Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 202

Russian officials, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, have again put Moscow’s credibility on the line in regard to the conflict in Chechnya. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on October 30 that the Russian air force had bombed a convoy of trucks carrying civilians and bearing Red Cross signs the previous day, killing twenty-five, including two Red Cross workers, and injuring seventy. In a radio interview yesterday, Putin categorically denied the bombing. “Everything which concerns the bombing of peaceful residents is the ill-intended propaganda of terrorists,” who, Putin added, “use the cannels and infrastructure of some extremist-minded Islamic leaders for spreading slanderous anti-Russian information.” The prime minister claimed that “no special actions to inflict damage on the civilian population are being carried out or will be carried out.” Putin did say that there “might have been some mistakes” made by Russian forces, but claimed that “no large-scale errors have been made so far.”

That Putin’s denial was an official response, not an off-the-cuff reaction, was reinforced by a statement yesterday from the press office of the Russian forces in the North Caucasus, headquartered in Mozdok, North Ossetia. It declared that there had been “no air strike on a Red Cross convoy,” calling the report “another canard by Chechen information terrorist Movladi Udugov.” The press center said that Russian aviation had indeed hit four truck convoys over the weekend–a day after the attack on the Red Cross-protected convoy–adding that “not a single truck” among those hit had “Red Cross identification marks” (Russian agencies, October 31).

Earlier, a Russian air force spokesman confirmed that aircraft had on October 29 attacked a convoy “with gunmen and weapons” traveling along the highway connecting the Ingushetian town of Nazran and Djohar, the Chechen capital. According to the spokesman, the attack came after an Su-25 jet was shot at from submachineguns while buzzing the convoy, and two trucks carrying “Islamic extremists” were destroyed (Russian agencies, October 30-31). It is not certain whether the attack described by the air force spokesman was the same as the attack on the Red Cross-accompanied convoy, but this would appear to be the case.