Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 22

An Uneasy Peace in Chechnya

by Marina Perevozkina

Chechnya has entered a stage of precarious balance betweenwar and peace, one which is likely to continue for some time.

The peace negotiations are deadlocked. The discussion of political issues, including the status of Chechnya, is supposedto take place once the military agreements have been implemented.

However, the key military elements of the cease-fire agreement–the decommissioning of Chechen weapons, the withdrawal of Russiantroops and the release of prisoners– are far from complete. Andgiven the size of the chasm that exists between the two sideson these issues, it is unlikely that the basic armistice agreementswill be implemented anytime soon.

The Prisoner Exchange Stalemate

Russian and Chechen negotiators in Grozny agreed initially toexchange all prisoners of war and other people forciblydetained during the conflict. But this agreement began to unravelwhen it became clear that the two sides could not agree on theactual number of prisoners held. The Russian side has said theChechens are holding 86 Russian prisoners, but the Chechens haveoffered only 15 Russian prisoners of war for exchange. Conversely,the Chechens has claimed that 1,438 Chechen citizens are missing,but the Russians have not come forth with any prisoner lists.

The Chechen list was compiled by the state service which hasbeen establisished to search for missing Chechen citizens frominformation provided by relatives of the missing. Hussein Khamidovheads this service. He is also the secretary of the Chechen workinggroup on the exchange of prisoners of war at the SNK ("armisticecontrol commission"). In a recent interview, Khamidov toldme: "Today the list of missing people consists of 1,438 people.We found the bodies of 57 of the people on the list. We cannotfind anything more concrete….Theoretically, the Russian sideshould provide a list of all citizens of the Chechen republicwhom they plan to exchange for Russian prisoners of war. So farthere have been no efforts made in this direction… Fifteen prisonersof war are ready for exchange. Everyone knows where they are andknows their living conditions. They are in the Chiri-Yurt village.The human rights organizations, the Red Cross, and journalistshave access to them. But there is no information about the citizensof the Chechen republic."

Khamidov admits that many, if not most, of the people on theChechen list probably died in the conflict. There are no accuratefigures on the number of Chechens killed. In Grozny alone 670unidentifiable bodies were exhumed from a mass grave. In everyvillage of Chechnya there are 10-100 new gravesites. "Weare very well aware of the fact that it is impossible to findall the people on the list provided by the Chechen side,"says Khamidov. "Even now they keep discovering parts of people’sbodies in the construction waste. But we feel that we’re beingmocked when, out of our entire list, [the Russians] can presentonly one person who is being held in the town of Chernyakhovsk. And it still isn’t clear how he got there."

The Chechen side claims it has allowed Russian search teams totravel freely in all regions controlled by Dudayev forces. Theycontrast their openness with the uncooperative attitude of theRussians. Apparently the Russians have provided a list not ofthose Chechens arrested in the course of the military action,but of those who are serving sentences in Russian prisons forcrimes committed before the start of the war. But the Chechenspoint out that no one is searching for these people, because theirrelatives already know where to find them.

Recently the Chechen search service received permission to visitRussian prisons and SIZO (pre-trial detention centers) to searchfor the missing.. But the Russians still refuse the Chechensaccess to the many temporary detaining sites (or "filtrationpoints") where prisoners were known to be held in inhumaneconditions.

Hussein Khamidov was held in one of the Russian detention pointsfor a day in August. While searching for missing Chechen soldiersin the Assinovskaya station area, Khamidov and a colleague werefired upon and then stopped by Russian soldiers. The soldiersignored the official documents which proved they had authorizationfor their mission. Instead the Russians "planted"a grenade in the Chechen’s car in order to have a rationale fordetaining them.

From this unfortunate experience Khamidov learned of the existenceof numerous temporary, make-shift Russian detention centers. He told me: "We talked to the commanders of the division,whotold us that detainees are in Grozny, Mozdok and so on. But itturns out that the people never got to Grozny or Mozdok. BetweenSamashki and Zakan-Yurt, next to the check point #15, where theykept us in a pit, there is this temporary custody point at thegas pumping station. I saw it, but I could not enter it. I cansay for sure that the detained were kept in pits located in thearea of the quarters of the regiments #503, 506, 224 and the brigade#166. We later visited these places repeatedly, but we were notallowed to enter the points. We sought help from General Kulikov,who at that time was the commander of the joint group of forces. Thanks to his intervention we were allowed to visit these points,accompanied by prosecutor Reiter. We were shown these pits andwe made them admit that people had really been kept in them: acommon pit, dug in the ground, covered by bars on top. A man cannotescape from it. They fixed up the pits for our visit: there wasa mattress and a pillow. But I visited the ‘official’ filtrationpoint in Grozny many times. There is not a single bed there, andthere has never been one; no pillows or mattresses, only barewalls, a bare floor and a hole with a radius of 10-15 centimetersinstead of a window. Between 15 and 20 people were kept in a cellonly 12-20 square meters in size."

