Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 25

Commenting on such events, Il’ya Maksakov, a journalist who covers the war for Nezavisimaya Gazeta, and a colleague, wrote: “With each day, the war in Chechnya is becoming more and more serious, but the Russian leadership is not, on the one hand, in a position to suppress the resistance of the rebels using the power of the federal group while, on the other hand, the process of political regulation [of the conflict], the necessity for which has been spoken about for so long, has not yet begun. The situation is developing in such a direction that in Chechnya there could simply be no remaining people who would be willing to be partners and adherents of Moscow” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 21).

In a similar vein, the well-known Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer commented on the pages of Moskovskie Novosti (no. 25, June 19-25): “The present summer in Chechnya strongly recalls the summer of 1996. At that time, too, the official [Russian] propaganda was maintaining that everywhere in the republic there was continuing the process of normalization…. The partisans were conducting a mine war, and every day someone was being killed, but in general the situation seemed stable. However, among the most reasonable and literate of the Russian commanders there began to form an opinion that further efforts made no sense, that the [military] campaign had been lost, and that the occupation was daily only serving to strengthen the resistance, and that it was necessary to get out [of Chechnya].”

Today, Felgenhauer continued, “it appears that the best of our military [leaders] are beginning seriously to think about how to get out of Chechnya…. General Troshev continues to say that it is only necessary to catch the ‘heads’ of the rebels…and then hang them on the public square in order to frighten everyone. But among Troshev’s colleagues in the highest circle of generals such desperate declarations elicit mirth rather than sympathy…. In Chechnya, the generals explain, there has been created a vicious circle of violence: the populace supports the rebels and conceals their leaders; in revenge, poorly armed and poorly trained [Russian] troops attack a populace that is at enmity with them, and this only strengthens the hatred of the populace and their support for the forces of the resistance. In addition, in May they ceased paying out ‘battle wages’…. Casualties are increasing, the army is degrading morally and professionally, and their equipment is breaking down, with no replacements for it. It would seem necessary only to await a new Khasavyurt [Accord].”

“In Grozny,” journalist Aleksandr Ryabushev noted recently, “a rebellion is ripening. Not among the local populace, but among the soldiers of the military commandant’s office in the Leninsky District of the city, who were fired from their jobs a month ago and who remain without the salaries due to them, including their ‘battle wages.'” The contract soldiers are refusing to return home to Siberia until they are paid. They wander the streets of the ruined Chechen capital “without weapons, constantly risking being kidnapped or killed.” Ryabushev met one of these soldiers, Senior Sergeant Sergei Gulyaev from Novosibirsk–where he has a wife and three children–when the latter attempted to beg some cigarettes off him. Gulyaev had spent a year serving at the military commandant’s office in Djohar and had seen seventeen of his fellow soldiers killed and twenty-seven wounded. Now, Gulyaev complained angrily, it turns out that the military authorities “deceived me and do not want to pay me the money I earned… Together with battle wages, the Ministry of Defense owes me 100,000 rubles. We understand perfectly that if we leave [Chechnya], we will never get the money” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 16).

In the no. 41 (June 18-20) issue of Novaya Gazeta, award-winning war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya published a detailed account of a case of torture committed by the Russian forces in Chechnya. Visiting a Chechen family with which she had been acquainted for a year’s time, she learned that the family’s son, Shamil, had been seized by soldiers wearing masks in the Chechen settlement of Kurchaloe on January 7 (Russian Orthodox Christmas). “They took me far away, threw me into a pit, and tortured me for many nights. That’s all,” Shamil’ summed up his ordeal. During the extended torture process, a team of Russian officers expertly employed pincers, scalpels and a saw used for amputations. What information were the officers trying to get out of him? They wanted to discover “the people in the village who had U.S. dollars.” Shamil’ was eventually ransomed from captivity by his father and is now a seriously ill invalid.