Rule of Law Institute

News and analysis on the crisis in Chechnya


In some few respects--indeed, fewer even than a year ago--Shamil Basaev
remains a traditional Chechen rebel rather than a postmodern global
terrorist. For one, he takes full, public and personal responsibility for
his atrocities. That fact alone casts doubt on the Kremlin's attempts to
create the impression that the Chechen separatist movement (of which Basaev
in any case represents only a part) is simply an arm of al Qaeda. Another
difference is that Basaev has not followed al Qaeda's recent switch to soft
targets. A pair of mid-May attacks, which Basaev publicly claimed as his
own on May 19, were directed against two of the most heavily defended
entities in hyper-militarized Chechnya--a key regional headquarters of the
Federal Security Service (FSB) secret police, and the person of the head of
the republic's Moscow-appointed administration.

In other respects, however, the Basaev of 2003 is not the same man as the
Basaev of 1995 or even 1999. His most recent attacks have shown an
increasing callousness toward the lives of civilian bystanders, even when
those civilians have been his fellow Chechens. Both the May 12 attack on
the district headquarters of the FSB secret police in Znamenskoe and the
May 14 assault on Akhmad Kadyrov, amid a crowd of religious pilgrims in
Plaskhan-Yurt, were carefully planned. This is usually the case with
Basaev's operations. They are also typically planned in such a way as to
make large numbers of civilian deaths inevitable. The FSB headquarters in
Znamenskoe stands amid other bureaucratic offices, many with peaceful
functions, such as agriculture. In any case, even the FSB was likely on a
Monday morning to have rank-and-file civilian visitors, such as parents
seeking information about their "disappeared" sons. The May 14
assassination attempt on Kadyrov took place at a traditional Chechen
religious festival, one that has always attracted thousands of Muslim
pilgrims--even if the festival was tainted this year by the sponsorship of
the country's leading pro-Putin political party. Thanks to the ruthlessness
of both Kadyrov and Basaev, the Chechen conflict is becoming ever more a
civil war among the Chechens themselves, though it is still mainly a war
for national independence.

As Orkhan Dzhemal observed in an article for the May 14 issue of Novaya
gazeta, the apparent "cynicism" of Basaev's bombing attack during the
festival of Sheikh Kunta-Khadzhi Kishiev, which this year coincided with
the celebration of Mohammed's birth, "perhaps can be the
fact that far from all Muslims share the same views about the holiday...In
particular, the Wahhabis believe the holiday to be an "unclean" innovation,
a relatively recent imitation of the Christian feast of the Nativity of
Jesus; the Wahhabis are also extremely critical of Sufism."

The May 14 bombing in particular can thus be seen as another step in the
"Arabization" of Basaev and his allies.

Dzhemal wrote his article before the militantly pro-separatist website
Kavkaz-Tsentr, on May 19, published the statement from Basaev in which he
"officially" embraced responsibility for both of the previous week's
attacks. Basaev called both attacks "successful," despite their failure to
kill either Kadyrov or the head of the Znamenskoe district FSB, Mairbek
Khusiev. His statement included a personal denunciation of the latter. In
Basaev's words, Khusiev and his subordinates have "distinguished themselves
by special cruelty toward all who have fallen into their security sweeps
("zachistki"). They have also, he said, won renown all over the republic of
Chechnya-Ichkeria for their refined tortures and insults and also for their
extra-judicial punishments."

Basaev attempted to give his terrorist attacks on fellow Chechens the same
moral and political basis as his attacks on Russians. He also tried to
refute the nearly universal view that such attacks are a fundamentally new
tactic. "We have warned many times, and we now warn again, all peaceful
citizens: Do not approach near to these national traitors [Kadyrov and his
supporters], do not live next to them or next to the places where they are
stationed, do not travel with them--because we will not stop our struggle
when they try to shield themselves with peaceful citizens....We assert our
right to take any means necessary in order to stop the genocide of the
Chechen people and to liberate our homeland from the foreign yoke."

In a chilling coda, Basaev warned that "these two military-sabotage actions
of our suicide warriors are only a small part of the operations which we
have planned for this year under the code name 'Anti-terror Whirlwind.' Let
Allah grant that this whirlwind will rage everywhere."

