Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 32

Another source of controversy last week was the Russian Defense Ministry’s official statistics for the number of servicemen killed in Chechnya. RIA Novosti reported on August 10 that according to statistics posted on the ministry’s website, 3,549 servicemen had been killed since 1999 while serving in Chechnya and 32 servicemen had been listed as missing. According to the Associated Press, the ministry said 14 troops had died in Chechnya in July alone, 12 of them in combat.

Valentina Melnikova, executive secretary of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia, told Ekho Moskvy on August 10 that the official estimate of the number of servicemen killed in Chechnya since 1999 was far too low. “Maybe it refers only to those killed in action,” she told the radio station. “When we speak of 14,000 killed during the [second] Chechen war, we also mean those who died later in hospital from their injuries, and also those who died after demobilization, particularly among conscript soldiers – everyone who died owing the fact that they fought in Chechnya and lost their health there.” She also said that “many more” servicemen are missing than officially estimated and that “many more…died in captivity, even in the second war.” “The fact is that the boys who go missing in Chechnya are listed as going AWOL or as deserters,” she said. “Unfortunately this reprehensible practice continues to this day.” Still, Melnikova, welcomed the fact that the Defense Ministry has started publishing figures on losses in Chechnya.

For his part, Novaya gazeta military correspondent Vyacheslav Izmailov said that the official figure of 3,459 Russian servicemen killed in Chechnya since 1999 includes only Defense Ministry servicemen, and not those of the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service (which now includes Russia’s border guards), the Emergency Situations Ministry (MChS) or prison personnel (who are part of the Justice Ministry). He also noted that hundreds of Chechen police have been killed, that insurgents and criminals have killed hundreds of police and Internal Troops in Dagestan, and that a large number of law-enforcement and security personnel were killed in the June 2004 insurgent attack in Ingushetia. Izmailov noted that the Defense Ministry also failed to count the military and security personnel killed fighting rebels led by Shamil Basaev and Khattab during their August-September 1999 incursion in Dagestan: these, according to Izmailov, number up to 500, half of them Defense Ministry forces.

Like Melnikova, Izmailov noted that the Defense Ministry statistics also left out those servicemen who died in the hospital or at home from wounds sustained in Chechnya. These, he wrote, number in the “hundreds.” And, again echoing Melnikova, Izmailov said he personally knew of many servicemen listed as AWOL who in fact were taken prisoner, and that many of these captives were killed. “Taking all of this into consideration, the real number of irretrievable losses of Defense Ministry servicemen in the second Chechen campaign exceeds 4,500 people; of Internal Troops servicemen, more than 1,600 people; of police (including those killed in Dagestan and Ingushetia), more than 1,000 people. As for the remaining power structures (border guards, servicemen of the FSB, MChS, the Justice Ministry’s penal jurisdiction department) – more than 500 people. The total number of people in uniform killed in the second Chechen campaign – more than 7,700 people.”

Izmailov also completely dismissed the official statistic of 32 missing servicemen, noting that a year and a half ago, the presidential commission on prisoners of war, internees and disappeared listed 832 servicemen as missing – 590 from Defense Ministry units, 236 from the Interior Ministry and six from other power structures. Little has been done to find them, Izmailov wrote.