Skip to comments.Poisoned by Putin
Posted on 09/13/2004 4:41:01 PM PDT by Luis Gonzalez
It is the morning of September 1. Reports from North Ossetia are hard to believe: a school in Beslan has been seized. Half an hour to pack my things as my mind works furiously on how to get to the Caucasus. And another thought: to look for the Chechen separatist leader, Aslan Maskhadov, let him come out of hiding, let him go to the hostage-takers, and then ask them to free the children.
Then followed a long evening at Vnukovo airport. Crowds of journalists were trying to get on a plane south, just as flights were being postponed. Obviously, there are some people who would like to delay our departure. I use my mobile and speak openly about the purpose of my flight: "Look for Maskhadov", "persuade Maskhadov".
We have long stopped talking over our phones openly, assuming they are tapped. But this is an emergency. Eventually a man introduces himself as an airport executive: "I'll put you on a flight to Rostov." In the minibus, the driver tells me that the Russian security services, the FSB, told him to put me on the Rostov flight. As I board, my eyes meet those of three passengers sitting in a group: malicious eyes, looking at an enemy. But I don't pay attention. This is the way most FSB people look at me.
The plane takes off. I ask for a tea. It is many hours by road from Rostov to Beslan and war has taught me that it's better not to eat. At 21:50 I drink it. At 22:00 I realise that I have to call the air stewardess as I am rapidly losing consciousness. My other memories are scrappy: the stewardess weeps and shouts: "We're landing, hold on!"
"Welcome back," said a woman bending over me in Rostov regional hospital. The nurse tells me that when they brought me in I was "almost hopeless". Then she whispers: "My dear, they tried to poison you." All the tests taken at the airport have been destroyed - on orders "from on high", say the doctors.
Meanwhile, the horror in Beslan continues. Something strange is going on there on September 2: no officials speak to the relatives of hostages, no one tells them anything. The relatives besiege journalists. They beg them to ask the authorities to give some sort of explanation. The families of the hostages are in an information vacuum. But why?
In the morning, also at Vnukovo airport, Andrei Babitsky is detained on a specious pretext. As a result, another journalist known for seeing his investigations through to the end and being outspoken in the foreign press is prevented from going to Beslan.
Word comes that Ruslan Aushev, the former president of Ingushetia, rejected by the authorities for advocating a settlement of the Chechen crisis, suddenly walked into negotiations with the terrorists in Beslan. He walked in alone because the people at the special services headquarters responsible for the negotiations were unable for 36 hours to agree among themselves who would go first. The militants give three babies to Aushev and then release 26 more kids and their mothers. But the media try to hush up Aushev's courageous behaviour: no negotiations, nobody has gone inside.
By September 3, the families of hostages are in a total news blackout. They are desperate; they all remember the experience of the Dubrovka theatre siege in which 129 people died when the special services released gas into the building, ending the stand-off. They remember how the government lied.
The school is surrounded by people with hunting rifles. They are ordinary people, the fathers and brothers of the hostages who have despaired of getting help from the state; they have decided to rescue their relatives themselves. This has been a constant issue during the past five years of the second war in Chechnya: people have lost all hope of getting any protection from the state and they expect nothing but extra-judicial executions from the special services. So they try to defend themselves and their loved ones. Self-defence, naturally, leads to lynching. It couldn't be otherwise. After the theatre siege in 2002, the hostages made this harrowing discovery: save yourself, because the state can only help to destroy you.
And it's the same in Beslan now. Official lies continue. The media promote official views. They call it "taking a state-friendly position", meaning a position of approval of Vladimir Putin's actions. The media don't have a critical word to say about him. The same applies to the president's personal friends, who happen to be the heads of FSB, the defence ministry and the interior ministry. In the three days of horror in Beslan, the "state-friendly media" never dared to say aloud that the special services were probably doing something wrong. They never dared to hint to the state duma and the federation council - the parliament - that they might do well to convene an emergency session to discuss Beslan.
The top news story is Putin flying into Beslan at night. We are shown Putin thanking the special services; we see President Dzasokhov, but not a word is said about Aushev. He is a disgraced former president, disgraced because he urged the authorities not to prolong the Chechen crisis, not to bring things to the point of a tragedy that the state could not handle. Putin does not mention Aushev's heroism, so the media are silent.
Saturday, September 4, the day after the terrible resolution of the Beslan hostage-taking crisis. A staggering number of casualties, the country is in shock. And there are still lots of people unaccounted for, whose existence is denied by officials. All this was the subject of a brilliant and, by present standards, very bold Saturday issue of the newspaper Izvestia, which led with the headline "The silence at the top". Official reaction was swift. Raf Shakirov, the chief editor, was fired. Izvestia belongs to the nickel baron Vladimir Potanin, and throughout the summer he was trembling in his boots because he was afraid to share the fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, who has been arrested on fraud charges. He was doubtless trying to curry favour with Putin. The result is that Shakirov, a talented newspaper manager and a generally pro-establishment man, is out of the game, a latter-day dissident - and this for deviating ever so slightly from the official line.
