Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 63

The commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, has signed an order specifying new rules for carrying out special antiguerrilla operations in the breakaway republic. Such operations have frequently been accompanied by allegations of human rights abuses by Russian serviceman–illegal detentions and extra-judicial killings among them. According to the new rules, special operations will henceforth be carried out only if authorized by Moltenskoi personally. Troops involved in the operations are to behave correctly, openly and politely toward local residents. They are forbidden from wearing masks, except in rare cases, and required to give their name and rank before entering a house. Upon detaining suspects during a special operation, the forces carrying out the operation must draw up a document ordering the detentions, two copies of which must be given to the local administration head and local police chief in the town, village or settlement where the operation is being carried out. In addition, a given special operation must be carried out in the presence of prosecutors and local administration and police officials, and a list of all those detained during the operation must be given to the prosecutors and the local administration. According to sources in the military command in Chechnya, those carrying out special operations will in some instances be obliged to invite representatives of the local press along on such operations. All of these measures, the sources said, are aimed at eliminating “unlawful actions against the local population” and “increasing trust between the military and civilian authorities” (, March 28; Moscow Times, April 1).

Moltenskoi’s order culminated several months of negotiations between military officials and nongovernmental organizations, which took place both in Moscow and in the town of Znamenskoe, in northern Chechnya. These negotiations were undertaken on the basis of frequent complaints from local residents in Chechnya that Russian troops were looting homes, taking hostages and murdering people during the course of their special operations. While the Russian authorities have denied a majority of the accusations, representatives of nongovernmental organizations and journalists working in Chechnya have confirmed that Russian troops are indeed often guilty of excesses. In the middle of March, after a special operation was conducted in Starye Atagi, residents of that village held a protest near the government headquarters in Djohar (Grozny), the Chechen capital, to which they brought the remains of village residents who they claimed had been murdered and burned by federal troops. The Federal Security Service (FSB) denied the charges, saying the bodies were those of rebel fighters who had died in battle with federal forces. Nevertheless, investigators launched four criminal cases involving the actions of federal troops in Starye Atagi over the period of March 8-10 (, March 29).

Moltenskoi’s order appears to be aimed at solving one of the main problems of the Russian military command in Chechnya: how to end insubordination and bring the actions of various units firmly under a unified command. Defense Ministry forces, Interior Ministry internal troops, special units of the FSB, OMON and SOBR special police units and others are all involved in the “antiterrorist operation” in Chechnya. But while for local Chechens there is little to distinguish these units, especially when they are wearing ski-masks, each of these units have their own headquarters and command and a different understanding of their mission, and thus conduct the war in their own way.

A month ago, Aleksandr Cherkasov, a member of the Memorial human rights group and based in Chechnya, told the Monitor’s correspondent that the Russian military leadership there had been trying for a half year to impose order on the forces under its command, with little success. Citing comments that Vsevelod Chernov, Chechnya’s prosecutor, made to him, Cherkasov noted how hard it was to combat disorder among the federal forces in the breakaway republic, where each military commander thinks he has the right to do whatever he deems necessary with any Chechen, citing wartime conditions as an excuse. Chernov indicated that it was difficult to convince the federal servicemen–who are driven by hatred of the Chechens–that the local residents in Chechnya also have rights.

Indeed, it is entirely possible that Russian commanders in the battlefield will surreptitiously try to sabotage Moltenskoi’s new orders. In a television interview aired on March 31, one such commander, who was unidentified and stood with his back to the camera, openly declared his disagreement with the new orders. He said that if he and his men carried out a “zachistka,” or antiguerrilla special operation, without masks, Chechens might recognize them the next day and kill them in revenge (NTV, March 31).