Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 238

General Viktor Kazantsev, commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, has predicted that his forces will establish “full control” of the mountainous areas of the breakaway republic in two to three weeks. In an interview published today, Kazantsev also predicted that Djohar, the Chechen capital, would fall to Russian forces in a short time without a full-scale assault on the city (Krasnaya Zvezda, December 23). Russian military officials have said that the capital will be taken in a “special operation” which will include fighters from Bislan Gantemirov’s pro-Russian Chechen militia, and a spokesman for Gantemirov said today that this operation would be over in a week (Russian agencies, December 23). Russian forces, including elite paratrooper units, have been fighting Chechen rebels around the capital and in Chechnya’s southern region. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday that federal authorities were encountering only “pockets of resistance” from Chechen rebels and that the operations would be over “soon” (Russian agencies, December 22).

Britain’s Independent newspaper reported today that an amateur video exists which shows Nikolai Koshman, Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge of Chechen affairs, during a visit he made last weekend to Alkhan-Yurt, the village near Djohar where Russian troops allegedly carried out a massacre earlier this month. According to the newspaper, the video shows Koshman upbraiding Russian army officers for the massacre and telling a military prosecutor that there were eyewitnesses to it. The film reportedly shows piles of goods looted by the soldiers involved in the massacre. The Independent also claims that there are photographs of victims with severed heads, which were taken in the village following the massacre (The Independent, December 23).

Koshman’s office today denied that such a massacre had taken place, and cited the Alkhan-Yurt administration as also denying it. Koshman’s press secretary said that Russian forces had demanded that the villagers expel Chechen rebels from the village, after which they were fired upon, forcing them to counterattack. The office confirmed that Koshman visited the village last week, and said that Russia’s military prosecutor’s office is investigating the incident at Koshman’s request. Chechen Prosecutor General Salman Albakov, meanwhile, said today he had begin his own investigation into “the premeditated murder of more than forty civilians in the village of Alkhan-Yurt,” and that the materials collected by his office would be forwarded to the International War Crime Tribunal at the Hague (Russian agencies, December 23). The BBC reported earlier this week that forty-one villagers were killed in the massacre (see the Monitor, December 21).

The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch yesterday called on the United Nations Security Council to appoint an independent commission to look into the behavior of Russian military forces in Chechnya. A representative of the group said it had the names of at least eighteen people whom villagers say were murdered by Russian troops. Human Rights Watch said that villagers were killed when they tried to prevent looting, and that officers from Russia’s Federal Security Service had also tried, unsuccessfully, to stop Russian troops from looting. For its part, Amnesty International says it had documented numerous instances of civilians in Chechnya being detained by Russian forces and tortured in so-called “filtration camps” (Moscow Times, December 23). During the 1994-1996 Chechen war, various human rights groups in Russian and the West, including Memorial and Freedom House, reported that torture was used against detainees in “filtration camps” set up by the Russian federal forces.