You might think that journalists staged an action of protest in support of Shakirov. Of course not. The Russian Union of Journalists and the Media Union kept mum. Only a journalist who is loyal to the establishment is treated as "one of us". If this is journalists' approach to the cause that we serve, then it spells an end to the basic tenet that we are working so that people know what is happening and take the right decisions.
The events in Beslan have shown that the consequences of an information vacuum are disastrous. People dismiss the state that has left them in the lurch and try to act on their own, try to rescue their loved ones themselves, and to exact their own justice on the culprits. Later, Putin declared that the Beslan tragedy had nothing to do with the Chechen crisis, so the media stopped covering the topic. So Beslan is like September 11: all about al-Qaida. There is no more mention of the Chechen war, whose fifth anniversary falls this month. This is nonsense, but wasn't it the same in Soviet times when everyone knew the authorities were talking rubbish but pretended the emperor had his clothes on?
We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it's total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial - whatever our special services, Putin's guard dogs, see fit.
"You might think that journalists staged an action of protest in support of Shakirov. Of course not. The Russian Union of Journalists and the Media Union kept mum. Only a journalist who is loyal to the establishment is treated as "one of us". If this is journalists' approach to the cause that we serve, then it spells an end to the basic tenet that we are working so that people know what is happening and take the right decisions."
Forget the Russian journalists.....Where are the rest of the journalists throughout the world? Where is the support for their colleagues?
This is the same crap we see going on in Iran. Where is the support for the Iranian journalists who are arrested, tortured, imprisoned?
Reporters without borders makes its annual report and the profession ignores the problem the rest of the year.
Oh, the Russian Dan Rather?
Seek and ye shall find...
Well, I've been seeking and haven't found squat.
She's considered very anti-Putin, pro-Chechnyan independence. She's not too fond of President Bush, either.
Here's her review of Fahrenheit 911: COWBOY FRIENDS
Here is a story a family has on the Internet about being poisoned. Don't know much about it tho. I think the stuff the FSB used in the Moscow theater was called Fenatyl.
It is sort of like that date-rape drug. It knocks you out.
These things depress the respiratory system
The best book on the subject of drugging people is by Peter Reddaway and Sidney Block called Psyciatric Terror.
Ricin was also used to kill people.
I saw on the bottom the screen on Fox News just a short while ago, that Putin is now saying that Russia should restrict public elections of governors in the name of security.
You work for the Kremlin?
I'm surprised that you, of all people, should take this view.
Thursday, 09 September 2004
Russia: Recounting The Beslan Hostage Siege -- A Chronology
By Jeremy Bransten
It has been nearly a week since the end of the hostage crisis in North Ossetia on 3 September. With each passing day, a few new details emerge about what exactly went on in Beslan. But many fundamental questions remain unanswered. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten, in cooperation with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, compiles a chronology of events that recapitulates what we know so far -- from the start of the drama on Wednesday, 1 September, until its bloody conclusion on Friday, 3 September. We examine the differing official and unofficial versions and what we have yet to find out.
Prague, 9 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- It is the first day of the Russian school year, Wednesday, 1 September.
In Beslan, a city of 30,000 inhabitants in Russia's Caucasus republic of North Ossetia, parents, students, and teachers are gathering in the early morning at the city's main school for the expected opening ceremonies.
At the same time, a group of militants, in a convoy of three passenger cars, are headed toward the school. The militants, whose identities remain unclear and whose departure point is also unknown, soon arrive at the school building.
This is what happens next, according to Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov's report to President Vladimir Putin: "Having arrived in Beslan, they drove into the school courtyard, where -- following the order of their leader, who went by the name of 'Colonel' -- they surrounded the schoolchildren and adults and led away all the citizens located on the square."
The parents, teachers, and children -- now hostages -- are led into the school gymnasium. For several hours, the situation remains chaotic. Parents and relatives gather outside the school buildings as police reinforcements arrive. At 11:30 a.m. North Ossetia's President Aleksandr Dzasokhov is on the scene. Putin flies to Moscow, cutting short his vacation in Sochi.
According to officials, the hostage takers request talks with local authorities and the release of detainees involved in recent attacks in Ingushetia. They also ask for well-known Moscow-based pediatrician Leonid Roshal -- who mediated the 2002 "Nord-Ost" hostage crisis in Moscow -- to be flown to Beslan. Officials say no other demands are made. They say the hostage takers are holding some 200 to 300 people and draw a link to Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov.
In fact, the militants hold some 1,200 people in conditions so cramped that some hostages are forced to sit on each other's hands and feet. According to testimony from former hostages after the crisis, the militants spend the next couple of hours laying down mines and booby traps throughout the gymnasium building.
To this day, it is unclear how they got their weapons into the school. Ustinov, in his report to Putin, claimed the hostage takers brought their arsenal with them, in their three cars. But former hostages say the militants had managed to hide weapons and explosives in the school, prior to the attack, pointing to meticulous preparation and raising questions about how they gained access to the building in the weeks prior to the hostage drama.
