Court Cases Highlight Russian Abuses In Chechnya

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 13

The Presidium of Russia’s Supreme Court has upheld the ten-year prison sentence received by Yury Budanov, the Russian tank officer convicted last year of killing an 18-year-old Chechen woman. According to a March 29 report from Interfax, Budanov’s attorney was officially informed last week that his client’s appeal of the sentence had been rejected. The attorney told Interfax that he now intends to appeal to the court’s chief justice. “If he rejects our appeal, we reserve the right to ask President Vladimir Putin for clemency,” he said.

In another case, one that many are comparing to Budanov’s, two lieutenants of the federal interior ministry’s forces are now facing criminal charges in the military court for the northern Caucasus. Yevgeny Khudyakov and Sergei Arakcheev are accused of having shot four Chechen civilians, three of whom were killed.

According to a March 24 report by Igor Burakov on the Vremya novostei website, the two Russian officers were conducting a “special operation” in Grozny’s Oktyabr district in January 2003. They stopped a truck driven by local resident Shamil Yunusov, searched his person, stole what valuables they could find on him and then forced him into their armored personnel carrier. Their unit then stopped another truck, which was carrying three residents of the village of Lakha-Varandy. They ordered the three to get out and lie on the ground; Lieutenant Khudyakov then allegedly shot each of them in the head.

To conceal the evidence, according to prosecuting attorneys, the federal troops then put the corpses back into the truck, poured gasoline into it and set it afire. They also were said to have destroyed the passports of their three victims. Later, while interrogating Yunusov back at their base, they allegedly shot him three times in the leg.

The prosecution plans to provide testimony from numerous witnesses, the first of whom gave their evidence on March 23, according to a report published that day by the website Relatives of the three dead men–Said Yangulbaev, Abdulla Dzhambekov and Nazhmudi Khasanov–told the court that all three were construction workers for a firm that is building barracks for federal servicemen in Chechnya. Another worker from that firm, Khizir Magomadov, testified that “our organization works on the territory of a brigade of the [interior ministry’s] internal forces. Nobody was admitted there without permits, and the dead men had their documents with them.” When he saw the three bodies, said Magomadov, he realized that they had been killed with an extra degree of brutality: The head of one corpse had been beaten with rifle butts, while another looked “as if it had been run over by an armored personnel carrier.”

In Moscow, meanwhile, the Putin administration’s leading spokesman for its Chechnya policies–and the man whose bland denials of federal atrocities have been infuriating human rights activists for years–seems to have been one casualty of a post-election reshuffle within the Kremlin team. On March 26 the website reported that the presidential information directorate headed by Sergei Yastrzhembsky was abolished last week, apparently leaving Yastrzhembsky without a job. The information directorate’s functions are evidently to be transferred to the president’s press service. It remains to be seen which official in that part of the Kremlin bureaucracy will now take the lead in spinning stories about Chechnya.