Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 145

Russian officials announced just over a week ago that six Russian soldiers had been arrested in connection with abuses committed during so-called zachistki (“cleansing” or “mopping up”) operations ostensibly aimed at apprehending Chechen rebels and carried out in western Chechnya earlier this month (see the Monitor, July 23). On July 27, however, the head of the prosecutor’s office in Chechnya said that no servicemen had been charged or detained thus far in connection with those operations, which took place in the villages of Assinovskaya, Sernovodsk and Kurchaloi at the beginning of July. The Military Prosecutor’s Office and the regional prosecutor’s office in Chechnya are jointly conducting three criminal investigations in connection with the operations. Also on July 27, Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, reportedly discussed the zachistki during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Following that meeting, Kadyrov said that he would continue to raise questions about the zachistki until those who had ordered them were named. Kadyrov vowed that if no one else made these names public, he would do so himself. He also said that, during his meeting with Putin, the head of state telephoned a top military commander in Chechnya to inquire about the progress of the investigations (Russian agencies, AFP, July 27).

The zachistki in Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk were carried out in early July after two Russian army vehicles were blown up in the vicinity of the villages. In response to those apparent rebel attacks, Russian army units surrounded the two villages and began entering homes there. According to the weekly Obshchaya Gazeta, all males from the ages of 16 to 60 were detained and taken to the outskirts of both villages, after which the federal troops demanded that the detainees’ relatives hand over a ransom of 500 rubles (some US$17) or one sheep for each detainee. In addition, the Russian troops looted property from homes, beat Chechens who tried to resist and in some instances tortured detainees, applying electric shocks to their victims or sticking pins underneath their fingernails. The heads of the pro-Moscow administrations in Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk resigned in protest over the abuses (Obshchaya Gazeta, July 19).

It should be noted that these incidents were by no means the first time such security operations in Chechnya were accompanied by large-scale human rights abuses and marauding. Perhaps the most notorious incident of this kind occurred during the first Chechen military campaign, in the western Chechen town of Samashki, where more than 100 residents were killed and dozens of homes burned during a punitive raid in April 1995. The human rights group Memorial claimed that Russian troops also engaged in looting during the Samashki operation, using military vehicles to haul away stolen items. The Monitor’s correspondent was at that time unable to enter Samashki, which was blockaded by Russian forces. However, when it became obvious that hiding information about what happened in Samashki would be impossible, the State Duma formed a commission to look into the incident. This body reached the conclusion that no human rights abuses had occurred. It seems likely that history will repeat itself in the cases of Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk: In all probability, no one will be punished for the abuses.