The Russian military claims that the Chechens are withholdinginformation on prisoners as well. In fact, the human rights centerof the Russian "Memorial society" has drawn up a listof more than 400 Russian prisoners of war. But Aleksandr Cherkasov,one of those who worked on the list, believes that some of thesepeople are dead and others are already back home. Some Russiansjoined the Chechen side voluntarily. However Cherkasov thinksthe number of Russian military men being held prisoner is definitelymore than 15.

Even Issa Madayev, co-chairman of the working group on the exchangefor the Chechen side, does not have all of the facts about thenumber of Russians being detained. Madayev says that severalfield commanders are keeping secret the number of prisoners theyare holding so that they can exchange them either for ransom fromrelatives or for members of there own detachments who were capturedby the Russian side.

The original plan approved by the SNK was to to exchange15 Russian prisoners of war for 145 Chechens. With all of thecharges and counter charges and confusion on both sides, it doesnot appear that this exchange will be take place anytime soon.

The Weapons Game

In the area of the decomissioning of Chechen weaponry, theRussian-Chechen armistice agreement provisions have created atruly farcical situation.

During my visit to Chechnya I witnessed the confiscationof weapons in the Vedensky region. The agreement stipulates thethe Chechens are to be paid for their weapons. An automatic gunbrings the owner 850,000 rubles, a grenade launcher or a machinegun, a million rubles. A hunting rifle brings in between 50-150,000rubles. Without these payments, the Chechens would probably nothand over their guns. As one of the villagers told me, "weare not interested in giving away our weapons for nothing."

The arsenal collected in 7 of the 37 villages in the Vedenskyregion consisted of the following weapons: 6 portablemissile anti-aircraft complexes of the "Igla" and "Strela"types; 14 AKM automatic guns; 12 AK-74 [or 47 ?? – BA] automatic guns; 21 double-barreled guns; 11 single barreled guns; 2 machine guns; 3 flame throwers; 4 anti-tank guided missiles; a"Fagor" launcher; 131 grenade launchers, and a 73 millimeter"Grom" cannon.

But no one knows what percentage of the total arsenal this represents. Soupyan Baskhanov, head of the Vedensky region ROVD (the federalinterior troops) put it this way: "If I say that the villagershave no more weapons, it would be a lie. I do not believe thatthe Chechens will give up their arms voluntarily." In fact,many Chechens share the opinion of the Khattuni villager SoultanSidiyev, who thinks that in relations with Russia you should adhereto three principles: "1. Do not trust the Russians. 2. Donot trust the Russians at all. 3. Never trust the Russians."

The Russians cannot help but to notice that the confiscationof weapons has turned into a farce, because the Chechens arepresenting only old worthless weapons. But the Russian militaryhas no way to determine whether a settlement has turned over allof its weapons. The deputy commander of Russia’s MVD interiorforces, General-Mayor [Major General?? – BA] Pavel Maslov,told me: "We are racking our brains over these criteria.According to my information, at the beginning of the war the Chechenshad 65,000 barrels on their hands. We believe that 5,000were destroyed in the course of military actions. Therefore 60,000barrels remain in the hands of the population."

In fact, the armistice agreement did not stipulate that allweapons in the hands of the Chechens were to be confiscated. Theagreement provides for the creation of self-defense detachmentsin the Chechen settlements. Members of these detachments areallowed to arm themselves. This has created a truly bizarre sceneat the weapons collection points:

Members of these detachments turn in their weapons and receivepayment, and then the very same weapon is immediately re-issuedto the soldier for use in defending the village.

More importantly, these self-defense detachments are thevehicle through which Dudayev’s army is being recreated in Chechnya,according to the "opposition" — supporters of the Khadzhiyevgovernment , which was installed by Moscow to replace the Dudayevregime, and the Provisional Council.

"Russia, in fact, is arming with its own money the same’illegal armed formation’ which it has been trying to disarm sincelast December," I was told by a functionary in the Khadzhiyevgovernment who asked not to be named. The deputy minister of pressand information,Ismail Munayev, told me: "The negotiationsare nonsense. I cannot see any real negotiations. What is goingon is a conspiracy. For example: during the decommissioning ofarms in Zandak they redeemed from militia men 22 automaticguns, and returned to them, as self-defense soldiers, 25 automaticguns. It will lead to a new civil war. They are again imposingthe Dudayev regime upon us."

Rouslan Labazanov, the commander of the Chechen armed detachmentsopposed to Dudayev, echoes: "Dzhokhar is strengthening hispower by appointing in every village and town his commandants,by organizing armed groups of his supporters."

The Dudayev supporters, in turn, demand that the decommissioningof arms should apply to the opposition, too. This issue remainsopen.

Soupyan Baskhanov, the head of the Vedensky regionROVD, agrees. He thinks that the region is controlled notby either the federal forces or the Avturkhanov { IDENTIFY} and Khadzhiyev structures, but by these self-defense detachments.