In another contrast with al Qaeda, Basaev went out of his way to claim an
even greater degree of personal responsibility for the December bombing of
the Kadyrov administration's Grozny headquarters complex. In a separate
statement reproduced by the Kavkaz-Tsentr website, he said that he
personally had pushed the remote-control button that detonated the
explosives on the suicide drivers' vehicles. He even seemed to take
personal offense at the Russian authorities' failure to pronounce him
guilty immediately. "The Russian authorities issued a statement," he wrote,
"saying that if my direct involvement in the blast of that cesspool is
proven, then a criminal prosecution will be launched against me. Thus, in
spite of my own statement published on the pages of the media of the State
Defense Council (Majlis al-Shura) of the Chechen Republic and on Chechen
websites, the Russian authorities have apparently decided to maintain my
'presumption of innocence.'" (Yet another contrast worth mentioning here is
that, to this date, neither Basaev nor any other Chechen rebel leader has
ever claimed responsibility for the 1999 apartment bombings that the
Kremlin has always blamed on the rebels--even while thwarting a full
investigation of them.)

It would seem that Basaev's new tactics, and new ideological justifications
for them, represent not the absorption by Chechens of the al Qaeda
mentality, but the "Palestinization" of the Chechen war. That is, it is a
national conflict that has turned ever more bitter over time, that has
become ever more prone to such methods as suicide bombings, and that is
producing ever more young militants with whom negotiations look ever more
hopeless. Anna Politkovskaya observed in the May 19 issue of Novaya gazeta
that "after the referendum the situation there became even tenser than
before, because that constitutional farce, which improved nothing, turned
out to be even more agonizing and humiliating than the preceding years of
the war. For those on the bottom, [there is] a complete sense of futility
and helplessness--while a shower of lies about peace pours down from above
onto soil made all too fertile...for glamorizing those who raided Moscow
last October...a glamorization which has begun quickly to transform
Chechnya into a second Palestine."

In what has become a familiar pattern, Aslan Maskhadov repudiated terrorist
attacks which have been committed in the name of his own cause of Chechen
independence, but which he seemed unable to prevent. Responding to
questions submitted by Reuters, he stated that he would never have ordered
the murder of peaceful civilians or even of civilians working for the
Kadyrov administration. "I am totally convinced that those who kill
Chechnya's civilians operate under the umbrella of Russian special forces
with the aim of discrediting Chechen resistance fighters," he said.

An official of the southern regional center of Russia's Ministry for
Emergency Situations told Interfax that, as of May 19, a total of
seventy-six people had been killed by the two terrorist attacks of the
previous week. Another 124 had been hospitalized.


The Yury Budanov case continues to test the Russian judicial system's
ability to bring to justice Russian servicemen accused of atrocities
against Chechen civilians. The case is still proceeding at a glacial pace;
the latest hearing was delayed until May 26 after Budanov's new lawyer,
Aleksei Dulimov, told the court that he is not feeling well. According to
the Novosti news agency, neurosurgeons are to examine Budanov during the
delay to see whether old head wounds from previous military action may have
affected his mental health. (It was on mental health grounds that, in
December, a court held Budanov to be exempt from criminal responsibility
for his admitted killing of an 18-year-old Chechen girl. He was accused of
raping her as well.) Thus, more than three years after the death of Heda
Kungaeva, the court may now be given a new justification for finding her
killer not guilty by reason of insanity.

Also postponed until May 26 is discussion of Budanov's psychiatric
examinations, both those past and those (possibly) to come. A May 12
session of the military court of the Northern Caucasus Okrug, based in
Rostov, decided to require a new psychiatric examination in addition to the
three that have already been conducted. But presiding judge Vladimir
Bukreev failed to resolve the most controversial question about the new
examination: Who should perform it? The lawyer representing Kungaeva's
family, Abdula Khamzaev, rejects the validity of two previous examinations
that were performed by the Serbsky Institute, notorious during the Soviet
years for its false diagnoses of dissidents as mentally ill. Instead,
Khamzaev wants the court to assign the new examination to a state hospital
in St. Petersburg.

Bukreev was given jurisdiction of the case after Russia's Supreme Court
ruled in February that it should be retried. After an outcry of protests
both within Russia and abroad, the Supreme Court had overruled the New
Year's Eve verdict of Bukreev's colleagues on the Rostov court. They had
said that Budanov was not criminally responsible for his killing of
Kungaeva on mental-health grounds (see Chechnya Weekly, January 22, 2003).

The first court hearing under Bukreev, which took place on April 9, was
observed by Anna Politkovskaya, who commented in Novaya gazeta on April 17
that it "revealed some nasty symptoms that are already painfully familiar."
She wrote that Budanov, sitting in the defender's dock, "openly threatened
with inescapable reprisals" both the Kungaev family and their lawyer,
Khamzaev. "In response, Judge Bukreev not only failed to stop the
unacceptable behavior of the accused but behaved more like a teacher's aide
in a kindergarten trying to soothe a naughty child; he tried to satisfy
Budanov in every way possible and even looked for opportunities to exclude
from the proceedings the lawyer whom Budanov so hates, Khamzaev."

