Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 20

There is mounting evidence that Russian forces in Chechnya increasingly find themselves at war with young Chechen adolescents. In an interview in the July 1 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a former high-ranking Russian official, Ivan Rybkin, sought to explain what had induced him to publish an open letter to President Putin in the June 28 issue of Kommersant urging that Russia negotiate an end to the Chechen conflict. “I was literally shaken,” Rybkin confided, “by the subjects which were broadcast on all [Russian television] channels four days ago. A general was reporting briskly on the destruction of a detachment of rebels and, as if becoming embarrassed, the general said: ‘The only thing that strikes one (and here he pointed to the bodies lying on the ground) is that these are [Chechen] boys aged 15-16, whole detachments of them.’ But that,” Rybkin continued, “did not ‘strike’ me, it shook me! During the time of this confrontation there have grown up children who have turned into original pioneer-heroes. These lads who are just beginning life do not know how to do anything but fire an automatic weapon and to kill. And they are often opposed by [Russian] boys only a bit older.” It was a viewing of the corpses of these young Chechen boys on television that had prompted Rybkin to speak out.

In the July 2 issue of Moskovskie Novosti, journalist Vadim Rechkalov, citing sources in Russian military intelligence, wrote: “Among the [separatist] saboteurs there are more and more youth, often 18-25 years of age, and even younger.” Boris Okhtinsky, a psychologist from Petersburg, who is now a colonel at Russian military headquarters in Chechnya, noted: “In the [separatist] bands there are more and more youths, ages 14-16. They place the mines; they fire at the checkpoints. An adolescent does not even understand what he is being killed for.” “What,” Rechkalov then asked Colonel Okhtinsky, “should one do about children who have never seen anything but war?” “I think,” Okhtinsky replied coldly, “that we will have to create youth labor camps, put them there so they can learn at least something about civilized forms of existence.”