Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 134

Colonel Yury Budanov, the Russian tank commander on trial in Rostov-on-Don for murdering a young Chechen woman, Elza Kungaeva, has been moved to Moscow, where he will undergo testing at the Serbsky psychiatric hospital. This third round of such testing was ordered because psychiatrists who had previously examined Budanov were unable to answer whether he was of sound mind when he kidnapped and murdered Kungaeva. The court also wants to determine whether Budanov is fit for military service. This latter determination is crucial, given that, according to Russian law, a servicemen charged with a crime cannot be punished if he was unfit for military service for health reasons at the moment he committed the crime. Along with murder, Budanov has been charged with exceeding his authority by detaining Kungaeva and by beating another officer Roman Bagreev. Those charges could be dropped if military doctors find that he is not fit for military service–a fully possible outcome given that Budanov received four contusions and suffers from an organic head disorder (Russian agencies, July 9; Kommersant, July 10).

The issue of veterans of the Chechen military campaign could become one of Russian society’s most serious problems. It is possible to say that a very significant percentage of the servicemen who have served in Chechnya exhibit serious deviations from accepted psychological and moral norms. Indeed, the Russian authorities’ promises to investigate the large-scale “cleansing” operations in western Chechnya are in one sense pointless, given that a significant number of Russian servicemen believe that all Chechens deserve to die. In private conversations with the Monitor’s correspondent, many Russian servicemen said that all Chechens, regardless of their age, were enemies and therefore deserved to be killed. It is also important to note that the military in Chechnya views not only Chechens with such hatred, but as well all civilians located in the conflict zone. In January 1996, when Russian forces recaptured the village of Pervomaiskoye from forces led by rebel warlord Salman Raduev, Russian troops openly admitted to reporters that they had shot everyone they saw, regardless of whether they were Chechen fighters or hostages (see the Monitor, July 9, 12). During the first Chechen military campaign, many Russian servicemen told the Monitor’s correspondent that they did not feel any pangs of conscience over the possibility that Russian shells were killing ethnic Russian who remained in Chechnya, given that, in their view, “real Russians live in Russia” (meaning the ethnic Russian regions of the Russian Federation).

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has sharply criticized Russia for human rights violations in Chechnya and called on leaders of the international community to pressure President Vladimir Putin into bringing such abuses to an end. The council’s chairman, Lord Russell-Johnston, said in a statement that the human rights situation in Chechnya had deteriorated sharply over the last week and accused the Russian authorities of showing no interest in investigating crimes committed by its forces in Chechnya. Russia, the statement added, was seriously violating its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and a country that has signed international conventions (Radio Liberty, July 12).