While the Kugayevs and their sympathizers are appealing to international
opinion, Budanov seems to be counting on popular pressure within Russia.
His new lawyer, Dulimov, announced on April 9 that the former officer of a
crack tank regiment had decided to mount a hunger strike to protest the
retrial. (More recent media accounts have said nothing about this hunger
strike, and as of May 20 it was not clear whether it was still on-going.)
Budanov has been in jail continuously since his arrest in March 2003. Even
after his court victory in December, the judges declined to release him
pending the outcome of the current retrial. The delay is at least in part
due to Budanov's and his lawyers' own choice of a mental-illness defense
with its resulting series of psychiatric examinations. But the image of a
Russian officer held in prison for years on end even though he has not been
found guilty is sure to resonate among Russians who now rarely learn
anything about the war in Chechnya except what the Putin administration
wants them to.

In what looked like a sign of confidence that Russian public opinion will
back him, Budanov used a non-verbal method to protest his retrial: He
demonstratively plugged his ears with cotton and read a book during a brief
May 7 court session. Judge Bukreev chose not to penalize him for contempt
of court.

Budanov recently changed lawyers. Anatoly Mukhin told journalists last
month that he had decided not to continue as the ex-colonel's defense
counsel because of unspecified "technical" problems. On April 10, however,
the website reported that Mukhin had said that he would continue
to advise his replacement, Dulimov, and even to attend the most important
court sessions. It was Dulimov who introduced the latest argument likely to
cause further delay: He told Interfax on April 9 that Budanov has been
suffering lately from an old grenade wound, shrapnel from which is still in
his body.


The next step, also clearly intended to take advantage of Russia's
political climate, was for Dulimov to file a petition for a jury trial.
(For the previous three years the Budanov case had been entirely in the
hands of professional judges, as are most criminal trials in Russia, where
the institution of juries is still a relative novelty.) Stanislav Markelov,
former counsel to the Kungaev family, commented on this tactic as follows:
"Having no legal arguments, Budanov's lawyers are trying to use publicity
to influence public opinion--especially since it is taking place in the
south, where the attitude of the majority of population toward ethnic
Chechens is downright biased."

If a new psychiatric exam is unavoidable, Budanov's lawyer is likely to
press for it to be conducted by the Serbsky Institute, which continues to
produce findings favorable to the defendant. reported that
"according to the latest reports of the Serbsky Institute experts, after
three years behind bars...the colonel's mental health, ailing as it was,
has been virtually ruined. The uncertainty is making him contemplate taking
his own life." A similar view was expressed to Izvestia by the chief
psychiatrist of the southern federal okrug.

Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on May 13 that, at the request of the
Kungaevs' lawyer, Khamzaev, the court has now ordered another type of
specialized consultation. Experts on handwriting are to compare documents
written by Budanov shortly after the murder with older texts from his hand,
in order to look for signs of psychological changes.

In an interview published in Novaya gazeta on April 10, Khamzaev told Anna
Politkovskaya that he would oppose Budanov's appeal for a jury trial, on
the grounds that it is now too late for the defendant to file such an
appeal under the requirements of Russia's criminal code. Under prodding
from the journalist, who observed that this reasoning seemed rather
formalistic, Khamzaev was careful to refrain from accusing the local
citizenry of chauvinism. But he agreed that Budanov seemed to be counting
on a jury that would consist only of members from Rostov Oblast. He
suggested that it would be better to appoint jurors from the entire
Northern Caucasus Military Okrug--including Chechnya.

Khamzaev said that he would also renew his appeals, repeatedly refused by
Judge Bukreev's predecessor, Viktor Kostin, for the court to summon such
witnesses as the mayor of the village of Duba-Yurt. Budanov has claimed
that before the murder the mayor had given him a photograph showing one men
and two women holding sniper rifles. (According to Budanov, he shot the
young Kungaeva woman because he thought she was a sniper who had been
killing his troops.)

Another important witness, said Khamzaev, is a former Duba-Yurt resident
named Ramzan Sembiev, who, according to Budanov, had told him that snipers
were living on the village's outskirts. "We found this a prison in
Dagestan, and we asked Judge Kostin to summon him as a witness, but the
answer was 'refused,' [because] 'this is not relevant to the case.'" Other
witnesses who should be summoned, he said, include several officers who
were present when Budanov was arrested in March 2000, including one who was
still insisting nine months later that he was convinced that Budanov had
raped the Chechen woman.

Khamzaev conceded that Budanov has not managed to escape all punishment for
Kungaeva's death--after all, he is now entering his fourth year behind
bars. But he insisted that the Budanov case is an exception: "His crime was
discovered and became an object of universal scrutiny only by accident.
Usually everything works out quite differently: Russian troops are allowed
by all possible methods to escape responsibility for their actions."

