Forgotten by the West, Russian Acts of Violence Increasing
Date: December 27, 2001
Paris Daily Reporter on Russian Atrocities Against Chechens, Staffs of Foreign NGOs
The war waged by Russia against the independence-minded republic of Chechnya, which has been eclipsed by the 11 September attacks, continues. According to several organizations, in the past two months the repression has intensified. The Russian Memorial association has maintained the list of the numerous acts of violence committed by the Russian troops these past two months: pillaging, torture, murders, and round-ups remain ordinary events while several witnesses have described the presence of "death squadrons" on the ground. For Moscow, this war is only one part of the world struggle against terrorism. Vladimir Ruchailo, a close adviser to Mr. Putin, said he thought it would be "logical for the international community to support Russia." Sergei Kovalev, the former dissident, has harshly criticized the West's blindness and criticized the Council of Europe's attitude.
On Monday, 24 December, during an unprecedented communications operation, Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted to a "question-and-answer" exercise that was rebroadcast live by two national television stations and two local radio stations, which, in one week, were satisfied with having collected 400,000 requests from the population. Between one question on the choice of his neck ties and another ou Russian-NATO relations, the master of the Kremlin was questioned about the reasons behind the Russian military failure in Chechnya.
"We cannot proceed to conduct massive 'searches' where thousands of people live, nor, as has been done in Afghanistan, can we utilize heavy bombers against inhabited communities. The people who live there are Russian citizens," he then explained.
To be sure, today the era of heavy bombers and missiles has returned in Chechnya, whose capital city, Grozny, is now but a pile of rubble.
But two years following the start of the second Russian offensive against the republic, which, though, was recognized as independent by Moscow in 1996, the artillery there is still in action, on a daily basis helicopters bomb the mountainous regions in the south, and, more than ever, the 45,000 soldiers stationed there have been engaging in all sorts of pillaging and acts of violence. All of this against a backdrop of "final offensive" that was announced on 6 December by Sergei Ivanov, the Russian Defense Minister.
"The 'searches' are systematic, conducted by masked men, with dogs on a leash, that we see everywhere," said Mylene Sauloy, a documentary film-maker, who returned from Grozny. "One has the feeling that, since the announcement that was made (at the end of October) by Putin regarding the holding of negotiations with an emissary from President Mashkadov, the Russian forces on site are trying to help themselves very quickly in the event the manna were to dry up."
Pillaging and Round-Ups
Memorial, the Russian non-governmental organization [NGO], has kept a count of the "searches" that have been conducted by the Russian forces these past two months, especially in the villages of Argun, Urus-Martan, and Avtury. During these operations, "the soldiers carried off televisions sets, matresses, and pillows. They demanded money, threatening to carry the young people off," Oleg Orlov, the president of Memorial, reported during a press conference in Moscow on 19 December.
Three hundred people who were rounded up during these raids have been officially acknowledged as "disappeared" but Memorial believes that the real figure is "a good deal higher."
The luckiest among them might be ransomed by their families from the Russian soldiers, as was Z, from the village of Kourtchalot. This young woman was exchanged with her family by the Russian soldiers for some weapons following a one-month detention during which she was raped and tortured, according to a communique published by Amnesty International on 22 December. Others never return. The bodies of four residents from the Urus Martan region, who were picked up in early December, were found in a field several days later bearing every sign of a violent death.
In Urus-Martin on 29 November, the Russian forces unleashed themselves on the local population after a Chechen kamikaze, a widow whose nephew had just been arrested, exploded the explosive charge she was carrying on her as she approached Guedar Gadjiev, the region's military commander, a general known for his cruelty. Next, 73 people were taken away by the Russian forces, Memorial reported. Families suspected of having ties with the resistance saw their houses blown up.
During a "clean-up" that was carried out in Argun between 11 and 15 December, Louisa Beterguirieva, the activist from the Russian-Chechen Friendships NGO, was killed by bullets at a Russian checkpoint on 13 December. The soldiers had just refused her access to the locality she wanted to visit in order to draw up a list of people wounded during the operations. Her bag and the list disappeared. Five days later, Akhmed Gadjiev, 64, and an activist with that same Russian-Chechen NGO, was machine-gunned by masked men who burst into his house in Serjen-Iourt asking to see him. On 3 December, Rizvan Larsanov, at whose house the Russian-Chechen peace talks were held in 1996, was killed in the unexplained explosion of his car. And the list is a long one.
"The Russian soldiers are uncontrollable. They obey neither the orders from their command nor those of the prosecution," Orlov stated during his press conference. "Organized gangs made up of representatives of the Russian public force are engaged in the abductions, acts of torture, and assassinations," Memorial activists revealed, denouncing the existence of "death squadrons" in Chechnya. "We are able to state that, most often, the disappearances or the abductions are the work of representatives of the federal forces," Orlov said forcefully.
Last, these past two months, the few NGO's providing assistance to the Chechen populations in Chechnya or the neighboring republic of Ingushetia have been feeling pressure. So the French NGO Doctors of the World has deplored the regular appearances by the FSB [expansion not given] in the Sputnik and Karrabulak camps, where its teams are conducting a mental health program.
In particular the "organs" termed "subversive" the activity that consisted of having Chechen children draw, who have been traumatized by months of bombing, using the excuse that "Chechen flags" sometimes appear in the drawings.
Last, the NGO the Danish Council for Refugees (DCR), which is an operational partner with the UN in the area, has been subjected to real harassment. Recently three members of its on-site staff were severely beaten.
"Some organizations, DCR among them, supply food and clothing to illegal armed groups," General Babkin, the head of the FSB in Chechnya, announced on 13 December. He said he also had charges against 18 NGO's which, according to him, were busy "collecting intelligence to next exert pressure on the Russian authorities via the foreign media."