Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 10

Moscow journalist Anna Politkovskaya has made a stunning discovery in the suburbs of Chechnya, one comparable to the 1999 scandal in which secret police of Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB, which is the renamed–but not reformed–KGB) were caught planting explosives in a Ryazan apartment building. As she wrote in the March 24 issue of Novaya gazeta, “during the entire war in Chechnya rumors have circulated about how the federals are planting mines and organizing provocations which they then attribute to the guerrillas. But only now has it become possible to confirm these rumors with documentary evidence.”

Politkovskaya’s story recounts how on March 14, in broad daylight, a military vehicle drove up to the outskirts of the Grozny settlement Staraya Sunzha near the Russian military base at Khankala. Two men got out, dressed partly in military and partly in civilian clothes, as is common in Chechnya. They proceeded on foot into the side lanes, not asking for directions from anyone. They clearly knew just where they were going.

The residents of Staraya Sunzha were especially alert to unfamiliar visitors on that day because they were still recovering from the events of March 10, when federal troops killed local policemen Usman Daudov and Bekhan Magomadov (see Chechnya Weekly, March 13). The two strangers were observed heading toward Okruzhnaya Street, to the precise spot where the March 10 shooting had taken place. One of them took out an army issue field shovel and began to dig a hole.

Residents immediately seized the pair, for, as Politkovskaya put it, “perhaps somewhere outside Chechnya one could be unsure about what two men could be up to with a shovel by a roadside–but here in the midst of this endless war, even a child would know what to expect next. The two men were about to plant a mine. Then at best they themselves would disarm it, or in the worst case they would actually detonate it–but without fail they would use their ‘discovery’ as a pretext for launching a ‘clean-up’ (“zachistka”) in that locality. They would seize a mass of people, some of whom would simply disappear while others would be found later only as corpses. Among these people, someone would turn out to be unable to endure torture and would confess that Maskhadov had given him money to buy the mine in order to destabilize Chechnya just before the referendum–and that Daudov and Magomadov had also been working for the guerrillas.”

Documents found on the two strangers identified one of them as Sergei Yakovlev, a lieutenant colonel in the FSB–though this name might be an alias in keeping with normal FSB practice–and the other as an FSB captain. They also were carrying explosives and detonators. When asked to explain themselves, the two secret police officers said that they had come “in order to observe the preparations for the referendum.” Local policemen barely saved the pair from being lynched on the spot.

By a “miracle,” wrote Politkovskaya, a videocassette of the pair has been preserved despite the federals’ vigorous efforts to find it. Accompanying her article, Novaya gazeta reprinted a still from that video on its website .

“Look into those eyes,” she wrote. “This is very important…Look into the eyes of those terrorists–who are acting in our name, in the name of our government. Do you find on these faces a sense of confidence that the path which they have chosen is just? Nothing like it–because these officers of our special services are robbers of human lives.”