Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 25


Though much is now known about it, the “unofficial” prison system operated by federal forces in Chechnya remains in many ways a mystery. A recent analysis by Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Moscow-based human rights organization Memorial brought together several useful reports, including a most revealing interview with an officer who heads a military-espionage unit deployed in the republic’s southern highlands. The officer was unusually candid, as one can see from the following transcript. It provides a rare glimpse of the “zachistki’ security sweep-ups from the sweepers’ point of view:

Officer: They [the Chechens] speak out against the “zachistki” sweep-ups, they complain that their relatives are disappearing. But that’s just not so. Normal people don’t disappear in Chechnya. Those who disappear are freaks whom it is necessary to destroy, to purge.

Journalist: So it’s your men who are seizing people by night and then destroying them?

Officer: About 30 percent of them are being seized and murdered as a result of criminal disputes between the Chechens themselves. 20 percent are on the conscience of the rebel guerrillas, who are destroying those who cooperate with the federal authorities. And we are destroying the remaining 50 percent. There’s no other solution: The courts are just too easy to bribe. If we obey the rules and hand over the guerrillas whom we have captured, their relatives will very quickly buy their release. We actually tried to follow such practices after the largest groups of rebel fighters in the hills had been destroyed…But officials from the procuracy came along with us and made a fuss about all sorts of nonsense such as ‘making peace.’ All of our cases were supposed to be substantiated with evidence and so forth. Suppose we had intelligence information that such and such a man was a bandit, bathed in blood up to his elbows. We would have to visit him together with the procuracy’s people, and it would turn out that he didn’t have any weapons in his home–not even one bullet. What could we then arrest him for? So destroying the guerrillas under the cover of night–that is the most effective method for fighting them, and they are afraid of it. Now they don’t feel secure anywhere–not in the hills, not in their homes. Large-scale operations aren’t necessary anymore; what’s necessary are night-time operations, precisely and surgically targeted. One can fight lawlessness only with lawless methods.

Journalist: Do you like these methods?

Officer: Not always. Sometimes innocent people get caught by them…sometimes it happens that Chechens slander each other. When we learn the truth it turns out to be too late to fix things. The man no longer exists.