Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 6

–REVERSAL ON VOTING RIGHTS FOR CHECHEN REFUGEES? In an apparent reversal, the head of the Moscow-appointed Chechen government told a Grozny press conference on February 25 that only voters physically present in Chechnya will be allowed to cast ballots in next month’s constitutional referendum. Akhmad Kadyrov said that no polling stations would be open outside Chechnya’s boundaries. He thus seemed to be indicating that tens of thousands of Chechen refugees in neighboring Ingushetia will be able to vote only if they return to war torn Chechnya. A report by the Russian news agency Novosti said that “according to Mr. Kadyrov, all wishing to vote can come to Chechnya and vote there.” If the Novosti report is accurate, it means that Kadyrov has broken his recent pledge to the visiting human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe. He had announced his support of the March referendum after Kadyrov assured him that the refugees in Ingushetia would be allowed to take part.

–WARLORD TAKES CREDIT FOR GROZNY BOMBING. Separatist warlord Shamil Basaev is said to have claimed responsibility for the December 27 bombing of the Grozny headquarters of the Moscow-appointed government of Chechnya. Several Russian news media, including the daily “Izvestia,” cited the announcement by Basaev on the separatist website Kavkaz-Tsentr. (Jamestown was unable on February 25 to get direct access to the website, which has frequently been targeted by computer hackers.) According to Basaev’s account as relayed by the Moscow news media, the three suicide bombers who drove two vehicles into the headquarters complex were all Chechens and all members of the same family: a father, his 17-year-old son and his 15-year-old daughter.

–SOLDIERS DISMISS CONSTITUTION. Izvestia correspondent Vadim Rechkalov on his recent conversations with Russian servicemen in Chechnya: “Among the soldiers with whom I managed to talk, not one believed that the adoption of the Chechen Constitution would lead to the end of military operations and a chance for him to go home. For the draftees, yearning for demobilization, nothing will change. The units in which they serve will remain in Chechnya.”

–HINT OF COMPROMISE FROM KREMLIN. In a rare conciliatory statement amid the overall hard line recently taken by Russian Federation officials against Chechen separatists, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for human rights in Chechnya was quoted by Interfax on February 21 as suggesting that Moscow might be willing to include some separatist leaders in negotiations for a peaceful settlement. Abdul-Khakim Sultygov said that some field commanders and even Aslan Maskhadov might be able to participate if certain conditions are met. One of these conditions, however, would involve case-by-case court rulings on each individual commander.

–TENSIONS IN INGUSHETIA. On February 21 the website Prava cheloveka v Rossii (“Human Rights in Russia”) published a detailed account by Lydia Grafova, head of the executive committee of the “Forum of Organizations for Displaced Persons,” of her recent trip to Chechnya. Grafova essentially confirmed what has been reported by other human rights advocates, but she then went on to blame not only the federal authorities but also the government of Ingushetia itself. It has taken a sharply harsher line since Putin-supported Murat Ziazikov succeeded the independent-minded Ruslan Aushev as head of that republic in April of 2002. “Until recently,” she wrote, “Ingushetia was the most welcoming place on earth for Chechen refugees. The Ingush people performed a feat of true spiritual heroism, sheltering 146,000 war refugees–a third of the population of their own republic. But now bands of drunken Ingush youths are bursting into the camps at night…smashing the windows with bottles, and shouting abusive filth such as ‘Shove off to your Chechnya!'”

–RUSSIAN ARMY REWARDED. Over 90,000 federal troops have been decorated for heroism during the post-Soviet Chechen wars, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced at a February 21 ceremony in Moscow’s Armed Forces Museum. An exact total count of the Russian Federation soldiers who have fought in Chechnya since the mid-1990s is unavailable, but at the very most it cannot be much higher than 500,000. It would thus appear that about 20 percent or even 30 percent of all the Russian soldiers sent there–a number greater than the cumulative total of all the Chechens who have fought on the secessionist side–have been officially deemed to be heroes.

–RIGHTS CENTER UNDER ATTACK. The website of the respected Russian human rights center, Memorial, has suffered an attack by computer hackers that destroyed the entire database of its internet publication Kavkazki uzel (Caucasian knot). More than 26,000 articles were destroyed, the website reported on February 20.