Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 27

When, on July 2, President Vladimir Putin hosted a meeting with President Jacques Chirac of France in the Kremlin, he strongly denounced the recent transfer of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Chirac replied that, while he understood Putin’s reasoning, it was appropriate that Milosevic, a man “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands,” should not escape justice (CNN.com, July 4). The shadow of Milosevic’s transfer to The Hague hung over Russian politics during the last week of June and the first week of July. In an interview with the Paris-based weekly, Russkaya Mysl, Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev, a former Russian human rights commissioner, said: “I affirm and am prepared to prove that the losses taking place among the civilian population of Chechnya are not simply the result of clumsiness and imprecision by the federal command. I affirm, rather, that this is a conscious and purposeful policy. Khankala convinces me of that [a reference to a mass dumping ground for bodies found adjacent to Russia’s chief military base in Chechnya]” (Russkaya Mysl, June 28).

In a hard-hitting essay, entitled “An Echo of Grozny in The Hague,” which appeared in the no. 27 (July 3-7) issue of Moskovskie Novosti, leading independent military journalist Pavel Felgenhauer wrote: “The former president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, has finally been brought before the court of the united nations. While the world discusses this event, Russia should remember: next year there will begin work in The Hague one more standing international tribunal. That tribunal will have the right to try military criminals in any country of the world, whatever crime they have committed. Russia has already joined itself to the appropriate international convention… That means that, from next year on, war crimes committed, say, on the territory of Chechnya will fall under the jurisdiction of this new court.”

“It seems,” Felgenhauer continued, “that they are precisely afraid of this in Moscow. It has already been proven that, during the course of the present Chechen campaign, the Russian military have massively infringed international conventions which have been ratified by Russia and have been employing forbidden forms of weaponry.” Citing a recent report by Colonel General Leonid Zolotov, Felgenhauer notes that incendiary bombs and so-called vacuum bombs were employed by the Russian air force on the city of Djohar at a time when it contained “up to 100,000 peaceful inhabitants.” Such actions clearly infringe the Geneva Conventions. In Djohar and in other Chechen cities, “there were killed thousands of women, the elderly and children.” It will be impossible to determine a precise number of victims, Felgenhauer adds, “until international experts on the scene are able to question witnesses and examine the rubble.” Once the existence of war crimes is determined, then the chain of responsibility for them in Moscow will be assessed and “[military] staffs and ministries and many individuals may find themselves on the international wanted list.”