Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 31

Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya today denied the claim made by the Russian military command earlier this week that she had been detained in Chechnya for arriving there in violation of rules established by the Kremlin’s information department and had subsequently “disappeared in an unknown direction” (see the Monitor, February 11). The correspondent, who is now back in Moscow after an assignment in Chechnya, told Radio Ekho Moskvy today that in fact she had fled the Shantoi district after being warned that she should escape.

Politkovskaya, who left Russia for a time late last year after receiving threats apparently connected to an article she had written alleging human rights abuses by federal forces in Chechnya, said she had traveled to the breakaway republic this time to investigate the circumstances surrounding “the murder of six citizens of the Shatoi district by a special forces unit of the GRU”–which is military intelligence. According to the journalist, the alleged victims, all residents of a village located high in the mountains, were traveling on a bus prior to the murder. Among the victims, she said, was a pregnant woman who was the director of a local school. She also claimed that the killings left twenty-eight children orphans. Politkovskaya said that she had interviewed people from all sides of the alleged incident, including the military prosecutor and the alleged victims’ fellow villagers. She added that she had presented her accreditation and identification documents–which, she said, were completely valid and up to date–to everyone she interviewed.

Politkovskaya told the radio station that during her assignment in Chechnya she was guarded by two policemen, who were themselves interrogated by officials of the Federal Security Service (FSB) while she was interviewing the military prosecutor, after which “well-wishers from that regiment”–apparently meaning the police–“came up to me and said: ‘Get out of here as quickly as possible.'” The correspondent said she then had no other choice but to flee via Starye Atagi–the site of a recent “mopping-up” operation by federal forces–and only by luck avoided being detained. “What is horrible about the situation is that it [her detention] was supposed to happen … but I simply successfully avoided it,” Politkovskaya said (Radio Ekho Moskvy, February 13).

The Russian military command, which claimed earlier this week it had “escorted” Politkovskaya to the headquarters of the local military commandant “for the purpose of guaranteeing her own security,” warned that it might ask the Kremlin to pull Politkovskaya’s accreditation to report from Chechnya. It also claimed that Politkovskaya’s mere presence in Chechnya “provoked” Russian servicemen and that the journalist seemed to be interested only in attracting the attention of the media and the public (see the Monitor, February 11).