In Chechnya, yet another problem has been added to the set of existing ones. The Memorial human rights center has designated Ruslan Kutaev as a political prisoner on April 19 (memo.ru, April 19), and earlier this month (July 2014), Amnesty International (amnesty.org) and Human Rights Watch (hrw.org, July 9) came out in support of this decision.
Kutaev is the president of the Assembly of the Peoples of the Caucasus and a member of the supreme political council of the Alliance of Greens and Social-Democrats party. In February, he was arrested on a politically motivated drug possession charge (kavpolit.com, February 21). The charge against Kutaev was based on Article 228, Part 2 of the Russian Criminal Code—illegal possession of drugs in especially large quantities without the intention to sell, which can be punishable by a prison term of three to ten years and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($14,000), or the less harsh punishment of confiscation of up to three years’ worth of wages and confinement for one year (zakonrf.info). Thus, this article allows the judge to vary the sentence between longer terms and a conditional sentence, and this flexibility makes the article a useful tool for the Russian authorities, allowing them to arrest and politically neutralize unwanted individuals.
Before Kutaev’s arrest, there were several signs that things were moving in this direction. On February 18, an academic conference on the 1944 deportation of the Chechen people was held at the National Library of the Chechen Republic in Grozny. All of Chechnya’s well-known historians participated, including Abdulla Bugaev, Vakhit Akaev, Musa Ibragimov, Khamzat Gakaev, Musa Dudaev, Said-Magomed Khasiev, Abdulla Arsanukaev and others. The unsuspecting participants and republican and regional media reported that it was organized by Ruslan Kutaev. However, by that evening the pro-Russian political establishment in Grozny started to display signs of growing fury. All of the conference participants were summoned to the administration of the head of the republic, and all of them did except the conference organizer, Kutaev. According to Kutaev’s brother, Gebarto Kutaev, the head of Ramzan Kadyrov’s administration, Magomed Daudov, personally summoned Ruslan Kutaev, and on February 20, in front of many witnesses, he was led away in his slippers from his house in Gekhi (Kavkaz Uzel, February 20).
According to Kutaev’s brother, he was taken away by people driving a Toyota Camry with the series EEE license plates, which are reserved for Ramzan Kadyrov’s guards. The servicemen spent some time trying to identify Ruslan Kutaev since they did not know what he looked like (Radio Svoboda, July 9).
According to investigators, they saw a suspicious person who was behaving oddly, which prompted his arrest. However, after his arrest, Kutaev managed to meet rights activists from the Joint Mobile Group led by the well-known Russian rights activist Igor Kalyapin (pytkam.net, February 28). Members of the Public Oversight Commission of Chechnya and Kutaev’s lawyers managed to receive testimony from him, in which he detailed his kidnapping and torture (novayagazeta.ru, March 1).
Kutaev pleaded not guilty, asserting that the head of Kadyrov’s administration, Magomed Daudov, and Chechen Deputy Interior Minister Apti Alaudinov beat him up and then ordered their subordinates to torture him (memo.ru, July 8). Strangely, however, the rights activists failed to video-record the traces of beatings on Kutaev’s body (news.mail.ru, July 11).
The notoriety of the case forced Magomed Daudov to provide testimony in court, in which he denied involvement and said he did not know about any instances of torture or beatings. Daudov further stated that he did not regard Kutaev as his enemy and thought that drug possession should not be punished severely. This statement was interpreted to be a signal to the court that official Grozny was not opposed to a mild court decision (novayagazeta.ru, June 30).
However, the judge of the Urus-Martan district court, Alexander Dubkov, sentenced Kutaev to four years in prison, according to the Committee Against Torture. In addition, he is forbidden to engage in any political or civil activities for a year after his release (grani.ru, July 7). Restricting Kutaev’s political and civil activities was the purpose of the entire punishment process.
What is the purpose of punishing Ruslan Kutaev? Why did the Chechen authorities engineer an arrest that overshadowed all of their efforts to improve the republic’s image in the eyes of Moscow and foreign investors? The issue is not Ruslan Kutaev, but rather the contradictions within the government of Chechnya, which is torn between loyalty to Russia and historical memory of the 1944 deportation of the Chechens by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who accused them of collaborating with the Nazis. For the past several years, the Chechen authorities have tried to divert people’s attention from this topic. Grozny has struggled with the deportation monument in the center of the capital, which the authorities wanted to move to the outskirts of the city, in the area of a landfill facility and the Khankala military base (svoboda.org, June 3, 2008). Eventually, someone came up with the idea of combining this monument with a monument dedicated to the police officers killed by militants in the second Russian-Chechen war (nazaccent.ru, February 19). The commemoration day of the deportation of Chechens has also been shifted to May 10, which happens to be the day that Ramzan Kadyrov’s father, Akhmad Kadyrov, was buried after being assassinated in 2004 (kavpolit.com, May 10). Moreover, there are some people that would like to force Chechens to believe that they were legitimately deported for their misdeeds, so there have been attempts to rewrite that period of Chechen history (kavkazcenter.com, February 24, 2010).
Thus, Moscow is once again trying to rewrite the past, forcing onto the Chechens the idea that the deportation was lawful. However, no one bothers to explain how the Chechens could have cooperated with the Germans, given that the German army never even reached Chechnya. This crusade against Chechen history is having a major negative affect inside Chechnya and is only further distancing the Chechen people from Moscow and doing so more quickly than the militants could ever have dreamed of.