Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 212

Former Chechen rebel field commander Salman Raduev and three other men went on trial yesterday for leading the 1996 terrorist raid on a hospital in Kizlyar, Dagestan, which left seventy-eight people dead. In an indication of how important the Russian authorities consider the case against Raduev, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov was on hand in the courtroom to read out the charges against the defendants personally. Although the trial is theoretically open to the public, only journalists specifically accredited by the Russian security services to cover the trial will be allowed to attend (Moscow Times, November 16; Izvestia, November 15).

During the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, Salman Raduev was the commander of the rebels’ southeastern front. In March 2000 he was captured by the Russian special services after members of his inner circle betrayed him. He has been charged with, among other things, hostage taking and banditry. The Kizlyar raid took place in January 1996, when rebel fighters led by Raduev crossed over from Chechnya into neighboring Dagestan, destroyed several helicopters at the Russian military base near the town of Kizlyar and took hostages at a nearby hospital. The rebels then headed off with hundreds of hostages–including patients, doctors and nurses–in the direction of Chechnya but were blocked by Russian troops at the village of Pervomaisk. Russian special forces tried for three days to break into the village. After failing to do so, then Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov and then Federal Security Service Director Mikhail Barsukov, declaring that Raduev’s men had executed all of the hostages, ordered that the Russian forces open fire on the village with rocket launchers.

At that time, the Monitor’s correspondent managed to get in touch with Raduev via a walkie-talkie provided by Aslan Maskhadov, president of the self-declared Chechen Republic of Ichkeria–who, it should be noted, condemned Raduev’s raid. The Monitor’s correspondent was able to find out that 150 hostages were still alive and appealing desperately to the Russian security forces to cease firing on the village. According to the newspaper Izvestia, thirteen of the hostages died as a result of Russian shelling. And, despite Interior Minister Kulikov’s assurances that three rings of security forces had surrounded the village, Raduev and his men somehow managed to break out of the encirclement and escape.

Raduev was one of the best known of the rebel field commanders–prefect of Chechnya’s strategically important Gudermes district and close to Djohar Dudaev, Chechnya’s first president. Raduev was later severely wounded as a result of in-fighting. Because of these injuries, he did not play a major role in the second military campaign in Chechnya, which began in the autumn of 1999. Nonetheless, his trial is unquestionably a feather in the Russian special services’ cap. President Vladimir Putin himself has called Raduev an “animal” and promised to treat all the other Chechen separatist leaders in a similar fashion. Many Russians would agree with Putin’s assessment. Indeed, some of those who had been among Raduev’s hostages in January 1996 were quoted yesterday as saying that “the most fair punishment for Raduev is to shoot him” (Moscow Times, November 16).