcoming PACE spring session ought to consider how to guarantee the prosecution of persons responsible for the violation of human rights in Chechnya. "Either Lord Judd does not formulate his idea accurately enough," Yastrzhembsky declared, "or this is an attempt to lead matters to the formation of a certain international tribunal for Chechnya, similar to the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. If the latter is true, I have to disappoint the lord and those whose ideas he is expressing. Chechnya is not Bosnia or Kosovo, and Russia is not the former Yugoslavia, no matter how [much] someone would like it to be so." Yastrzhembsky termed the idea of an international tribunal and the idea of "mediation in Chechnya" by bodies such as PACE "senseless and hopeless" (Interfax, March 21).


During the course of an interview with the newspaper Novaya Gazeta (no. 20, 21 March), Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, complained that recent harsh repressive actions by the Russian power structures in Chechnya were de facto serving to replenish the ranks of the separatists. "We talked about this at the [February 27] meeting of the [Russian] Security Council," he confided. "When people disappear from their families and no one will say where they are located, and then their relatives find their bodies, this gives birth to a minimum of ten new rebels. For this reason, the number of the rebels is not diminishing.... I said to him [Putin]: Why does not a single [Russian] general answer for what is being done during the 'mopping up operations'? The president demanded that [such operations] cease!... I have no rights with regard to the military. I asked the president to give me such rights. Kazantsev greatly disliked that, and he said approximately this: What power does Kadyrov want in Chechnya? Sole rule?" To which Kadyrov responded in the interview: "A dictator is needed [in Chechnya] in the direct sense of the word.... If I were the dictator in Chechnya, I would not conduct any 'mopping up operations.'"


On March 14, Associated Press writer Judith Ingram reported the results of a poll released earlier that day by the well-known Russian polling institute ROMIR: "Of 2,000 people surveyed in February, 37 percent said they supported the war and 48 percent said they did not. In September [2001], 46.5 percent of respondents expressed support for the war and 41.1 percent opposed it" (AP, March 14). On March 20, Ekho Moskvy Radio, for its part, reported: "A total of 41 percent of Russians are not happy with media coverage of military actions in Chechnya. This figure was given by a representative of the Defense Ministry at a meeting of an organizing committee on the role of the mass media in the moral education of the people" (BBC Monitoring Service, March 20).


In an editorial appearing in its March 22 edition, the Times of London wrote that, on the previous day, Anna Politkovskaya, a well-known war correspondent who writes for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, had been presented with the prestigious Index on Censorship award for "the most courageous defense of freedom of expression." The Times then underscored: "Only Novaya Gazeta, the small liberal biweekly carrying Ms. Politkovskaya's reports, still speaks out on Chechnya; now the [Russian] courts have imposed record libel damages in a clear attempt to bankrupt and silence it." A lengthy article entitled "Russia's Whistle Blower," appearing in the March 16 issue of the Guardian (London), also paid tribute to Politkovskaya.


A documentary film, entitled "An Assassination Attempt against Russia," sponsored by oligarch-in-exile Boris Berezovsky, which was unveiled at a press conference in London on March 5, continued to create ripple effects in Russia. On March 10, Sergei Yushenkov, a State Duma deputy and cofounder of the Liberal Russia movement, noted that "he had brought more than 1000 copies of the film into Russia" (, March 11). On March 12, the film, which directly accuses the FSB of having sought to blow up a large apartment complex in Ryazan in September 1999 in order to help rally the Russian populace behind a new war in Chechnya, was shown "to a packed audience of journalists, human rights activists and curious truth-seekers at the Sakharov Museum" in Moscow. "We still don't know who blew up the houses [in Moscow and Volgodonsk]," Yushenkov told the audience, "We are not passing a verdict. We are demanding one thing--an investigation" (Moscow Times, March 13).

The deputies of the Russian State Duma, however, declined to arrange for a screening of the film. Only seventy-five of the 226 deputies needed supported Yushenkov's proposal. Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of the Duma's international affairs committee, "resolutely opposed Yushenkov's initiative," suggesting instead that "a copy of the controversial documentary first be sent for examination by the Duma's security committee, since, according to Rogozin, a showing of the film might give grounds for 'libel'" (RIA Novosti, March 15). On March 16, Boris Jordan, the director of NTV television, announced that NTV would not show the film because, "We are afraid of judicial liability" (RFE-RL, March 18). There was, of course, zero expectation that Russian state television would show the film. Berezovsky told the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta that, if the Russian authorities attempted to prevent the dissemination of the film within Russia, then he "would prepare for production in Russia a minimum of one million cassettes [of the film]" (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 11). On March 12, over the open air, a member of the new public body "The Association of September 1999," Alena Morozova, told Ekho Moskvy Radio that the organization has initiated a lawsuit against the government of Russia "in the case of the explosions of apartment houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk in September of 1999" (Obshchaya Gazeta, March 19).


