Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 34

With a final decision in the Zakaev extradition case now expected at the end of October, both the friends and the enemies of the Chechen diplomat are analyzing the final days of the London court hearings to guess what that decision will be. The friends are optimistic: As David Hearst wrote in the British daily The Guardian on September 15, “The Esteemed Colleagues from Moscow and Grozny were given a mauling by My Learned Friends from London.” A British source close to the trial told Chechnya Weekly in a September 22 telephone interview from London that he had no doubt whatever that the Russian state prosecutors would lose the case.

In the September 22 issue of Novaya gazeta, Anna Politkovskaya described a crucial series of questions about the conditions currently faced by inmates of Russia’s notorious prison system. Yury Kalinin, the Russian Federation’s deputy minister of justice, told Judge Timothy Workman that he would “guarantee” that if Zakaev is extradited to Russia, the conditions of his imprisonment there would meet decent standards. Zakaev’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, then asked Kalinin if he guaranteed such conditions “everywhere-in all the prisons and interrogation cells?” (Note: The English portions of this dialogue have been back-translated by Chechnya Weekly from Politkovskaya’s version.)

“In almost all,” Kalinin replied. He said that last year only five Chechens died in investigation cells in all of Russia. Fitzgerald pressed him: “Do you control what’s going on in Lefortovo, the interrogation jail of the FSB?” Kalinin conceded that he and his ministry did not, but insisted that Zakaev would not be sent there. Fitzgerald then asked whether it is the Justice Ministry that would decide where to confine Zakaev, to which Kalinin answered “No, the general procuracy. But in special circumstances–and special attention will be paid to the Zakaev case–the decision will be made in a particular way, taking into account all the circumstances, and the fact that the mass media will be following it….”

Politkovskaya said of that exchange that, in effect, Kalinin was “recognizing the political character of this case.” In her view “this is a double game, since Sergei Fridinsky, deputy head of the general procuracy…continues officially to insist on the criminal character of the Zakaev case.”

As seen by Politkovskaya, the next exchange was even more damaging to the Russian government’s position. Kalinin presented the court with a letter from his ministry, which he said “guarantees that Zakaev will be held in our institutions.” Judge Workman immediately asked, “Have I understood correctly that in spite of all guarantees, including that of the Ministry of Justice, the decision will be made by the general procuracy?” Kalinin said “Yes.”

Politkovskaya’s comment: “This means just one thing…the banner of this expert [Kalinin] has toppled. All his previous statements have been wiped out–they will not be considered in making the [court] decision. That’s what the local traditions of jurisprudence are like: Now that our deputy minister of justice has given a guarantee under oath for that which in principle he did not have the power to guarantee, there will no longer be any respect for his expert opinion.”

One element that may or may not have damaged the Russian side’s credibility with the British court, but which in any case chillingly illustrated the revival of the Soviet mentality in Moscow government and academic circles, was the propagandistic version of Chechnya’s history presented by the Russian prosecutors. Chechnya Weekly has obtained a copy of an “Expert Report” provided to Judge Workman in writing as part of the Russian government’s case for extradition. The report, authored by a Moscow law professor and former deputy in the federal Duma, Vladimir Bessarabov, asserted flatly that “in 1807 Chechnya voluntarily joined Russia.” This of course is the historical and legal equivalent of asserting that the inhabitants of India voluntarily joined the British Empire, or those of Algeria the French–or that the Cherokees voluntarily accepted subjugation by the United States.

The sole piece of evidence given by Bessarabov for his assertion was an 1807 document signed by elected Chechen elders who acknowledged their “previous crimes,” praised the “unspeakable mercy of HIS EMPEROR’S MAJESTY THE SOVEREIGN EMPEROR AND ALL-RUSSIAN AUTOCRAT ALEXANDER PAVLOVICH” (capitals in Bessarabov’s version) and agreed to subject themselves “with sincerest repentance to eternal loyal obedience to AUGUST ALL-RUSSIAN IMPERIAL THRONE and to this end make the oath on the Holy Koran according to our traditions and customs.” The Moscow jurist apparently did not even find worth discussing the thought that a document signed under duress during a brutal colonial war might be morally or legally tainted.

Even more revealing was the Bessarabov report’s discussion of the 1944 deportation of the entire Chechen nation to Kazakhstan. According to Bessarabov, “in 1944 the Chechen and Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was abolished for cooperation of a definite part of citizens with German Fascist invaders, a part of the population was deported.” He cited approvingly a recent dissertation’s “critical evaluation of criminal actions of the anti-Soviet organization ‘Tamara,’ Chechen-Gorskaya National Socialist clandestine organization (ChGNSPO), united party of Caucasian brothers (OPKB), punitive battalion ‘Bergman,’ national legions and other criminal organizations and formations is given. According to the documents, hostile reconnaissance bodies were in charge of their actions. It is not by chance that among the total number of 509 spies and 582 German protŽgŽs detained by the troops of NKVD for the first 6 months of 1942 only in the military rear of the Caucasian Region 344 (67,5 %) and 92 (16,7 %) of such people correspondingly were found.”

Today’s Russian authorities want the west to treat their government as a law-abiding, democratic state that has decisively broken with the Soviet past. But by presenting the Bessarabov report as authoritative evidence to a British court, they in effect were asking the west to agree that “anti-Soviet” should be equated with “pro-Nazi” and that the findings of Stalin’s secret police should be taken at face value.