Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 115

Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the Budennovsk tragedy, and the event was marked in both the Chechen capital of Djohar and in Stavropol krai, where the town of Budennovsk is located. On June 14, 1995, a unit led by Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev occupied a hospital in Budennovsk, taking hostages from among the patients. Some 200 people died in the ensuing battle between Basaev’s fighters and federal troops. While in Budennovsk the anniversary was marked by mourning for the deceased, in Djohar a soccer match was held, in which participants of the 1995 raid participated. The winning team won a flame thrower (NTV, RTR, June 14).

Basaev’s attack on Budennovsk was the first large-scale hostage taking in North Caucasus, and his demands were political: an end to Russia’s military actions in Chechnya and the start of negotiations. Following the end of the war, however, hostages began to be taken not to achieve political goals, but for ransom. As a result of hostage taking and the theft of livestock, the Nogaisk Plain in Dagestan has become virtually depopulated. Further, while during the war hostages and prisoners in Chechnya were generally treated humanely, today they are not. One Russian soldier freed from captivity in Chechnya says that he saw a comrade in arms have his throat cut and his body chopped into pieces. He himself was warned that he would suffer the same fate if he tried to escape again. Kidnappers have reportedly sent Russian Interior Ministry videocassettes of captives being subjected to sexual assaults (NTV, June 10; Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 11).

It is doubtful that the taking of hostages will end any time soon. It has become one of the most profitable businesses in Chechnya: the ransom for a VIP hostage can amount to several million dollars. As one account noted, the Russian Interior Ministry’s constant announcements that it has freed this or that hostage is greeted skeptically by informed observers. Nearly all hostages who are freed are ransomed, though the paying of the ransom is sometimes a complex affair. For instance, Valentin Vlasov, President Boris Yeltsin’s representative in Chechnya, was freed in Dagestan only after the relatives of a number of arrested wealthy people were told that freeing their arrested family members was contingent on their coming up with the ransom for Vlasov (Izvestia, June 10).