The trial in a military court in Rostov-on-Don of Colonel Yury Budanov, accused of having strangled a young Chechen woman, 18-year-old El’za Kungaeva, in March of 2000, has been slowly dragging on since February 28. On Friday, June 22, Budanov finally took the stand to present his version of events. As the online daily Gazeta.ru reported on June 26, “Instead of questioning the defendant about the details of the offense of which he stands accused, he was allowed [by his lawyers] to speak freely. And Budanov… began talking of the heroic feats of his tank regiment in combat, about the situation in the army in general, and about how journalists report the war, and how it is that the rebels are better armed and equipped than the federal troops.” Budanov noted that his regiment had advanced across half of Chechnya to the settlement of Dubai-Yurt without losing a single man, and that it was only there that many Russian officers were suddenly being killed by a single skilled rebel sniper (the intimation being that Kungaeva was that sniper). Budanov admitted that several hours prior to the murder he had been drinking vodka to celebrate his daughter’s birthday but said he had merely consumed “his usual 200 to 300 grams.”
On Monday, June 25, following the weekend recess, the court’s judges unexpectedly agreed to a request from Budanov’s lawyers that the proceedings be closed, “and subsequently all reporters were asked to leave the courtroom.” Henceforth journalists were only able to obtain information from Budanov’s lawyers or from the Kungaev family lawyers. Most of the information that subsequently appeared in the press seemed to come from the Budanov’s defense team, ensuring that a balanced assessment of the trial was lost. On June 26, Roza Bashaeva, the victim’s mother, became seriously ill as Budanov was relating the details of how he had killed her daughter. According to a family spokesman, Stanislav Dmitrievsky: “For an entire hour, the medics did not offer [Bashaeva] any assistance, and then they advised her to get out of Rostov” (NTV.ru, 26 June; Lenta.ru, June 27).