The lawyer recalled an episode in April 2002, when Russian soldiers
conducting a "special operation" near the village of Dai stopped a car,
killed its six civilian passengers and burned their bodies. Two of the
officers involved, Lieutenant Aleksandr Kalagansky and Ensign Vladimir
Voyevodin, spent nine months in jail awaiting trial but were then
automatically released under the condition that they promise not to leave
the Moscow Oblast. In effect their situation is now better than ever, since
previously they had been serving in remote Buryatia. During his entire
legal career of four decades, said Khamzaev, he had not come across any
other case in which someone accused of deliberate murder with aggravating
circumstances had been allowed to remain free merely by pledging not to
leave the area.

Politkovskaya asked the lawyer if he would be able to give an international
tribunal examples of other cases in which Russian prosecutors failed to
bring cases against criminals because they were military personnel. "As
many as you like," he answered. "These days there are hundreds of such cases."


A key official of the Kadyrov administration confirmed this week, at least
in part, what international humanitarian groups and human-rights advocates
have been saying for many months: Most refugees in Ingushetia would prefer
not to return to Chechnya at this point. Ruslan Tsugaev, who heads the
Moscow-appointed Chechen administration's task force for displaced persons,
told correspondent Timur Aliev of Prague Watchdog that "as of now, about
2,000 people stated their desire to return, but the actual number of
returnees is considerably lower." Even the figure of 2,000 would represent
only a very small fraction of all the refugees in Ingushetia, estimated by
some groups to exceed 100,000.

However, Tsugaev apparently did not address sensitive issues such as forced
repatriation or the refugees' well-grounded fears of violence and
persecution. He said that the reason for the refugees' continuing
reluctance to go home is that housing for them is just not ready yet in

Further confirmation came from George Gyorke of the staff of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who said on May 19 that the
Commission estimates some 90,000 Chechen refugees to be living now in
Ingushetia. That is some 30,000 more than Moscow's official figure. Gyorke
said that the great majority of these would rather remain in Ingushetia as
long as they continue to see Chechnya as physically dangerous.


An officer of the FSB serving in Chechnya has confirmed the claims of
various independent observers regarding the Kadyrov administration's use of
pardons and amnesties to build up a force of "bodyguards" that is
subordinate only to Kadyrov himself. Major Oleg Sobolev emphasized that he
was voicing only his personal views, not speaking officially on behalf of
the FSB.

Vadim Rechkalov of Izvestia reported in that newspaper's May 20 issue that
Sobolev, who serves in the Gudermes section of the FSB, told him that "in
Chechnya there is a security service for the head of the
administration--the so-called 'Kadyrovtsy.' The majority of them are former
rebel guerrillas, who came over to our side under Kadyrov's personal
guarantee. They trust him, he himself fought against the federals and
recruited them into jihad. Kadyrov now has 4,000 armed men; formally they
are all enrolled either in the militia or in infantry units, but in fact
they are the personal guard of Kadyrov--an armed unit for which there is no
provision in federal law. It is impossible to predict how this unit may
behave in the future."


Overshadowed by last week's dramatic terrorist attacks were more
conventional battles between pro-Moscow servicemen and rebel guerrillas.
For example, Shakhid Muguev, chief of police for the Kadyrov administration
in the Vedeno district, died in a gun battle on May 19. Interfax reported
that he had managed to serve in that position for only two months before he
was killed.

The news agency Novosti reported on May 20 that Viktor Kazantsev, who is
Russian President Vladimir Putin's representative to the southern federal
okrug, had told journalists that major changes might soon be made in the
system governing relations between the Chechen republic and the federal
capital in Moscow. He gave the journalists to understand that a major
concern was the flow of federal subsidies for restoring the republic's
economic and social-service infrastructure.

Diplomats from the European Union told the Reuters news agency on May 20
that disagreement over Chechnya could ruin the EU-Russian summit scheduled
for May 31. Moscow is insisting that the traditional joint communique to be
issued after the summit omit any mention of the Chechen war. One diplomat
said that "there might be no communique, which looks bad as it shows a lack
of agreement." Another told Reuters that there might be "a lightning summit
of two hours, a simple ceremony where each of the leaders will say
something for three minutes before leaving."

Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Right Forces, told a March 19 press
conference that he favors negotiations with Aslan Maskhadov and other
pro-separatist leaders as long as they have not been shown to have
committed acts of terrorism. He also called for including such leaders in
Chechnya's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

Aslambek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's representative in the federal Duma, has
conceded that President Putin's amnesty plan is designed to pardon not the
rebel guerrillas but federal servicemen accused of atrocities against
Chechen civilians, reported the newspaper Grozensky rabochi.
22 May 2003

Source: Chechnya Weekly May 2003, Volume IV, Issue 18,

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