The North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don on April 13 placed Captain Eduard Ulman and two other GRU special forces officers accused of murdering six Chechen civilians in January 2002 on the national wanted list after the three failed to show up for their trial, ITAR-Tass reported. Ulman, Lieutenant Alexander Kalagansky, Warrant Officer Vladimir Voevodin and a fourth suspect, Major Aleksei Perelevsky, are on trial for the murder and abuse of office. As ITAR-Tass reported, the defendants did not deny that they shot the Chechens but said they were following orders during a special operation. The man in charge of that operation, Colonel Vladimir Plotnikov, has categorically denied having given such an order either orally or in writing (Chechnya Weekly, April 6, 2005). On April 4, prosecutors asked that all the defendants in the case be found guilty and that Ulman and Aleksei Perelevsky each receive a 23-year prison sentence and Aleksandr Kalagansky and Vladimir Voevodin be sentenced to 18 years and 19 years in prison, respectively.
As ITAR-Tass reported, the current trial, which began last December, is the third for the four Russian servicemen. Two previous trials ended with the acquittal verdict, with the jury ruling that their actions “were adequate to the current circumstances and were caused by the obligatory performance of the military service duty.” Both times, however, the military collegium of the Russian Supreme Court satisfied a protest lodged by the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office, overturning the jury verdict and ordering a retrial.
The incident took place on January 11, 2002, in Chechnya’s Shatoi district, when, according to Ulman’s testimony, he was ordered to take a 12-man unit out to try and capture or kill the Saudi-born Chechen rebel field commander Khattab and 15 of his fighters. Ulman testified that while they were waiting in ambush, an UAZ van drove up. The vehicle, he said, was ordered to halt, but instead sped up, ignoring warning shots. Ulman said his group then fired into the vehicle, killing one of its passengers and wounding two, and only realized that the passengers were civilians, not rebel fighters, after the survivors emerged with their hands up. Ulman claimed that he had contacted headquarters six times for instructions, after which Perelevsky ordered him to kill the remaining passengers, but also said he had the impression Perelevsky was being “pressured from above.” Ulman said that after the remaining passengers were shot and killed, commanders ordered his group by radio to “clean up” the scene by blowing up the UAZ to make it look like it was blown up by a mine. Ulman also claimed that he had personally briefed Plotnikov about the operation, who expressed approval (Chechnya Weekly, April 6, 2005).
As Vremya novostei reported on April 16, following the first jury trial that found Ulman and his co-defendants innocent in April 2004, they were released from pre-trial detention after signing a pledge not to leave the Rostov-on-Don area. This time, however, Ulman, Voevodin and Kalagansky failed to show up to two consecutive days of hearings, and their relatives and lawyers said they had no knowledge of their whereabouts. Ulman’s lawyer Roman Krzhechkovsky said that the mobile phones of all three defendants were switched off. The defendants’ lawyers said they would appeal their clients’ inclusion on the national wanted list. Vremya novostei quoted North Caucasus Military District prosecutors as saying that if the three do not show up soon, their trial will be postponed until they are found and the remaining defendant, Major Aleksei Perelevsky, will be tried separately. “Most likely this is precisely what will happen, given that the capabilities of [GRU] scouts to conceal themselves and go into hiding cannot be doubted,” the newspaper wrote. Kommersant, on April 14, quoted state prosecutor Nikolai Titov as charging that the defendants’ lawyers knew about their plans to flee and abetted them.
The Guardian, on April 19, quoted Murat Musaev, a lawyer for the victims’ families, as saying that the court had repeatedly refused his clients’ requests to detain the defendants during their prosecution. “We were afraid this would happen,” he told the British newspaper. “It was clear that they would be found guilty and of course, no one wants to sit in prison for 20 years. So they simply ran away because their movements were not restricted in any way.” Musaev added: “By running away, these men have shown to the whole world that they know they are guilty.”
