Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 26

The June 26 issue of the Boston Globe carried a report by correspondent David Filipov, filed from Nazran, Ingushetia, concerning the extraordinary corruption of and war crimes committed by the Russian forces based in Chechnya. As is well known, Russian soldiers in Chechnya are engaged in the business of selling the bodies of deceased Chechens to their close relatives, who want to give them a proper Muslim burial. One Chechen woman, Khasman Oshaeva, who supports five children by working at a street market, has been offered the body of her nephew, Ruslan, by a Russian officer: the price being asked for Ruslan’s remains is, “US$1,000, plus a US$200 gold necklace.” “For the [Russian] troops,” the State Duma deputy from Chechnya, Aslambek Aslakhanov has commented, “this is a gold rush.”

“Everyone in Chechnya,” Filipov goes on to observe, “must pay bribes to pass military checkpoints, some of which have ‘cash register’ signs pointing out where to pay. Nearly everyone has had property or valuables confiscated during document checks.” Khaipa Mezhidova of the Nazran’ office of the human rights organization Memorial “spends most of her time looking for the bodies of Chechens who have disappeared. She videotapes and photographs those she finds…. Many bodies are badly decomposed or badly maimed by killings…. Mezhidova said she finds twenty corpses a day. She showed photographs of men and women she said she had discovered the day before. ‘If the [Russian] troops every saw those, they would shoot me,’ she said.” To date, Filipov noted in summary, “only one officer [Yury Budanov] has been brought to trial.”

The June 28 (no. 26) issue of Obshchaya Gazeta featured a piece by journalist Bakhtiyar Akhmedkhanov who was reporting from Chechnya on the vast illegal transport of oil out of the republic taking place at the behest of the Russian military and police. Feuding over the spoils, he notes, has led to some serious clashes between armed Russian detachments. “The [pro-Moscow] police relate that very recently there took place a skirmish here: the Russian military fired at and then set fire to a vehicle containing OMON [police commandos], and three people were killed. Later they explained that [Chechen] rebels had attacked the OMON.” From a Chechen driver of illegal oil shipments, the author learned of another recent clash that occurred when their column, working for one group of the Russian military, were stopped at a checkpoint by another Russian military unit. “They argued for a long time, and then they began to shoot at one another.” One Ingush driver was killed in the crossfire. At Malzavod no. 15, a suburb of Djohar (Grozny), Akhmedkhanov relates, “there took place a real battle between [units of] the federals.” Some ten to fifteen people were reportedly killed in the armed clash. The reason for the firefight: The military had been unable to come to agreement among themselves on how to “divvy up the oil.”

In a similar vein, the well-known Russian war correspondent, Anna Politkovskaya, in an article entitled “The General-Oligarchs,” appearing in the no. 43 (June 25) issue of Novaya Gazeta, wrote concerning the massive corruption festering within the Military Construction Complex of Russia, headed up by Colonel General Aleksandr Kosovan. This complex is in charge of constructing all the permanent garrisons, military bases, and mobile barracks for the Russian military forces located in Chechnya. “According to our sources, who are military economists,” Politkovskaya writes, “the [Complex] buys everything at inflated prices from certain specified firms. For example, sand used in construction is hauled all the way from Moscow Oblast rather than being purchased in nearby Stavropol Krai, thereby inflating the price. Concrete is also brought in from territories far away from the North Caucasus. The toilets are said to be Italian; the ceramic stoves are said to be Spanish…. But don’t think that in the village of Kalinovskaya, where the headquarters of the 42nd Division is located, …there are now a large number of Italian toilets. Not at all. The toilets–if they exist–are Russian. Only the prices paid for them are Italian.”

An article by journalist Dmitry Pushkar entitled “Cannon Fodder,” appearing in the no. 25 (June 19-25) issue of Moskovskie Novosti recounts the travails of two Russian contract soldiers seeking to obtain the “battle wages” owed them by the Russian military. The two soldiers had come to Mozdok, North Ossetia seeking to “extract” their back wages. “They don’t want to pay us our battle wages,” one of the soldiers commented sarcastically. “That’s normal. They’re economizing for the sake of the Homeland. They’re calculating our battle wages not by the number of days in a month but as their souls are moved: say, twenty days [of wages] a month, or fifteen. If the people at headquarters economize on us–then more money will remain for them.” “But best of all for them,” the soldier went on, “would be for them to fire me according to Article 51–that is, for the nonfulfillment of the conditions of my contract–then I get absolutely nothing. But they need to come up with an excuse for that. And there do exist various excuses, most often ‘failure to carry out the order of a commander.’ Everything depends on their imagination. Just one day before the expiration of your contract, they can find fault with the fact that you came to some building unshaven. That would be it! Article 51! And then it would be legally required that they not pay you your battle wages.” Journalist Pushkar’ observes that the contract soldiers now violently “hate their officers.”

At the beginning of June, a 46-year-old forced migrant from Chechnya, Makhmud Abdulshaidov, commenced a hunger strike in the Chechen refugee camps in Ingushetia. Shortly thereafter he was joined by twenty “displaced persons” living both in the camps and in the private sector of Ingushetia. The main demand of the hunger strikers was that military actions be immediately halted in Chechnya and that the Russian government begin negotiations with President Aslan Maskhadov. By June 24, there were a reported 232 Chechens, including three children, participating in the hunger strike. On June 24, several Chechen social organizations, including the “Society of Russian-Chechen Friendship” and the “Chechen Committee for National Salvation” called upon the hunger strikers, and especially upon the children, to cease their action. Many of them did, but thirty-three people vowed to continue the strike, including three young girls. On June 28, all three of the girls plus the severely ill father of one of them had to be hospitalized (Obshchaya Gazeta, no. 26). On June 26, President Ruslan Aushev of Ingushetia stated that five of the hunger striking children and seventeen of the protesting women had had to be hospitalized (NTV International, June 26; BBC Monitoring, June 27).