On June 21, far away from the two capitals and the sturm und drang of international diplomacy, residents of the Chechen town of Argun addressed a handwritten appeal to the head of the pro-Chechen government, Stanislav Il’yasov, and its prosecutor, Vsevolod Chernov. In the appeal, which was brought to public attention by the human rights group Memorial, the Argun residents complained that Russian troops had for nine months been conducting “mopping up” operations and engaging in gun battles which, while ostensibly aimed at Chechen guerrillas, often resulted in either civilian injuries or deaths or the detention of young inhabitants, some of whom were never seen again, others of whom were released only after their relatives paid ransoms. Just three days earlier, the letter stated, a firefight had destroyed houses on two of the town’s streets and wounded two civilians. Adding to the impoverished residents’ hardships, Russian troops in Argun regularly used their livestock–the only thing of value that many in the war-torn town had left–for live target practice.

“It’s no secret to anyone that a soldier’s salary sharply increases in wartime, and that is surely why we and our children are subjected to gunfire every day, after which victorious reports are broadcast about dead fighters and the number of weapons used,” the Argun residents wrote. “What are we and our children being turned into? Why and for what goal is this being done? Is there any person in Russia who has the power to stop this incomprehensible arbitrariness and the mayhem being inflicted on us by Russian soldiers?”