Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov raised eyebrows on August 15, when he told journalists that the two wars in Chechnya have killed about 160,000 combatants and civilians, 30,000-40,000 of them Chechen fighters and civilians. He said that the remaining victims were “representatives of various ethnic groups,” but that the vast majority of these were Russians, Novye izvestia reported on August 16. Agence France-Presse noted that a large portion of the 400,000-450,000 people who lived in Grozny before the first war were ethnic Russian and that the city was devastated by Russian air and artillery bombardments in 1995 that caused massive civilian casualties. “They never thought they would have bombs dropped on their heads or be shot at by heavy weapons,” the news agency quoted Dzhabrailov as saying. Izvestia, meanwhile, reported him as saying that “the figures I have quoted are compiled by collecting together information about all the losses in the republic in the last fifteen years. We obtained information from all those involved: the military, the Interior Ministry, and the districts. Our data for the Ichkeria period are based on official documents that I obtained from the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Ministry of Internal Affairs when I was an employee of the republican mufti’s press service. The losses at that time were no smaller than they are now or were during the counter-terrorist operation.”
But Agence France-Presse also quoted Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Memorial human rights group as questioning Dzhabrailov’s figures. He said that following the first war, the state statistics office published an estimate of 30,000-40,000 civilians killed and that Memorial estimated the figure at 50,000. According to Cherkasov, Memorial and Human Rights Watch estimate that about 25,000 civilians have been killed since the start of the second war in 1999, as many as 10,500 of them during the Russian storming of Grozny in the winter of 1999-2000. As Agence France-Presse noted, this would put the total number of civilians killed in both wars at about 75,000. “Dzhabrailov’s statement was political,” AFP quoted Cherkasov as saying. “The state has never counted the civilian losses. The Chechen government has not done what it needs to. It has not made lists of the dead, [or] lists of the disappeared. It has not found the mass graves.” For his part, Georgy Kunadze, deputy chief of staff of the Russian Federation Human Rights Commissioner, told Izvestia that “according to human rights organizations’ estimates, the number of civilians and service people killed comes to 90,000.”
Izvestia also suggested that Dzhabrailov’s estimates were politically motivated, quoting Council for National Strategy Co-Chairman Iosif Diskin as saying that they may be “connected with the upcoming Chechen parliamentary elections” and an attempt by Dzhabrailov “to show that he cares about his countrymen more than anyone else and will be able to defend their interests both in the parliament and at a higher level.” The newspaper cited other unnamed experts as saying that Dzhabrailov may have been exaggerating the losses as a way to put “psychological pressure” on the Kremlin to sign the treaty on the delimitation of power with the federal center, which “includes the granting of exceptional concessions to the republic (including special economic zone status), and [which] Moscow is in no hurry to sign.” Indeed, Dzhabrailov expressed exasperation over the treaty during the news conference. “A game that I don’t understand is being played with this document,” Novye izvestia quoted him a saying. “Dozens of times it was ready for signing, but everything was subsequently postponed.”
Still, it should be noted that this was not the first time that Dzhabrailov put forward a high estimate of the number of people killed in Chechnya. Indeed, last November, he told journalists that more than 200,000 people had been killed in Chechnya since 1994, adding that that more than 20,000 of those killed were children, with tens of thousands more children made orphans (see Chechnya Weekly, November 24, 2004).
Dzhabrailov estimated the number of full-time rebel fighters in Chechnya at 800-1,000, including 100-150 foreigners, and said there are ten federal troops for every rebel fighter. He said that more than 7,000 rebels have laid down arms over the past five years and resumed peaceful lives, the Moscow Times reported on August 16. At the same time, Dzhabrailov said that the rebel ranks are constantly being replenished from Chechnya’s unemployed, who number 468,000 people, or 80 percent of the republic’s able-bodied population. Dzhabrailov claimed that “Wahhabis” constitute the bulwark of the armed resistance. Chechnya’s mufti, Sultan-khadzhi Mirzaev, who also participated in the press conference, estimated that some 15,000-20,000 Chechens hold “Wahhabi views.”
Dzhabrailov also said that the rebels would not participate in the Chechen parliamentary elections set for November. The rebels cannot be divided into “moderate” and “irreconcilable,” he asserted, and are simply people who are against elections and “work off of funds from abroad and conduct war against the Russian state.” Dzhabrailov went so far as to say that the entire world has an interest in “dragging out” the war in Chechnya. “All states have some intentions toward Chechnya,” he said. He also asserted, according to NTV: “World-famous ideologist and strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski and Alexander Haig head the Committee for the Defense of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria [the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya]. It is helped to do its work by [George] Soros from a great many funds. There’s an international center that receives money from many countries, including the United States of America and the Arab countries.”
This was not Dzhabrailov’s first foray into the realm of anti-Western conspiracy theorizing. Commenting last month on the decision by ABC News to broadcast an interview with Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev, he accused the West of pursuing a policy aimed at dragging Russia into lengthy conflicts along the entire perimeter of its border. “Even the tragic events in the London underground did not help the West realize the threat people like Basaev pose to the whole world,” he said, Interfax reported on July 29.