Three years ago, Vadim Rechkalov of the Moscow daily Izvestia interviewed two Russian soldiers who were convalescing in a hospital in the Moscow suburbs their wounds suffered in Chechnya. The two veterans insisted that their conversation must be entirely off the record–but recently one of them finally agreed to let the newspaper publish it as long as it protected his and his comrade’s anonymity. The record of the conversation, published by Izvestia on January 23, provides a vivid glimpse of the war in Chechnya as experienced by low-ranking Russian enlisted men. It not only substantiates charges already made by human rights groups about corruption and atrocities, but also illustrates the connection between these two phenomena.
The recruits described how pay and provisions intended for them would be diverted by their own officers; one of them was supposed to receive an advance of 60 rubles but never did. As a result their unit was so poorly fed–one loaf of bread for ten men–that the men had to fend for themselves. They learned that a cow should be shot in the neck, never in the head from which a bullet might ricochet. They would also regularly go on “marauding” expeditions, in which they would borrow an armored vehicle and raid “abandoned” Chechen homes–not only for “necessities” such as mattresses and blankets but also for items such as televisions, for which their quartermasters were glad to exchange food.
One of the soldiers recalled that Chechen prisoners looked at him with such contempt that he wanted to shoot them just to avoid seeing that look. “They have evil blood,” he said. “Stalin was right to exile them.”