The North Caucasus district military court yesterday took up the case of Colonel Yury Budanov, the former commander of the 160th tank regiment, who is accused of murdering an 18-year-old Chechen woman, Kheda Kungaeva (her documents show her first name as Elza), near the village of Tangi-Chu in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan region last year. Budanov, 37, has been charged with kidnapping and murder, and for violating a statute of Russia’s criminal code which bans “exceeding official authority” in using force. Budanov allegedly abducted Elza Kungaeva from her home on March 27, 2000, and brought her back to where his unit was located. There he allegedly raped her, after which he strangled her and ordered his soldiers to bury the body. Her body was later discovered buried in the woods on the outskirts of the village. Budanov admits that he killed the girl, but denies raping her and says that he thought she was a rebel sniper. Appearing yesterday in the dock alongside Budanov was Lieutenant-Colonel Ivan Fedorov, the 160th tank regiment’s chief of staff, who on the day of Kungaeva’s murder ordered the tank unit to shell the village of Tangi. Budanov and Fedorov are also accused of beating an intelligence officer who refused to carry out the order to fire on the village. When the intelligence officer, named Bagreev, refused to obey the order, Budanov and Fedorov allegedly beat him in the presence of other soldiers and ordered him to be held in a pit. Following yesterday’s court proceedings, Budanov fell ill, complaining of heart problems, high blood pressure and blurred vision, his lawyer reported (Moscow Times, March 2; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Gazeta.ru, March 1; see also the Monitor, February 9, and Chechnya Weekly, February 15, 27).
It should be noted that before the trial got underway, the inhabitants of the village of Tangi-Chu sent the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office a letter charging that Budanov had terrorized civilians even before murdering the girl. According to the letter, Budanov beat five local residents, including the local administration head, and periodically ordered tanks to fire on homes in the village as a “prophylactic” measure (ng.forum.ru, March 1).
Budanov’s actions have been strongly condemned by Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the Russian military’s general staff, who publicly called Budanov “the dregs, which must be removed by its roots from our army collective” (see the Monitor, February 9). Yet, as the Monitor has previously reported, several influential Russian newspapers, including Izvestia and the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, have defended Budanov’s actions. Izvestia, which accepted the colonel’s claims that he killed the girl because he thought she was a rebel sniper and that he did not rape her, wrote that Budanov “acted not according to the logic of the Geneva Convention, but according to the logic of a civil war,” adding that in civil wars, “the logic of revenge always replaces the law” (see the Monitor, February 9). Yesterday, several dozen Cossacks and representatives of various “national-patriotic” parties, including the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and Russian National Unity (RNE), gathered outside the courthouse where Budanov was being tried to demonstrate support for him. According to one report, the demonstrators chanted “Russia is for Russians” and carried posters reading “Purge Chechnya the Beria way”–a reference to Josef Stalin’s secret police chief Lavrenty Beria, who presided over the mass deportation of Chechens to Central Asia in 1944 (AP, March 1).
But it is not only anti-Kremlin parties which have come out in support of Budanov. General Vladimir Shamanov, a former top commander in Chechnya–for which service he received a Hero of Russian medal from former President Boris Yeltsin in December 1999–who is currently governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast, shook Yuri Budanov’s hand. On the eve of the trial’s opening, Shamanov sent Budanov’s parents a letter saying they had no reason to be ashamed of their son. “Budanov is a war commander, a talented commander and an honest citizen of our country,” Shamanov declared, adding that the entire country stood behind him (NTV, February 28; Gazeta.ru, March 1). Shamanov’s open support for Budanov in essence reflects the position of a majority of Russia’s generals, who justify any and all tactics in the war against the Chechen rebel movement, including those which some call genocidal.
MASKHADOV CLAIMS TO CONTROL REBEL ACTIONS, AGAIN CALLS FOR NEGOTIATIONS.