NEWSPAPER NOVYE IZVESTIA PROVIDES NEW ACCOUNTS OF WAR CRIMES. The remarkable campaign being waged by award-winning Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya to shed light on the grim secrets of the present war in Chechnya is well known. In the no. 18 (March 14) issue of Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya describes the sanguinary aftermath of the thirty-third mopping up operation to be conducted in the village of Tsostsan-Yurt, Kurchaloi District, during the present war, noting en passant that, over the past month, "residents of [the village] have been finding human body parts on the edge of the settlement," a woman's scalp with a braid still attached here, a woman's left leg there and so on. Presumably these body parts are being scattered about by the federal forces in an attempt to intimidate the populace of the village. In the no. 19 (March 18) issue of Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya described the twentieth mopping up operation of the war in the town of Starye Atagi; three more cleansing operations have been conducted in the settlement since that twentieth operation in late January and early February.

Less well known than Politkovskaya's relentless efforts have been the persistent attempts of the daily newspaper Novye Izvestia to also reveal some of the secrets of the war. The March 19 issue of the paper contains a Russian translation of a detailed eyewitness report published by German journalist Florian Hassel in the March 12 issue of the Frankfurter Rundschau. Two days later, on March 21, Novye Izvestia carried a piece by its own correspondent Zoya Svetova, ironically entitled "Does the Kremlin Know about the 'Mopping up Operations' in Chechnya?"

Hassel began his coverage by describing an attack on Chechen civilians carried out in February by Russian spetsnaz forces operating in the village of Chiri-Yurt. Three Chechen relatives--two men and a woman--were driving into Chiri-Yurt, the native village of one of them, when "a Russian military helicopter touched down in the field next to the road. In the words of eyewitnesses, before the helicopter had fully landed, the soldiers opened fire." "There were ten soldiers," an eyewitness, a local teacher, Aishat Gasarieva, told Hassel. "They immediately began to fire [at the car], and they shot at us too." In the car the driver, Isa El'bukaev, age 44, had instinctively moved over to shield his female cousin with his body and had been struck by several bullets. He died shortly afterwards of his wounds. Mogomed Umarov, age 26, was struck by a bullet to the groin and suffered other wounds. "When the soldiers came up to the seriously wounded [Umarov], they struck him with their automatic weapons and began to kick him with their boots. Then they threw a machine gun cartridge belt next to the wounded man--Magomed thus became a rebel who had shown resistance. Ten minutes later the soldiers returned to their helicopter." Magomed was eventually taken to the Ninth City Hospital in the Chechen capital, "where he fought for his life. His mother died of a heart attack while waiting in the corridor of the hospital."

Returning to the mopping up operation, Hassel writes: "On the morning of February 16, in Chiri-Yurt alone, at least twelve men were taken into custody, including the 43-year-old Khusein Zakriev, who lived on Karl Marx Street. He suffered from illnesses of the heart and kidneys." The men were taken to a filtration point near the settlement of Starye Atagi, where they were tortured and interrogated. "There were twenty-five to thirty captives," one of the victims told Hassel. "The soldiers put us up against a wall and began to beat us with automatic rifles, rubber truncheons and iron rods.... We said to the Russians, 'Leave Khusein alone. He is seriously ill.' But they beat him nonetheless, until he lost consciousness." Several hours later, Zakriev, "the father of four children," died.

Hassel notes that Zakariev's family was lucky in one respect. "His family received his body back two days later and was glad of it. Because often the Chechens have to buy back corpses from the Russians, and the prices can reach several hundred dollars. Trade in dead bodies yields a good profit, as do the 'mopping up operations' in which many soldiers... take away money, rugs and television sets on their armored vehicles or in trucks."

The men of Chiri-Yurt who had been swept up in the cleansing operation spent eleven days in prison. "When their wives learned where they were, they paid 20,000 rubles to free them. Such good fortune is not the lot of many. When the Russians go out to hunt for people, they habitually smear over the identifying marks on their vehicles with dirt," so that the relatives of those taken away normally are not aware of what unit the soldiers belong to, or of where they have taken their captives.

