Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 115

Russia’s defense and internal affairs ministries, Federal Security Service, North Caucasus military district headquarters, and the joint command of Russian forces in Chechnya are all cited by the October 17 Izvestiya as resolutely disclaiming any knowledge of the October 14 air attacks on Dargo and Belgatoi villages in southern Chechnya. The bombing and strafing left at least 17 dead and 23 wounded, according to Chechen presidential spokesman Movladi Udugov. The disclaimers were strongly reminiscent of similar statements during last winter’s bombardment of Grozny

Russia’s Military Prosecutor’s Office announced October 17 that it has begun a preliminary investigation into the October 8 air strikes on Roshni-Chu village, which killed between 20 and 30 people. The step was taken only after Izvestiya’s correspondent Igor Rotar and OSCE envoy Sandor Meszaros, in that order, visited the village and verified the destruction. Russian military officials continue denying in unison that Russian planes were responsible. But Russian Security Council deputy secretary Vladimir Rubanov, in Grozny with his immediate superior Oleg Lobov at the time and later, had called for an investigation and conceded that the incident "looks very much like a war crime." (4)

The joint armistice monitoring commission met again October 17 but only to consider moving the Chechen political and military delegations to a new residence, outside Grozny. The Russian military command has demanded the move on the grounds that the situation in Grozny is too tense; but the Chechen side resists the move. The real reason behind the demand is probably an attempt to reduce the Dudayev delegates’ political visibility in the capital. The commission will continue to debate the matter, thus ensuring a minimal degree of continuity in its work. Lobov has welcomed this modest achievement and credited the Chechen side for its willingness to continue negotiations. (5)

Two little noted statements suggest that at the highest levels both sides may be inclining toward political accommodation. Interviewed in the weekly Moskovskie novosti, commander Shamil Basayev, who led the Budennovsk terrorist raid which resulted in at least 100 killed by both Russian and Chechen combatants, said: "If Russia respects our interests, why can’t we coexist? There is much talk today about a unified geopolitical and economic space. Very well. We could provide two special force brigades for the unified defense space. This suits our interests." The precondition would of course be the withdrawal of Russian troops, followed by free elections. Interviewed elsewhere about ways to settle the conflict politically, President Boris Yeltsin’s national security adviser Yuri Baturin said that Dudayev should not be barred from the negotiating process. This is an explicit departure (preceded by oblique ones) from Moscow’s previous refusal to negotiate with Dudayev, whom it had officially branded a criminal. (6)

Kalmyk Presidential Election Invalidated by Moscow.