The question of the number of Russian troops killed in Chechnya also continues to be a matter of dispute. Vyacheslav Izmailov, military correspondent for Novaya gazeta, wrote in the bi-weekly’s November 22 edition that more than 15,000 Russian servicemen have been killed in Chechnya over the last decade. “The figures of our losses in Afghanistan have already been surpassed,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the Chechen represents and the Russian government this week put forward widely varying estimates of the number of federal troops killed in Chechnya so far this year. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said during a meeting between top military officials and President Vladimir Putin on November 17 that 148 soldiers have been killed in Chechnya during the first ten months of this year. According to Ivanov, 499 Russian servicemen were killed in Chechnya in 2001, 480 in 2002 and 291 in 2003.
The Chechen separatist Chechenpress.info website on November 18 quoted Amir Supyan, a rebel commander identified as a member of the military committee of the State Defense Committee – Majlis ul-Shura of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria – as dismissing Ivanov’s KIA estimate. “It is not even funny, it is foolish,” Supyan said. He claimed that “about 5,000” Russian troops have been killed in Chechnya over the last ten months according to “minimum calculations,” and that the real number of KIAs so far this year is higher, with the number of those wounded “many more” than that. “The Russians and national traitors lose 30-40 people killed and wounded almost every day,” he told the website. “Ivanov thinks that his lies will help him influence the general negative background in Chechnya. But these are empty hopes.” Supyan claimed, somewhat improbably, that 40,000-42,000 Russian servicemen have been killed since the start of the current war in Chechnya in 1999, and estimated the separatists’ losses at “around 7,200 mujahideen.”
Whatever the real statistics of those killed in action in Chechnya, Defense Minister Ivanov in recent weeks has conceded facts that underscore the grim reality that soldiers serving in the North Caucasus face even away from the front line. Last month, he said that a quarter of the injuries sustained by Russian servicemen in the North Caucasus were the result of dedovshchina, the system of violent hazing of conscripts. The BBC’s Russian-language service on October 22 quoted Ivanov as saying that seven soldiers serving in the North Caucasus Military District had recently died as a result of dedovshchina. Ivanov’s remarks came just two days after Human Rights Watch released a warning that dedovschchina is undermining military effectiveness and is one of Russia’s biggest human rights problems.
Not that the situation for recruits serving in other parts of Russia is much better: In his remarks to the November 17 meeting between top military officials and President Putin, Defense Minister Ivanov said that a total of 932 servicemen had died so far this year, and that 24.6 percent of the 509 who died while off duty had committed suicide.