President Vladimir Putin has apparently again ruled out negotiating with Chechen rebels. Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the Russian armed forces’ General Staff, told NTV television yesterday that he met with Putin on July 24 and told the president that there were rumors that such negotiations were already in progress. Kvashnin quoted Putin as asking him to “tell everybody” that there were no negotiations, secret or otherwise (Lenta.ru, July 26). Over the last month there have been rumors that elements within Russia’s military and political leadership–and perhaps within the Kremlin itself–have realized the war in Chechnya is unwinnable militarily and may be seeking a political solution. However, in his first Kremlin press conference, earlier this month, Putin defended the military operation in Chechnya and said that he had no plans to change his approach (see the Monitor, June 27, July 6, 19).
In the meantime, Yelena Bonner, the veteran human rights campaigner and widow of Andrei Sakharov, has compared the silence over human rights abuses in Chechnya to the silence over Nazi atrocities. Speaking in Washington earlier this week, Bonner spoke about “cleansing” operations like those recently carried out by Russian forces in three western Chechen villages. Hundreds of civilians were detained in these sweeps, which were accompanied by charges of robbery, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, beatings, torture and murder. Bonner noted that reports of Nazi atrocities during the Second World War had been met with “disbelief,” and said the same was happening with reports of abuses in Chechnya. She also said the “political genocide of the Chechen people” by Russia was being ignored, covered up or forgiven, while “genocide in other parts of Europe” was being condemned, and “effective measures” taken against it. Bonner said it was a “moral imperative” for the United States Congress to take steps to “stop the genocide” in Chechnya (AFP, July 26).
In an apparent attempt to make it more difficult for news about human rights abuses in Chechnya to come out, the Russian military authorities yesterday (July 26) imposed new restrictions on the movement of journalists in Chechnya. They decreed that Russian reporters located at the Russian military base at Khankala, just outside the Chechen capital of Djohar [Grozny], would now be able to leave the base only if accompanied by a military press officer (Lenta.ru, July 26). Fighting in the breakaway public, meanwhile, shows no sign of abating. A large mine blew up a Russian armored personnel carrier transporting military and police personnel near the town of Argun today. Three of the APC’s passengers were seriously wounded in the blast. Yesterday Chechen rebels fired on a Russian troop column near the village of Petropavlovsk. According to the state Ria-Novosti news agency, an OMON special police unit that was traveling in the column, which had left the Russian military base at Mozdok, North Ossetia, and was heading toward Khankala, managed to drive off the attackers and none of the Russian troops were killed or injured (Lenta.ru, July 27). Ria-Novosti reported yesterday that the Russian air force had destroyed a rebel warehouse of arms and explosives hidden in the woods of the Samashki district. The news agency, citing military sources, said the air force used “precision weapons” in the attack (Lenta.ru, July 26).
BLOC OF FOUR?