Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 174

Various tragic incidents in Chechnya which took place recently in various parts of the republic and were seemingly unconnected have ended up being of the information war running alongside the military conflict. On September 16, five people were killed almost simultaneously in various parts of the village of Starye Atagi. All of them were local inhabitants aged 15 to 70. On the evening of September 18, Magomed Chikuev, a 34-year-old inhabitant of the village, was killed when armed men dressed in camouflage broke into his house, dragged him outside and shot him. Russian military sources claim that the murder was carried out by Chechen rebels because the victim had refused to join their ranks.

Meanwhile last week, on September 14, Asfad Bagdalov, the commander of a local police unit, was murdered in Starye Atagi. Sources in the inner circle of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov categorically denied that the rebels were involved in Bagdalov’s death, claiming instead that he had been shot at a military checkpoint near the village of Chiri-Yurt, where the Russian army’s 205th brigade was encamped. According to the Chechen side, Bagdalov was the military commander in Starye Atagi, where a four-day “cleansing” operation was carried out. In the wake of the operation, the bodies of six villagers were discovered, and Bagdalov was allegedly murdered after he visited the 205th brigade to find out what had happened during the cleansing operation. In the meantime, two representatives from the human rights group Memorial disappeared in Starye Atagi while in the process of exhuming bodies from old graves in the village to determine the cause of their deaths. The Russian military apparently viewed the activities of the Memorial activists as an attempt to blame the military for abuses against Chechens. The fate of the Memorial activists remains unknown (Radio Liberty, Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 19).

All these incidents are evidence of the worsening relations between Russian servicemen and local inhabitants in Chechnya. Russian military officials themselves have noted this trend: Ivan Babichev, the top military commander in Chechnya, admitted that civilians have suffered during cleansing operations carried out by the military. Such admissions may account for the recent warning by Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the temporary administration in Chechnya, that the continuation of such operations could have extremely negative consequences and lead to sharp rise in popular indignation (see the Monitor, September 18).