Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 39

Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta correspondent detained in Chechnya last week, returned to Moscow on February 24. Immediately upon her return, she gave an interview to Radio Liberty, in which she again charged that the soldiers who detained her had threatened to shoot her. At the same time, she corrected her previous accusations somewhat, saying that that the commanders of the 45th airborne regiment had behaved properly, but that upon leaving their unit she had been detained on orders “from the top” and transferred to officers of the Federal Security Service. Politkovskaya said that it was these officers who had threatened her. According to her account, the intelligence officers charged that her journalistic accreditation was fake and accused Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Chechnya and the official in charge of handling journalists who cover Chechnya, of being an agent of Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basaev. Politkovskaya said that at the end of her interrogation, the FSB officer who had questioned her said that were it up to him, he would shoot “such journalists.” Politkovskaya confirmed that she has asked the military prosecutor’s office in Chechnya to launch a criminal investigation into her detention, and said that in her complaint she had specifically identified the intelligence officers who had threatened her (Radio Liberty, February 24; see also the Monitor, February 23).

Politkovskaya also alleged that a so-called “filtration camp” had been set up on the 45th airborne regiment’s base at the village of Khatuni, near Vedeno, where persons suspected of connections with the rebels have been detained. According to Politkovskaya, “these people are not arrested, but simply put in pits, where they are kept until their relatives put together a ransom.” The reporter said she personally saw these pits and prisoners being held in them. The unit’s commander told her that the pits had been dug by his troops to hold trash, but that “group commander General Baranov had ordered them to put prisoners in them.” Lieutenant General Valery Baranov is commander of the federal troops in Chechnya. Politkovskaya’s accusations give credence to charges made by pro-Russian Chechens such as State Duma deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who contend that the Russian forces themselves provoked the wave of hostage-taking in Chechnya when, during the 1994-1996 military campaign, they began seizing Chechens and holding them for ransom in filtration camps.

Vsevolod Chernov, Chechnya’s prosecutor general, said yesterday that his office was looking into Politkovskaya’s accusations. Meanwhile, Vladimir Kalamanov, President Putin’s commissioner for human rights in Chechnya, will travel to Chechnya later this week to look into the charges. Kalamanov said yesterday that there was no proof that soldiers were holding suspected rebels in pits, but that he would carry out a thorough inspection of the area around Khatuni to determine whether a filtration camp is located there (Moscow Times, February 26; Russian agencies, February 25).