There is evidence to support Baskhanov’s statement. You have only to leave Grozny to start doubting that Russia haswon the Chechen war. It is a different world outside of the capital. In the Achkhoi-Martan village there is the Dudayev flag wavingat the headquarters of the former voyenkomat (militarycommittee). The inscription on the facade says: "Militarycommandant’s office of the Chechen Ichkeria republic." Thevillage is guarded by the self-defense detachment. [Question:Is it the military committee which is "former" or theheadquarters which is "former"? I assume it is thelatter, because if the military committee is no longer exists,then why would there be a military commandant? Or is Merzhoyevcommandant of the self-defense detachment? – BA ].

The military commandant of the Achkhoi-Martanovsky region,Vakha Merzhoyev, who was appointed by Dzhokhar Dudayev, personifiesthe power of the Ichkeria republic.

In addition to the self-defense detachment, which was organizedby Dudayev supporters, there is a

Chechen police unit in the region which is formally submittedto the Russian MVD. According to the commandant, these structuresco-exist normally.

The self-defense detachment controls entry to and exit fromthe village, and public order inside it. One of its functionsis to prevent the spread of weapons, drugs, and alcohol amongthe population. If military actions are resumed, the detachmentwill defend the village.

Nevertheless, the position of the commandant himselfremains unclear. In mid-August he had to go to the federalforces headquarters for a pass, which would permit him to travelfreely in the region via Russian check points. On August 15 duringthe whole day he tried to contact the military by radio, in theevening Colonel Kravchuk called him and invited the commandantto the headquarters: "Your pass is ready." On August16 Vakha Merzhoyev arrived at the headquarters, where his twocompanions and he were arrested and beaten up. Merzhoyev claimsthat they were blindfolded and kept the whole day in the avtozak(prison on wheels) at the command point ( the so-called "Kulikovofield") near the Assinovskaya station. On August 17, whenthe OSCE representatives arrived, the Russians released them.

But this was not the most serious post-armistice harrassmentperpetrated by the Russian military in the region. On August19, when the decommissioning of arms began in Achkhoi-Martan,the Russian soldiers opened fire at the village, killing two boysof ages 11 and 13. The military informed the media that the childrenhad been killed by an exploding mine.

Although Vakha Merzhoyev has now received his pass, he usesgreat caution when traveling around the region, wary of a repetitionof the August incident. The commandant of the Achkhoi-Martanovskyregion told me that practically every night the federal forcesopen artillery fire and fire "Grad" launchers at theBamout, Stary Achkhoi and Orekhovo villages, which is a violationof the moratorium on military actions. He does not deny that thereare armed detachments in these villages. But he emphasizes thatsince the armistice agreements were signed, the Chechens in hisregion have not fired a single shot.

The village of Samashki is also fully controlled by theDudayev supporters. The commandant of the village, Khazir Khasanov,and the commander of the commandant’s platoon Slaoutdi Abdullayev, exercise total power and control in the village. Every day inthe center of the village, near the Palace of Culture, the villagershold a rally at which they demand the withdrawal of Russian troops. And according to Slaoutdi Abdullayev, Muslim practices are beingimplemented. For example, it is against the law in Samashkito sell alcohol, which is consistent with the laws of the Sharia(?? Islamic law – please check). "We introduce allthe laws gradually, beginning with the least, " says Abhullayev.

uring the punitive action in Samashki the Abdullayev’shouse, like many others, was burned down and on the gates whichescaped damage, they wrote: "A paramilitary man lived here."Now he has big doubts about the agreement:

We agreed to decommission weapons only because our commandersordered us to do so: Dudayev, Maskhadov, Basayev. They say thatwe should observe the agreement, and they sent their people toimplement it. We will, certainly, decommission our arms if weare ordered to do so, but I personally think that there is everyreason to hold it back. Because the Russian troops may startover, why would I fight against them with two hand grenades theway I did on January 31, when the tanks fired at the village.Decommissioning of weapons is possible in the case, if all thetroops are withdrawn. But we trust our commanders unconditionally."

The Samashki commandant Khazir Khasanov said that about100 of the so-called paramilitary had recently returned to thevillage to visit the graves of their relatives, and then theywent back to the mountains: "Our dream is that they willcome back here for good."

Not only the rank and file "paramilitary" returnto visit their homes, but also the commanders, including thosefor whom the Russian intelligence services should be searching.For example, Shamil Basayev’s deputy Aslambek Abdoulkhadzhiyevreturned to visit Shali [see interview with Abdoulkhadzhiyev inthis issue of Prism]. He continues to perform his dutiesas the Shali region commandant. In Grozny, no one is surprised to see armed men in cars flying green flags, indicating theyare Dudayev supporters, rushing along the streets of the town.

Gradually, without a single shot, the Chechens are regainingcontrol over their villages. The Dudayev supporters burst outlaughing when they hear Salambek Khadzhiyev, the head of the governmentof national renewal, say that he controls 90 percent of the Chechenterritory. In fact, the Khadzhiyev government and the federalauthorities bodies have full control only over Grozny in the daytime.At night their power does not extend beyond the territory of Russiantroops quarters, check points and commandant’s offices.

Marina Perevozkina is a freelance journalist in Moscow.