Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 56

Law enforcement authorities in Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, reported yesterday that they had discovered the bodies of ten murder victims at various locations in the city’s Leninsk region. While details concerning the murders were contradictory, it appears that four of the victims were women and that eight of the ten victims were ethnic Russians. Nezavisimaya Gazeta cited unnamed sources in the Chechen prosecutor’s office as saying that the murders had been committed during the previous three days, and quoted Vsevolod Chernov, Chechnya’s chief prosecutor, as saying that the victims had been killed both in their apartments and on the street. Chernov said it was possible that those killed on the street–most of them Russian women–were victims of Chechen rebel snipers. Reportedly, two of the victims could have been killed two or more months ago. Unnamed Russian military officials, however, were also quoted as saying that all of the victims had been murdered in their homes on March 19 (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 20). Another report said that two of the victims were ethnic Chechens who worked for the Urus-Martan regional military command, and that evidence suggests that the victims were murdered by one group of killers (Segodnya, March 21).

Both papers quoted unnamed Russian military officials as saying that the murders were a premeditated attempt to frighten Chechnya’s ethnic Russian population and Chechens working for the republic’s pro-Moscow administration, and to destabilize the situation in the republic. Nezavisimaya Gazeta agreed with this assessment unequivocally, writing that the murders were not simply an attempt to intimidate Chechnya’s ethnic Russians, but to “exterminate” them. Ethnic Russians in Chechnya, the paper wrote, now “know that they are potential victims of murderers.” The paper claimed that a number of other ethnic Russians, including elderly women, were murdered in the Chechen capital over the last week. Segodnya’s assessment was more guarded. The paper quoted Moscow representatives of the Chechen administration as saying the murders suggested that “someone needed to upset the situation in the republic.” It also quoted Ruslan Khasbulatov, the one-time speaker of Russia’s Soviet-era parliament who now heads the world economics department of Moscow’s Plekhanov Institute, as saying that “all kinds of interested parties could be behind the murders in Grozny” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Segodnya, March 21).

The reports of the murders of ethnic Russians in Chechnya follows last month’s discovery of dozens of unburied bodies–the latest estimates range from forty-eight to fifty-two victims–at the abandoned Zdrovya dacha village near the Russian military at Khankala, just outside the Chechen capital. According to human rights groups, some of the discovered corpses belonged to victims of extrajudicial killings by Russian security forces (see the Monitor, March 7, February 26; Chechnya Weekly, February 27, March 13, March 20). At a March 19 press conference, the human rights group Memorial, which has been attempting to identify the bodies found at Zdrovya, reported that all of the seventeen victims it had thus far been able to identify, including three young women, had earlier been detained by the Russian forces either during security operations or at checkpoints or simply while walking the streets. The group reported that the identified bodies showed signs of torture, including missing teeth, ears, eyes, fingers, broken kneecaps and ribs, and missing scalps. The most recent victim among those identified was detained on January 21 of this year, at a checkpoint in the Russian capital. According to Memorial, those conducting the official investigation into the murders did not bother to remove a bullet found in this victim’s head–presumably an important piece of evidence in determining the weapon used to kill him and thus the identity of the killers.

Indeed, Memorial said that despite claims by the Chechen prosecutor’s office that it had taken all necessary steps to identify the victims and establish the cause of their deaths, the official investigators had neither created the conditions necessary for a proper forensic/medical analysis of the corpses nor even tried to establish the exact dates on which the victims died. Memorial also claimed that the authorities had carried out a “quick burial” of the bodies, which, it said, “looks like concealment of the evidence of a crime.” The actions of the official investigators “create the preconditions for a collapse of a criminal case” against the perpetrators of the murders, the group said.

Memorial also presented a list of 160 people who have disappeared in Chechnya, which it said is probably far from complete. According to the group, 6,000 to 10,000 civilians have been killed in the current Chechen conflict, while some 40,000 civilians were killed between 1994 and 1995, during the first Chechen military campaign (Segodnya, Moskovsky Komsomolets, March 20;, March 19; see also Chechnya Weekly, March 20).