A protest against the activities of the Vostok battalion of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) was held in front of the battalion’s base near the village of Druzhba in Chechnya’s Gudermes district on June 12. According to Kavkazky Uzel, the demonstrators, numbering from 600 to 1000, held up photographs of relatives they claim were abducted by Vostok members along with signs reading, among other things, “Yamadaevs – return our sons!”, “Yamadaevs – murderers of our sons!” and “Yamadaevs – enemies of the Chechen people!” The Vostok battalion, which is commanded by Sulim Yamadaev, has been locked in a power struggle with forces loyal to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov following a confrontation this past April that reportedly culminated in a shootout. Kadyrov has since accused the battalion and its leaders of criminal activities and declared that it will be disbanded (Chechnya Weekly, April 17 and 24; May 1, 8, 16, 22 and 29; June 5). “Several days ago, in the area of the village of Druzhba, a mass grave with victims of extra-judicial killings was discovered,” Aslambek Apaev, chairman of the Committee to Protect the Rights and Freedoms of Citizens and a North Caucasus expert for the Moscow Helsinki Group, told Kavkazky Uzel. “No one has any doubts that these murders were committed by ‘yamadaevtsy’, since the remains were buried near the battalion’s base. Besides, the place where the bodies were buried was learned about from one of the former ‘yamadaevtsy’. As far as I know, the former Vostok servicemen who left the battalion told of several places where the bodies of people they killed were buried, not only in Gudermes district, but also in Vedeno district.”
The website quoted Madina Yusupova, a 40-year-old resident of Chechnya who was at the protest, as saying: “I myself live in Gudermes and in the winter of 2003, my nephew was abducted. His mother and I searched for him for a long time, appealed to various structures, but we did not manage to find him.” She claimed that she was approached by people who said her nephew was being held by Vostok battalion members and could be freed if a $5,000 ransom were paid, but that these middlemen then disappeared. “Many women standing in front of the Vostok base cried and cursed these monsters,” she said of her fellow demonstrators. “And when we left, we left all of the signs on which was written ‘Yamadaevs – Murderers’ on the ground in front of the base’s entrance. Let them now how their own people hate them.” She noted that Magomed Khanbiev, the formal rebel commander who is now a deputy in Chechnya’s parliament, also attended the protest outside the Vostok battalion’s base.
Kavkazky Uzel interviewed by telephone a Vostok battalion serviceman who called the demonstration a “cheap performance.” “Who brought that crowd of people here, gave them placards and signs?”, he said. “One of the former top ‘satans’, Magomed Khanbiev, was running the whole thing. Earlier he was ‘minister of defense of Ichkeria’, and now he’s gone over to Ramzan Kadyrov and is portraying himself as a normal person.” The Vostok serviceman told Kavkazky Uzel that he thought the demonstration outside the Vostok base was a response to the recent statement made by General Vladimir Shamanov, who heads the Russian Armed Forces’ Main Directorate for Combat Training and Service, who said that the Vostok battalion will not be disbanded. “This has hurt them more than anything,” he said. “Ramzan said that we will be broken up, and here you see everything is to the contrary. Therefore they are trying to make us out to be criminals.” (See Andrei Smirnov’s article in this issue.)