Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 58

On March 20, federal prosecutors in Chechnya began a criminal case involving the alleged murder of sixty civilians in Aldi, a suburb of the Chechen capital. According to eyewitnesses, Russian troops carried out mass shootings of civilians there during a special operation last month (Kommersant, March 21). The Military Prosecutor’s Office said yesterday that no army troops were involved in the “atrocities” in Aldi, but added that this did not mean that they did not happen or that “other federal forces were not involved.” Interior Ministry troops have also been participating in the Chechen campaign (Moscow Times, March 22).

Atrocities like those in Aldi seem to have been a common occurrence during the current Chechen war. On March 16, NTV television featured a report about a “cleansing” operation carried out in the Chechen capital by OMON special police forces from Tyumen. The segment in fact appeared aimed at demonstrating the “heroic efforts” of the police troops, which are commanded by the Interior Ministry, to “cleanse” the city of bandits. The footage showed naked people, who bore signs of severe beatings, being held in an unheated basement (with temperatures outside close to freezing). An OMON officer, clad in a warm uniform, was shown telling the (male) prisoners: “At night you will be our women.” The segment also showed a prisoner being interrogated: Naked and bearing the marks of beatings, the prisoner appeared mentally unbalanced, and was unable to remember his name. “Apparently, the prisoner does not understand the questions, but the militia-men are obliged to interrogate him–that is their work,” the reporter stated in his voiced-over commentary. The suspected bandit was detained for not having stopped on the orders of a police patrol and for having tossed away some kind of object. The OMON officers gathering “evidence” on the suspect were unable to prove that the object was a weapon. However, given the way that the security forces treat prisoners–even one who is clearly mentally ill–one can assume that this prisoner was destined to be sent to a filtration center, at minimum (NTV, March 16).

Given this report by a Russian television channel, it is hard to dispute the reports which have appeared in the Western media alleging the regular practice of horrendous torture in the Chernokozov filtration camp. If what NTV showed was an example of the way the police special forces work when they are being filmed, then one can only imagine what they do when no cameras are rolling. All of this suggests that the federal authorities are doing everything they can to convince the public that any and all methods are justified in fight against Chechen bandits, and that to appeal to legal niceties in this case is laughable.

Against this backdrop, it is worth recalling the recent controversy surrounding footage shown by the German television company N-24 of Russian troops burying corpses–some of them in uniform, suggesting that they were Chechen fighters–in a mass grave in Chechnya. The footage turned out to have been taken by an Izvestia correspondent, who then sold it to an N-24 correspondent. The German correspondent, however, added his own commentary to the footage, saying that the troops were burying people who had died under torture in the Chernokozov filtration camp. The Russian authorities called this a lie. As it turned out, the N-24 correspondent had indeed misrepresented the facts: He claimed to have been on the scene during the burial when in fact he had not been. He was subsequently fired. Yet while the Russian authorities were happy to trumpet this incident as an example of the Western media’s alleged bias in their coverage of Chechnya, they brushed aside the fact that the footage clearly showed that the ears of two of the corpses in the mass grave had been cut off.