The political fall-out from a political debacle that occurred in early June in the village of Borozdinovskaya in northern Chechnya – pro-Moscow Chechen special forces nominally subordinated to the Russian GRU conducted a brutal cleansing operation during which they abducted 10-11 men, whose present fate is unknown, from the settlement – continues to resonate in Russian society and, especially, among Russian journalists. Notably, Putin’s plenipotentiary representative in the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, has felt required to term the pogrom an act of political “sabotage.” (On July 12, a spokesman for Chechen President Alu Alkhanov says all 11 persons abducted from Borozdinovskaya were “alive and well” and would be returned home.)
A well-known journalist and leading specialist on Chechnya, Anna Politkovskaya, noted in the June 27 issue of Novaya gazeta that “cleansing operations with the participation of ‘unidentified [pro-Moscow] Chechen power structures’ have now become a part of daily Chechen life.” On June 4, the village of Borodzinovskaya was, in her words, “assaulted by ‘state bandits’, as they are called in Chechnya, who conducted a pogrom, engaged in marauding, abducted ten people, incinerated an old man in his own home, and then moved on.”
Virtually every day, Politkovskaya wrote, representatives of unidentified pro-Moscow Chechen power structures wearing camouflage uniforms and masks arrive in armored transport carriers and other vehicles and carry out acts of kidnapping and violence against the local populace. Taking the month of June 2005 as a random sample, Politkovskaya reported that such incidents occurred on June 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16 and 17 (at which point she broke off her list).
Even the office of the federal Prosecutor General’s Office in the North Caucasus, Politkovskaya noted, now refers to “unidentified power structures of Chechnya” in its official written reports. This “indirectly confirms,” in her view, that such structures are uncontrolled by Russian law. In point of fact, she emphasized, the members of these “unidentified state structures” are well known to the authorities, as is the location of their bases.
Who are these “unidentified power structures”? In the first place, Politkovskaya stipulated, they are the followers of the pro-Moscow Chechen first deputy prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov, the so-called Kadyrovites, “the unquestionable leaders in the further criminalization of Chechnya under the Russian flag.” Second, there are the bitter pro-Moscow rivals of the Kadyrovites: the Yamadaevtsy, the Kokievtsy and others. “Their institutional adherence,” she noted, “is fluid, but in general and on the whole the Kokievtsy and Yamadaevtsy are Chechen detachments of the [Russian] GRU.” Politkovskaya wondered why no senior officer of the GRU has yet chosen to inspect these outlaw units.
The “dragon of state terrorism,” Politkovskaya concluded her essay, represents a growing menace for Chechnya and for Russia. No district chiefs of administration have proven capable of controlling these rogue power structures. When one courageous head of administration, Malika Umzhaeva, attempted to do so, she was taken out of her home at gunpoint and executed on the spot by the GRU (in this instance, the soldiers of the GRU unit happened to be Slavs).
A similar point of view to that of Politkovskaya was recently expressed in an article published by another well-known journalist, Yulia Latynina, in the July 4 issue of Novaya gazeta. Latynina has in recent months become increasingly absorbed in the fate of the North Caucasus and has published a number of essays on the region in Novaya gazeta and on the website ej.ru. Like Politkovskaya, Latynina took the bloody pogrom at Borozdinovskaya as a jumping off point for her article. “The disappearance of people,” she observed, “has become an ordinary event both in Chechnya, and in Ingushetia, and in Dagestan.” People are being abducted in significant numbers by pro-Moscow Chechen forces, “some because they cooperated with the rebels, some out of personal enmity, and some to obtain payment of a ransom. And since [the relatives and friends of those abducted] would take revenge for the beatings and torture inflicted on the victims, they are then simply murdered and their bodies are ‘tossed out’ as if they had been killed in a victorious battle.”
It is true, Latynina continued, that such behavior “gives birth to more vengeance seekers than it serves to destroy, but, on the other hand, the Kremlin is able with satisfaction to learn about victories in which there have been no losses [on the pro-Moscow side].” “Of course,” she added sardonically, “to obtain victory over an opponent who has been tied up with ropes is, of course, easy.”
“Ethnic purges,” Latynina went on to stress, “represent [another] constant reality in Chechnya.” Pro-Moscow Chechen forces have carried out an ethnic cleansing of Dargins in the village of Dubovskaya and of Nogai from the village of Voskresenskaya (about 3,500 Nogai were forced to leave the republic). As a result of this harsh campaign of ethnic cleansing, Chechnya has de facto become a mono-ethnic republic: “In 1989, Chechens in the Chechen-Ingush ASSR comprised 67 percent of the population. Today they comprise 97 percent.”
The root of the problem today, Latynina believes, lies in the attitude of the Russian regime to the peoples of the North Caucasus: “Putin’s Russia relates to the Caucasus as to an occupied territory. Only occupiers could fire a tank into an apartment building in Makhachkala [Dagestan] because there were terrorists in one of the apartments. In Moscow that would not happen. In Moscow residents live in apartment buildings. Here there are Aborigines.”
“The federal authorities,” Latynina wrote, “are incapable of providing security in the Caucasus, because the [local] people who are empowered by the regime are at the same time the chief organizers of murders. In addition, they are so incompetent and corrupt that, instead of killing the enemies of Russia, they, in the best case, kill their personal enemies and, in the worst case, whomever happens to be at hand.”
“Whom are you relying on?” Latynina concluded her essay by asking one of the residents of Borozdinovskaya, expecting to hear the answer “Putin” or “Kozak.” “We rely on Allah,” came the answer. “Kremlin, take care,” she warned. “Allah did not command Muslims to submit to infidels. A couple of matches more [added to the current political bonfire] and those who speak in the name of Allah will triumph.”
Igor Korolkov, another leading Russian journalist, who is a frequent contributor to the weekly Moskovskie novosti, has arrived at similar conclusions. “Placing its bets on armed clans,” he warned in the June 23 issue, “the Russian authorities have created a situation in which the task of reestablishing constitutional order [in Chechnya] and of developing the republic’s economy has been put off for the indefinite future.” Formerly Chechnya was a republic being robbed by people with guns who were hostile to Moscow. “Now,” Korolkov concluded, “it is being robbed by people loyal to the regime.”
To sum up, it seems evident that as long as Moscow permits “state bandits” to carry out with impunity a campaign of pillaging, kidnapping and murder, there can be little possibility of addressing the core social and economic problems of the republic. Recently Putin’s deputy head of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov, who is half-Chechen, said in an interview with Der Spiegel (which polit.ru published in Russian on June 21): “In Chechnya, according to official statistics, 70 percent of the working-age populace are unemployed.” Such a figure, he said, “represents a catastrophe.” But, as Surkov was surely aware, as long as state terrorism is permitted to run amok in Chechnya, there can in fact be no addressing of such fundamental issues as mass unemployment.