The September 5 issue of the weekly Moskovskie Novosti featured an interview with the official Russian human rights ombudsman, Oleg Mironov. Mironov is one of only three Russian federal officials appointed directly by the Russian parliament, the State Duma; the other two are the heads of the Russian Central Bank and the Russian Auditing Chamber. Mironov’s five-year term is due to expire in May of 2003. During the entire period of his ombudsmanship, Mironov has been received only once by Vladimir Putin, more than two years ago, shortly after Putin was elected president. The interview with Moskovskie Novosti was devoted to Mironov’s impressions garnered during a recent visit to Chechnya in which he accompanied Lyudmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a leading Russian human rights organization, and a convoy of fifteen large trucks filled with construction materials donated by oil workers from Tyumen’ for the reconstruction of Chechen schools and of other children’s establishments in the republic.
Mironov recalled that the convoy had spent two nights in the town of Achkoi-Martan. At one o’clock in the morning, in an act of sadism, Russian tanks, which had encircled the settlement, began target practice by firing live shells over the rooftops of the villagers. “When we left, the residents thanked us. ‘You came,’ they said, ‘and they almost didn’t shoot us up.'” In Shali, by contrast, the members of the convoy saw how military shells had landed in the center of the city. “The home of a Shali doctor was destroyed. Two little girls, aged four and seven, and a neighbor who was a teacher were killed.” The cleansing operations conducted by the federal forces, Mironov said, “have placed the population of Chechnya on the verge of a psychological explosion.” Federal troops are presently engaged in kidnapping Chechen civilians and then insist that a ransom ranging from US$5-50,000 (for an entrepreneur) be paid. “Today it costs between 10 and 50 rubles [to pass through a military or police checkpoint].” None of the leaders of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, Mironov recalled, proved able to receive him and Alekseeva. Sultygov, Putin’s human rights representative in the republic, managed to be out of town, though he had been informed of the visit. At the site of Kadyrov’s administration building located in Grozny, Mironov observed how an invalid lacking both arms had tried to force his way into the building. He was then savagely beaten by those inside the building. “A picture,” Mironov commented, “specially selected, you will agree, for the eyes of a human rights representative.” He also visited a camp for Chechen IDPs located in Yandari, Ingushetia. “If they had brought in representatives of the Council of Europe, they would have been horrified: people were fighting for a place in a cow-shed used for sick animals…. That people are prepared to live in a cow-shed rather than return to their homeland speaks for itself.” He also saw how Russian armored vehicles had been engaged in flattening Chechen graves. “A Chechen,” Mironov remarked, “will not forgive that.”