On April 16, Dmitry Rogozin, the nationalist State Duma deputy who heads the Rodina-Congress of Russian Communities movement, claimed Ulman, Voevodin and Kalagansky were either kidnapped and taken to Chechnya or murdered. “The point is that the accused Ulman group was found and removed to the territory of Chechnya,” Interfax quoted him as saying. “The version that the three defendants in the Ulman case went into hiding is advantageous to everyone – to the victims, as supporting the conviction [of the defendants]; to the court, which has the right to pass a sentence in absentia; [and] to Ulman’s commanders.” Rogozin said it was not to the defendants’ benefit to have fled because – according to Rogozin – their lawyers had uncovered new exculpatory evidence. Rogozin said he had sent a telegram to Federal Security Service (FSB) Chairman Nikolai Patrushev and Prosecutor General Yury Chaika asking them to accept kidnapping or murder as the most likely version of what happened to the three defendants. “I requested an investigation into the disappearance of the defendants, and also an inspection of the living quarters and non-residential premises of the relatives [of the victims] and the victims,” RIA Novosti quoted Rogozin as saying. Noting that Rogozin has publicly defended two Russian Interior Ministry officers, Yevgeny Khudyakov and Sergei Arakcheyev, who are currently being retried on charges of killing three Chechen civilians in January 2003, the news agency quoted nationalist State Duma deputy as saying that in light of the disappearance of Ulman and his co-defendants, Khudyakov and Arakcheyev should be provided with an “armed guard.”
Kavkazky Uzel, on April 18, quoted an anonymous Chechen law-enforcement official as saying in response to Rogozin’s comments: “Dmitry Rogozin is on the whole a person without inhibitions. As far as I know from his comments on television, he can easily put forward all kinds of nonsense without thinking about his words or the possible consequences. The main thing for him is to be the center of attention, and the rest is unimportant. He is an unserious person and not a politician. His statement is complete gibberish and absolute nonsense. It is possible that Rogozin was not sober at that moment [he made the statement].” Timur Aliev, editor of the independent newspaper Chechenskoe obshechestvo [Chechen Society] said of Rogozin’s statement: “I think I know where Rogozin got the idea to accuse Chechens of kidnapping Ulman, Voevodin and Kalagansky. The fact is that this version was slipped into the Internet’s ‘Zhivoi Zhurnal’ (Live Newspaper) by someone from the outside. Moreover, Rogozin’s son actively uses ‘Zhivoi Zhurnal.’ So the ‘informed source’ from whom Dmitry Rogozin received this ‘valuable information’ was most likely his son.”
According to Kavkazky Uzel, people in Chechnya are convinced that Ulman, Voevodin and Kalagansky are guilty of murdering the innocent Chechen civilians and simply fled to avoid conviction and imprisonment. “I will not rule out that Ulman and his subordinates were taken outside of Russia, to one of the former republics of the USSR,” the website quoted a Chechen Interior Ministry officer as saying. “Let’s say, to Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Although they could just as easily be holed up somewhere in Russia. And I am not at all sure that they will really be searched for, found and punished.” The unnamed Chechen Interior Ministry officer added: “This process became political long ago. To acquit Ulman’s group means arousing the discontent of the inhabitants of the Chechen Republic. To convict them means arousing the discontent of the military. And in this situation, the sham disappearance of the Ulman group plays into the hands of precisely those forces that do not want the spetsnaz officers to get the punishment they deserve.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of North Ossetia on April 12 convicted Stanislav Yeloev of killing two Chechens in 1994 when he was serving as a guard on the North Ossetian-Chechen administrative border. As Kommersant reported on April 13, Yeloev apparently murdered the Chechens in revenge for the deaths of his brother and cousin at the hands of Ingush paramilitary fighters in December 1992. Yeloev was detained for the crime and admitted his guilt but was allowed out on bail after he claimed he was in an emotionally unbalanced state when he committed the crime. He later fought as a contract soldier in Chechnya and was severely wounded, after which he returned home to Stavropol Krai, where he lived openly until police arrested him last October for the 1994 murders. The court took Yeloev’s military service and medical condition into account and sentenced him to ten years in prison for the murders.