Russian and local authorities have been confronted with another refugee problem in the North Caucasus. On July 15 the residents of the Chechen village of Borozdinovskaya moved to Dagestan and set up a refugee camp there for the second time this summer.
Late last month the Borozdinovskya crisis, caused when federal forces brutally swept through the village on June 4 (see EDM, June 30), seemed to be settled. Ramzan Kadyrov, the first deputy prime minister of the Chechen government, was appointed head of the Commission to Resolve the Situation around Borozdinovskaya. On June 29 Kadyrov met with a delegation headed by Saygid Murtuzaliev, an opposition leader from the parliament of Dagestan.
Acting on behalf of the Borozdinovskaya refugees, Murtuzaliev sought to learn the whereabouts of 11 men detained by the federal agents during their sweep of Borozdinovskaya. But instead of discussing the missing persons, Kadyrov offered 200,000 rubles in compensation to each affected family (Ekho Moskvy, July 13). Murtuzaliev and other members of the delegation accepted the money, and within two days all of the refugees returned to Borozdinovskaya. In addition to the financial aid, the Chechen authorities promised to build a natural gas pipeline and even install running water in the village. To improve security, policemen from Dagestan created a new police department, two checkpoints were set up, and a unit of kadyrovtsy, Kadyrov’s personal guard, was dispatched to the village (gazeta.ru, July 25).
The illusion of normality did not last long. The authorities soon clarified that payments would only go to those families whose houses were burned by soldiers during the sweep. Furthermore, residents of the village complained to gazeta.ru that masked bandits had attacked local police facilities at night (gazeta.ru, July 25).
The fate of the 11 detainees remains unknown. The authorities cannot provide a clear answer and instead blame the rebels. On July 14, federal authorities reported finding an arms cache near the village of Azamat-Urt in northern Chechnya. Ten sets of army uniforms with “military intelligence” insignia were discovered along with the weapons (NTV, July 14). The federal authorities implied that the rebels could have used these uniforms to raid Borozdinovskaya and discredit the “Vostok” Russian military intelligence battalion, which the locals blame for the sweep.
The weapons discovery came just as the residents of Borozdinovskaya began to lose their patience while waiting for the news about the 11 men. On July 15, Chechen President Alu Alkhanov announced that one of the gunmen involved in the raid on the village had been arrested (RIA-Novosti, July 15). This information made no impression on the residents of Borozdinovskaya, who want news about their missing neighbors. Now the villagers began to question the sincerity of the investigation.
Around the same time, Edi Isaev, Alkhanov’s envoy in Moscow, announced that the 11 men from Borozdinovskya were alive and would be soon back home (Interfax, July 13). The Chechen Ministry of Interior Affairs immediately disputed this statement, and Isaev backpedaled, saying he only hoped that the men would be found (grani.ru, July 15). The authorities found themselves in a very difficult position. As a Chechen human rights activist told Jamestown, “The problem is that it is unlikely that those men are still alive. The Borozdinovskya case has become too noisy, so if they had not been killed, they would have already been home.”
New information leaked from the Chechen police has further damaged the federal authorities credibility. The Russian human rights organization “Committee Against Torture” has distributed to the media a police report from the Shelkovsky district of Chechnya, where Borozdinovskaya is located. Addressed to the Chechen Ministry of Interior Affairs, the report states the “Vostok” battalion conducted the Borozdinovskaya mopping up operation (gazeta.ru, July 25).
This leak forced security officials to confirm what had been common knowledge from the very beginning of the crisis. Nikolai Shepel, the Russian deputy prosecutor-general, announced that Vostok’s involvement was the main focus of the investigation (Interfax, July 22). Yet his statement does not mean that federal officials would take responsibility for the disappearance of the 11 men. On July 28, Vostok commander Sulim Yamadaev finally admitted that his men had conducted the sweep of the village. However, he called this operation “an unauthorized action by his subordinates,” and he again denied that the unit was responsible for murdering civilians or burning houses in Borozdinovskaya (Interfax, July 28). According to Yamadaev, his soldiers came to the village to find and detain the killer of a battalion member’s father, who was murdered one day before the sweep. “They were asking civilians, trying to get information about the bandit’s whereabouts,” Yamadaev said.
Despite the statements from Shepel and Yamadaev, there still is no answer to the main question: Who detained the 11 men? Clearly, the authorities are playing for time.
Today (July 28) Maxim Toporikov, the military prosecutor of the Russian forces in Chechnya, announced that the commander of a Vostok unit had been arrested in connection with the unauthorized searches and detentions in Borozdinovskaya. The prosecutor said that the investigation would seek to determine whether the Vostok battalion or rebel gunmen are responsible for the disappearance of the 11 men (Interfax, July 28). Toporikov had no new information about the fate of the men.
Meanwhile, more and more Borozdinovskaya residents are leaving for Dagestan. Today there are up to 600 refugees in a camp near the Chechen border (regnum.ru, July 27). The people are waiting for the promised compensation, and they are waiting for any information about their missing relatives. They keep asking questions, but the authorities have found no easy answers.