At the end of March, the pro-Moscow administration of Akhmad Kadyrov sent the Kremlin a confidential report about murders, kidnappings and other atrocities committed against civilians in Chechnya. The essential details of this report, which must have been known to the administration before the March 23 constitutional referendum, directly contradict the rosy reports that both the Putin and the Kadyrov administrations were providing the public during the referendum campaign.
This confidential document was obtained last week by two western journalists, Natalie Nougayrede of Le Monde and Michael Wines of The New York Times. As the former wrote in an April 12 article, the thirty-page report “refutes any notion that the situation in Chechnya is returning to normal.”
In an unprecedented (as far as is publicly known) admission for pro-Moscow officials, the report puts the number of civilians murdered last year in Chechnya at 1,314. That is more than one hundred per month, double the estimate of the human rights group Memorial. These are not victims of military action, of guns or rockets or mines, but of individually targeted, summary executions.
A two-page section of the report, based on information from the Chechen Ministry for Emergency Situations, confirms an accusation long made by Memorial and other independent observers: It lists dozens of specific sites where victims of atrocities have been buried in unmarked mass graves. Some forty-three corpses, for example, were found in a burial site near the republic’s main Russian military base at Khankala. The total number of bodies found in such sites across the republic comes to 2,879.
Another part of the report describes dozens of cases of bodies found bearing signs of violent death, or found only in fragments because they had been deliberately blown apart with explosives (presumably to make them harder to identify). The report also discusses kidnappings and torture. An especially damning feature is the inclusion of cases in which the kidnappers or murderers used armored personnel carriers. This is a clear sign that the perpetrators were not rebel guerrillas but federal servicemen. Such cases numbered thirty-two in just the first two months of the year 2003.
That and other data make it clear that the situation has not been improving. From the beginning of January to the end of March 2003, according the report, there were seventy murders plus 126 kidnappings and nineteen additional disappearances. Based on the experience of previous years, most of these recent disappearances are likely to turn out to have been murder cases.
Oleg Orlov of Memorial told The New York Times reporter that the list of crimes for early 2003 failed to include some that had been documented by human rights advocates. This new evidence, he told Wines, confirms that Chechnya is “a region where there is a guerrilla war in full swing, with all the accompanying horrors.”
What was the purpose of this secret report? The French reporter’s sources told her that it was transmitted “to the highest federal level,” that is, to President Vladimir Putin himself. But she expressed doubt that Putin, who has at his disposal all the resources of his former KGB colleagues, did not already have a realistic view of the situation. Another possible explanation, she suggested, is that Kadyrov wanted to alert the Kremlin that these atrocities are undermining his base of support in Chechnya–which is “already weak.”
President Putin’s special representative for human rights in Chechnya, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, told the news agency Interfax that these accounts in the Western media were a provocation, deliberately planned to discredit the referendum. Kadyrov denied that his staff had prepared any such document, and said that the numbers of murders reported by Le Monde were “clearly exaggerated.”
In contrast to these Chechen officials, Putin aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky told Le Monde that he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of such a report.
The website Newsru.com reported that Movsur Khamidov, deputy prime minister of the pro-Moscow administration in Grozny, said that forty-nine mass graves had indeed been found in the republic. But he disputed the other figures published by Le Monde.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported on April 16 that the data from the report discussed by Le Monde are fully consistent with another confidential document that the Moscow newspaper obtained more than a month ago–a report from the chief prosecutor of the Moscow-appointed Chechen administration. This earlier report states that 565 criminal investigations were opened last year in connection with kidnappings of civilians in Chechnya. It was especially noteworthy, said Nezavisimaya Gazeta, that, according to the prosecutor, some 300 of these cases contained information suggesting the involvement of federal troops.