Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 68

In his interview yesterday with German and Russian media, President Vladimir Putin also sought, as he has done in the past, to portray Russia’s military operation in Chechnya as part of the overall fight against international terrorism. “We must understand that we are dealing with terrorism and there, in Chechnya, the problem of separatism and the problem of terrorism are intertwined practically into one ball, [and that] it is already impossible to separate them,” Putin said. The Russian president repeated the Kremlin’s claim that the rebel fighters in Chechnya “receive money from the same financial centers that supply al-Qaida, are trained in the same training centers, and are [then] thrown at us, on the territory of the Caucasus.” The fact that Russia cannot effectively confront these problems alone accounts for its “active position [in] the antiterrorist coalition,” Putin added.

Acknowledging criticism of alleged human rights abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya, the head of state said: “We regard with respect all of our partners who express concern in connection with… actions by Russia, including in the Caucasus. One should never brush criticism aside. It is always possible and necessary to correct one’s own actions, and one’s own position and policy” (Lenta.ru, April 8; NTVru.com, April 7). The Russian human rights group Memorial recently claimed that more than 2,000 people have disappeared in Chechnya, most of them as a result of antiguerrilla sweeps carried out by Russian forces, since the start of the current military campaign there in September 1999 (Kommersant, April 4). The commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, recently signed an order specifying new rules for such operations that are intended to make the forces carrying them out more accountable and therefore less likely to commit human rights abuses (see the Monitor, April 1).

Meanwhile, a harrowing account of alleged rapes, beating, torture and extortion by Russian forces during a security operation in the Chechen village of Starye Atagi this past January, written by Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya, was published yesterday (April 7) in Britain’s The Observer. In the article, which was originally published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s Caucasus Service, Politkovskaya reported that a few days after the Russian military operation in Starye Atagi ended on February 5, “other looters arrived, also wearing camouflage and black masks. These were members of one of the Wahhabi units, who were demanding ‘money for jihad.’ Like the Russian soldiers, they wanted money from young men, or would take them by force” (Observer, April 7).