Interview with Ruslan Khasbulatov
Febr, 25 1998
"Ruslan Khasbulatov: 'I Paid $100,000 To Ransom My Brother in Chechnya.' Former Russian Parliament Speaker on How in Chechnya He Saved Tank Crewman Who Fired at White House, Why He Does Not Intend To Confess to Anything, and Why He Will Not Give Students Poor Grades in Examinations"
[Yevtushenko] Ruslan Imranovich, are you, as a Chechen, proud of your people's effective victory in the war against Russia?
[Khasbulatov] I believe that there was no victory. Everything that happened was a terrible defeat for both Chechnya and Russia. The people's tragedy cannot be a victory. Following General Pulikovskiy's well-known ultimatum in August 1996 I met with Premier Chernomyrdin. It seems that he was genuinely interested in averting fresh carnage. He asked me to travel to Grozny and speak with the resistance's leadership about how Chechnya and Russia can get along in future. This clearly aroused the displeasure of certain high- ranking officials. But I went there and met with them. The negotiating process got under way.... And so, what made the most terrible impression on me was Grozny as soon as the fighting had died down. I was driven around the ruined city. There was the smell of dead bodies -- they had not yet been removed -- and the gas pipelines were ablaze. My driver begged me: "Ruslan Imranovich, we will be shot; there are snipers all around." It was as if I was riveted to this dreadful spectacle. And throughout the republic there were tens of thousands of dead and towns and villages in ruins. I cannot speak about a victory. This was a defeat for everyone.
[Yevtushenko] You claimed quite recently that you could have stopped this war, had you not been hindered....
[Khasbulatov] In Tolstoy-Yurt 25 November 1994 I tried to dissuade Khadzhiyev, Avturkhanov, and Gantamirov from marching on Grozny. It was useless. They admitted: "The decision has already been made in Mozdok, and Chernomyrdin did not provide 50 tanks just so we can give up now." So from 26 November 1994 the situation in Chechnya changed significantly: Combat operations by Dudayev's formations against the opposition turned into armed resistance by a people under occupation.
[Yevtushenko] I heard that you saved a Russian officer in Chechnya at that time.
[Khasbulatov] I was not the only one. Around 20 tank crewmen who escaped from their burning tanks during the assault were sheltered from the gunmen by ordinary Chechens. During the night they were brought to me in Tolstoy-Yurt. I got in touch with Mozdok: Send a helicopter to collect your fighters; it is dangerous to dispatch them in vehicles. The helicopter never arrived. While they were waiting, one of the crewmen was whining in despair. They asked him why he was wailing; after all, was not the worst now over? He replied: You have brought us to Khasbulatov, and he will now shoot me for sure. After all, it was me who fired from a tank at the White House in October 1993. He calmed down only when my people had driven them all to Mozdok.
[Yevtushenko] Have the Russian and Chechen leaders turned to you for advice, particularly after Boris Yeltsin's recent statement about his possible trip to Grozny ?
[Khasbulatov] No. Of course, if they had asked me, I think that I would have given the right advice regarding the president's trip. But I do not want to do so in a newspaper, before the general public. As regards relations between Russia and Chechnya.... Ancient Rome once waged a war lasting many years against a small African country ruled by King Jugurtha. One day the senators became indignant: How come a great empire cannot defeat an African kingdom? A senate commission was sent there. On their return the senators reported to the people's assembly: It turns out that the main cause of the protracted war is that each month King Jugurtha has been giving the Roman commander a small barrel of gold. Another commander was dispatched, and this war, which had been ignominious for Rome, came to an end. As yet there is not "another" commander or politician in the Russian leadership. So the war in the Caucasus is not coming to an end: There are explosions, raids, hostage-takings....
[Yevtushenko] Even your brother was among the hostages. How did you manage to secure his release?
[Khasbulatov] Like everyone else. I had to pay a ransom. But what harm was he doing to anyone -- a historian and academic who had been department head at the university for 30 years? I had to collect $100,000 from all over the world. My brother was held at gunpoint for four months.
[Yevtushenko] Chechnya has no money to carry out restoration work. Private capital is not arriving there because of the unstable situation. But neither can it be obtained anywhere in Russia, which cannot plug its own financial holes. What do you think about this?
[Khasbulatov] I will tell you frankly: Given all that has happened in the past, the tragic events, I feel sorry for Yeltsin. He is concerned not with reforms but with something that cannot even cross the mind of the head of a normal state: Getting hold of money to pay pensions and wages and avert strikes. He is a deeply unhappy man. [passage omitted on refusal to repent for 1993 events, past relations with Yeltsin and Rutskoy]
[Yevtushenko] Boris Yeltsin has already publicly announced that he does not intend to run for a third presidential term. In your view, who in that case could become the next Russian president?
[Khasbulatov] But I am sure that Yeltsin will run. You have to know this man. There are many worthy candidates -- the country is huge. And there are those who have already shown their worth and proved their ability. Luzhkov, for example.
[Yevtushenko] What are you engaged in now?
[Khasbulatov] Work, I am up to my neck in it. I am currently working on two textbooks. You can see that the galley proofs have already been made for the second edition of "World Economics." The second textbook is called "International Economic Relations." And, of course, I am lecturing, organizing conferences, preparing candidates and doctors of science, and examining students.
[Yevtushenko] Are students not afraid of you as an examiner? Do they not clutch their heads and say: "I have got an examination with Imranych -- what a nightmare!"?
[Khasbulatov] On the contrary. As I am always pressed for time, I have a long-standing rule: Not to give a poor grade in an examination. After all, you will have to meet again later. So if a student knows at least something, I almost always pull him or her up to at least a satisfactory grade. They know this and take advantage of it.