One of the few Russian officers serving in Chechnya to have been charged with a serious crime is Colonel Yury Budanov, former commander of the 160th Tank Regiment, who was arrested at the end of March 2000 for allegedly having raped and then strangled an 18-year-old Chechen woman, El’za Kungaeva, following a “mopping up” operation conducted in the village of Tangy-Chu on March 27. Several Russian media recently devoted articles to the state of the judicial investigation into Budanov’s alleged crimes.
It has now been determined that Budanov did not in fact rape Kungaeva, the media report. A medical examination of her body revealed that her corpse had been obscenely violated by one of the three Russian soldiers whom Budanov had ordered to get rid of the evidence of his crime, and this despicable act had originally misled investigators into believing that the young woman had been raped. The three soldiers who carried out Budanov’s orders, incidentally, have already been granted full amnesty by the Russian State Duma.
Budanov willingly admits that he strangled Kungaeva but claims that he had evidence that she was a Chechen “female sniper” who had killed several of his men. After Kungaeva had been seized, “he [Budanov] tried to beat out of her an admission that she had been a sniper and had killed several of his soldiers. During the beating, Kungaeva struck back at Budanov and scratched his face. In a moment of rage, the colonel then strangled the Chechen woman” (Kommersant, February 7). Budanov recently commented in an interview: “I regret very much what happened. I did not want to strangle that girl. But I want to underline that she was not simply a girl. She was a sniper, an enemy, who had taken the life of more than one of my officers” (SMI.ru, February 7).
An article highly sympathetic to Budanov, “one of the best officers of the federal forces,” appeared in the online daily SMI.ru on February 7. It was noted that Budanov had become a “living symbol” for many in the Russian military, and that not a few believed that Budanov had been “set up,” perhaps for his close friendship with retired General Shamanov, recently elected the governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast. A journalist who writes for Izvestia, Evgeny Krutikov, declared: “Budanov acted not according to the logic of the Geneva Conventions but according to the logic of a civil war, which the present campaign in Chechnya essentially is. During a civil war, at the front, the logic of revenge always supplants the law.”
What will be the future fate of Budanov? It has not yet been announced whether his trial will be open to the public or closed. If convicted, Budanov could receive a sentence of up to twenty years in prison. Gazeta.ru, however, believes that it is “already clear” that “in view of his services”–Budanov is a decorated war hero–the colonel will almost certainly receive a minimal sentence and will then be set free “during the next amnesty” (Gazeta.ru, February 6).