Hassel observes that in the course of the sweeps the Russian soldiers do on occasion catch real rebels. "But many of those taken into custody have their 'confessions' beaten out of them." As one Chechen told Hassel, "If they torture you for a sufficiently long time, you will call your neighbor or your brother a rebel and will confess to having committed the most horrible terroristic acts." Such treatment of the civilian populace serves de facto to swell the ranks of the separatist fighters. One 21-year-old separatist fighter confided to a correspondent of Frankfurter Rundschau in the Chechen capital: "At least twenty of my relatives and friends have been murdered by the Russians or have disappeared [without trace]."

Interviewing a leading representative of the human rights organization Memorial, Andrei Cherkasov, Hassel is told: "From the summer of 1999 to January of 2002, we have registered 992 peaceful inhabitants who have been murdered [by the federal forces]. Probably that is not even half of those murdered. We do not receive any information from many regions." In addition, "Many Chechens consider the registration of their deceased to be senseless." "What is the sense of appealing to those who are killing our people?" one relative of the late Isa El'bukaev comments.

Cherkasov proceeded to describe to Hassel what is in reality happening in Chechnya. "Behind the faade of the prison system," Cherkasov observed, "there acts an unofficial system with its center in Khankala [military base], the headquarters of the federal forces. Under this parallel system of justice, representatives of the special services and the spetsnaz torture their victims to death or execute them without trial, thus destroying the institution of the courts as a state body of power."

The military helicopter from which soldiers opened fire on a passing car in Chiri-Yurt, Hassel commented, appeared to be part of a pattern of employing flying "death squadrons." In one such instance, some Russian soldiers are, it appears, actually going to be punished: "In January [2002], ten members of a spetsnaz detachment of the GRU were arrested after their helicopter set down in Shatoi District on January 11 and they killed six peaceful inhabitants there.... The arrest of soldiers of the GRU, which was the first such case in the course of the entire Chechen war, occurred only because the head of army intelligence was a witness of the crime and, as with two Russian prosecutors, he refused to hush up--as is usually done--the case involving his [GRU] colleagues."

The case of Chechen civilians "disappeared without trace" is a particularly wrenching one. Andrei Cherkasov of Memorial has received from the pro-Moscow Chechen administration their list of such persons. One of the disappeared is "Yakub, the son of Khamzat Dzhabrailova, who was arrested on 14 December [2001]." Yakub's mother had gone to the local military commandant's office and had "heard from the basement the screams of someone being tortured and had then recognized the voice of her son." The commandant and an officer of the FSB insisted to her, however, that "they knew nothing of his whereabouts."

Writing in the March 21 issue of the same newspaper, Novye Izvestiya, correspondent Zoya Svetova notes that even the pro-Moscow Chechen police are being severely victimized by the federal forces. "Excuse me, we were a bit rushed and executed your son," the head of the Argun FSB, Sazanov, confided to Zubair Khizriev, the former head of the pro-Moscow Gudermes police. Khizriev's son, who was also a policeman, and eight fellow pro-Moscow police officers, were taken into custody and then executed by the Russian forces conducting a sweep in Argun. "They seized him simply because he was a Chechen," Khizriev commented. Obviously, summary executions of pro-Moscow police are unlikely to aid the process of "Chechenization," which the Kremlin supports, at least in words.

Human rights organizations such as Memorial feel themselves helpless when confronted by the magnitude of the war crimes presently being committed by the federal forces in Chechnya. "In the list of the [pro-Moscow] government of Chechnya," Cherkasov remarked to Svetova, "there are about 2,000 persons who disappeared without a trace. That is an enormous number. If one were to extrapolate that figure to Moscow, there would be many tens of thousands of 'disappeared' persons. Approximately that many people disappeared and were executed in Moscow during the period of the 'Great Terror' of 1937-1938." "We have the sensation," Memorial chair Oleg Orlov confided to Svetova, "that we are scooping out an ocean one spoonful at a time. We succeed in freeing someone, and, during that time, ever new crimes and more crimes after that are being committed."

To conclude, while the Novye Izvestia reports inescapably lead one to the most pessimistic conclusions, it is nonetheless heartening that journalists like Florian Hassel and Zoya Svetova and human rights organizations such as Memorial are still on the job recounting the truth to a largely indifferent world community.


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