Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 12


From the beginning of January through mid-March at least sixty-three Chechen civilians have been kidnapped, according to the Moscow-based human rights center Memorial. Of that total, twenty-six have since been released and two have been found dead. The fate of another thirty-five remains unknown, according to a March 19 Nezavisimaya gazeta article based on interviews with Dmitry Grushkin and Oleg Orlov of Memorial. Orlov said that he could confirm reports from other sources that Magomed Khambiev, minister of defense in the underground Maskhadov government, was forced to surrender to the Kadyrov administration because relatives of his had been kidnapped to be held as hostages.


The father of the Chechen terrorist Movsar Baraev, ostensible leader of the band which seized Moscow’s Dubrovka theater in the fall of 2002, has added yet one more to the many unanswered questions about that episode. In an interview from his home in Baku, carried by the Chechenpress website on March 23, Bukhari Baraev said “I know for certain that some of the guerrillas, including most of our women, returned to Chechnya alive and healthy and told in detail about what happened…” The Russian authorities, of course, have claimed for the last year and a half that all the hostage-takers were killed–and yet they have not released their bodies.


Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), the international charitable organization, escalated its charges against Russia’s authorities last week by citing what it said was additional evidence that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was linked to the kidnapping of an MSF employee in Dagestan in the summer of 2002 (see Chechnya Weekly, March 17). On March 18, Agence France-Presse quoted Thomas Nierle of MSF as saying that Arjan Erkel’s cell phone was used to call FSB officials after Erkel’s abduction. MSF had received phone bills documenting the calls, Nierle said: “We passed them onto the authorities, but instead of investigating they cut off the line.”


Eight pro-Moscow servicemen–five soldiers and three police–were killed in gunfights with rebel guerrillas during a twenty-four-hour period ending on March 20, an unnamed official told the Associated Press. At least 180 people were said to have been detained in security sweeps on March 19.


While hundreds of thousands of Chechens live without heating or other basic utilities, the Kadyrov administration is planning a grandiose building project that would seem to have little practical purpose other than to be a showpiece for the ruler’s ego. According to a March 22 article in Nezavisimaya gazeta, Grozny’s chief architect has announced plans to build skyscrapers in the heart Grozny. Downtown land has already been set aside for that purpose.