Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 16

Chechen war winds down but claims new victims

Three events dominated the week just past: the announcement bythe Cuny family that Fred Cuny had been killed in Chechnya; thebeginnings of the implementation of the Chechen-Russian accordson the disarming of Chechen formations and the withdrawal of Russianones; and intensified Russian diplomatic activity concerning thefuture of international community action in the former Yugoslavia.


Since April 9 when American aid specialist Fred Cuny disappearedin Chechnya, his family and friends have tried to learn his fate,hoping for the best but fearing the worst. This week, the Cunyfamily announced in Moscow that Fred Cuny had been killed threemonths ago. According to the family, a Chechen unit killed him– but only after being convinced by Russian intelligence operativesthat Cuny was an anti-Islamic Western spy. What finally led thefamily to concede defeat were renewed Russian official suggestionsthis week that Fred Cuny was a Western agent. In their statement(reproduced below), the family made it clear that they laid theblame for Fred Cuny’s death on the Russian government, and theycalled on the international community to pressure Moscow to makea full accounting of what happened, something the Russian authoritieshave failed to do. Not unexpectedly, Russian coverage of the Cunypress conference stressed the fact that the Cunys had concludedthe Chechens had done the deed and did not report the family’scomments about Russian responsibility. More troubling, initialWestern media coverage has followed much the same line. Meanwhile,yet another American photojournalist has disappeared in Chechnya,and as in the Cuny case, the Russian authorities have been lessthan candid or helpful about the man and his fate.


The situation in Chechnya continued to improve. After severalfalse starts and threats by both Russian prime minister ViktorChernomyrdin and President Boris Yeltsin to use force if the Chechensdid not comply, the Chechens began to turn over their arms asrequired by the July 30 agreement, and Russian commanders pulledat least some of their units out of highland regions of the Chechenrepublic. Negotiations over political questions continued to bestuck on the question of the future status of Chechnya. Russiancommanders, under pressure from the Soldiers’ Mothers Organization,have demanded a fuller accounting of the fate of Russians thoughtto be held by the Chechens. Meanwhile, commentators in Moscowsuggested that more fighting was ahead, but indicated that Yeltsinand Chernomyrdin would do everything they could to avoid havingthe war resume on a broad scale–at least before the DecemberDuma elections.


And Moscow continued its diplomatic offensive on Yugoslavia,threatening to violate international sanctions on Belgrade unilaterallyand denouncing actions by both Croatia and Albania. The new vigorin Russian statements on these questions reflect not only a Russianjudgment about the West–this week Moscow indicated that it hopedto reach an accord with the US rather than the Europeans on theseissues–but also domestic Russian pressure to stand up for theSerbs. Russian media gave prominent coverage to calls by RussianOrthodox churchmen for a lifting of sanctions on Belgrade, toRussian aid being sent to Belgrade by truck, and to Russians whoare now caring for Serbian children injured or orphaned in thefighting. This new nationalism, or better pan-nationalism, hasforced even moderate Russian politicians to take a more "patriotic"line, one that is likely to be increasingly in evidence in Russiaregardless of what happens in Bosnia.


Other developments of import included:

–Under American pressure, Turkey has agreed to seek agreementwith Russia on pipeline routes for Azerbaijani and Kazakh oiltraveling to the West. While this latest initiative is unlikelyto bring a breakthrough soon, it may mean that Moscow and Ankara,as well as the international oil companies, will begin to talkabout the creation of multiple routes for the export of oil. Indeed,officials in the Caucasus and Central Asia have concluded thatunless there are multiple routes, the losers in this enterprisewill have every incentive to blow up the pipelines owned, butnot effectively controlled, by the winners.

–The Tajik government and opposition agreed to a six month extensionof their shaky truce, but the agreement–signed by the two sidesin separate cities–may soon collapse. Russian commanders in Tajikistansaid this week that Tajik opposition forces were increasing theiractivity along the Afghan border and in Tajikistan’s Badakhshanregion. Meanwhile, Russian diplomats sought the return of severalRussian pilots who were captured by the Afghan opposition.

–NATO’s Partnership for Peace program continued with a vengeancethis week, with joint maneuvers taking place or announced in theBaltic states, the Caucasus, and Ukraine. In contrast to earlierMoscow reaction to such maneuvers, Russian commentaries this pastweek were relatively restrained. Apparently, Moscow has decidedthat PFP is not a real threat. Moreover, Moscow is a participantas well. Its soldiers–including some who fought in Chechnya–willbe participating in joint PFP maneuvers with American soldierslater this month.

–Moscow’s efforts to increase its collection of taxes aredriving even more businesses into the hands of organized crime.In some cases and despite Russian government claims to the contrary,firms now owe more than 100 percent of their total incomes tothe government. The efforts by such firms to avoid taxes makesthem easy prey for criminals, who now exert a major influenceon more than half of Russian firms. As a result, the Russian businessscene is now almost as violent as the criminal world, officialssaid last week. And the Russian government has committed onlyone of every 160 policemen in the capital to fighting this plague.

–Falling standards of living and the increasing failure of firmsto pay their workers are driving many Russians into apathy–pollsshow that few Russians care about the elections that the mediais spending so much time on–and others into strikes. Moscow wasable to convince some coal miners to go back to work this weekby promising to arrange for the payment of their back wages, butthe fact that only a strike forced Moscow to act — and the coverageof that fact on Russian radio and television–may lead more workersto decide that strikes are the way to go.