Shortly after 1:00 p.m., the hostage takers drop a note from one of the windows outlining their main demand: the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. The demand is widely reported by Russian news agencies, but quickly disappears and is never mentioned by officials.
Later that afternoon, Russian commandos ("spets-naz") arrive and take up positions around the school.
In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's North Caucasus Service, Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based spokesman for Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, condemns the hostage takers -- rejecting Kremlin claims of Maskhadov's involvement.
So far it is unclear how they got their weapons into the school. Prosecutor-General Ustinov claimed the hostage takers brought their arsenal with them. But former hostages say the militants had managed to hide weapons and explosives in the school prior to the attack.
"Claims of President Maskhadov's involvement in this terrorist act are part of a well-planned misinformation campaign, which also includes statements by [Russian] officials that there were Arab and African mercenaries among the terrorists," Zakaev said. "Their goal is to explain this terrorist act as being part of some foreign conspiracies. Those are lies."
In the early evening, Russia calls for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Doctor Roshal arrives in Beslan. Night falls.
It is now Thursday, 2 September. During the night, the hostage takers speak with Roshal. The content of the conversation is unknown. Before sunrise, news comes that the UN Security Council has voted to condemn the hostage taking. Putin postpones a planned visit to Turkey.
At noon, Lev Dzugaev, the press secretary of the North Ossetian president, says "technical talks" are continuing with the hostage takers on getting them to accept deliveries of food, water, and medicine. The hostage takers' main demand remains unpublicized. Authorities continue to say around 300 hostages are in the school and that they do not know the hostage takers' motives.
At this point, Putin makes his first public comment on the crisis. During a meeting in Moscow with Jordan's King Abdullah, Putin says his main priority in ensuring the welfare of the hostages: "Our main task, of course, is to save the lives and health of those who became hostages. All actions by our forces involved in rescuing the hostages will be dedicated exclusively to this task."
Officials of the Federal Security Service (FSB) also exclude any resolution of the standoff by force.
Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev and FSB head Nikolai Patrushev arrive in Beslan and set up a crisis team. Ruslan Aushev, former president of Ingushetia, enters the school to negotiate with the hostage takers.
Twenty-six hostages are soon released. North Ossetian presidential press secretary Lev Dzugaev calls it a "first success" and credits Aushev's negotiating skill.
That evening, at around 8:00 p.m., Dzasokhov and Aushev telephone Zakaev in London. They ask Zakaev whether Maskhadov can use his influence to end the hostage crisis. The fact of the conversation is never made public.
A few hours later, Maskhadov issues a statement on the chechen.org website harshly condemning the hostage taking. Again, Russian state media take no notice.
Three Russian tanks are brought outside the school, to the surprise of parents and local journalists gathered outside.
Overnight, a police officer is wounded by shots fired from the school. Talks are broken off, then resume on Friday, 3 September. Early in the morning, Dzasokhov and Aushev once again telephone Zakaev. He tells them Maskhadov is willing to do anything in his power to put an end to the crisis.
Zakaev detailed the conversation as well as his previous talks with Aushev and Dzasokhov, in an interview with RFE/RL: "Yesterday I spoke with the President of [North] Ossetia, [Aleksandr] Dzasokhov and the former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, and I informed President Maskhadov about the content of our talks. For his part, Maskhadov pledged to do everything in his power to find ways to resolve this situation without blood and without harming the children. Today Dzasokhov and Aushev again called me and we spoke. I told them that I informed [Maskhadov] about our previous conversation. I also outlined [Maskhadov's] position and his efforts to do everything in his power to resolve this situation without bloodshed and any harm coming to the children. He said he was willing to look for ways to achieve this."
Shortly before noon, President Dzasokhov holds a meeting with relatives of the hostages at a Beslan cultural center. He tells them the latest information indicates there are actually over 500 hostages held in the school. Dzasokhov reiterates what many have believed since the beginning -- that the hostage takers' main demand is the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya.
Minutes later, Dzosokhov's spokesman says the hostage takers have agreed to hand over the bodies of several people killed during the standoff. A car from the Emergency Situations Ministry pulls up to the school with several emergency personnel. According to the official version of events, two explosions go off inside the school. The hostage takers begin shooting at the emergency personnel as well as the crowd waiting outside the school. Chaos breaks out. A group of hostages manages to escape. Russian forces begin storming the school.
Within minutes, four Russian combat helicopters join the battle. The roof of the gymnasium collapses. Outside the school, there is mayhem, as groups of children and other hostages stream out, in the midst of gunfire from all sides.
Within a couple of hours, Russian forces claim control of most of the school, but it is not until late into the night that the shooting dies down.
The ultimate toll is horrific: over 300 dead, half of them children. More than twice that many are injured, and 200 are missing. The missing have still not been found. What happened to them remains a mystery.
The authorities initially say some of the hostage takers managed to escape during the chaos of the rescue operation. Later, they claim all of the militants have been killed, except for three who have been taken into custody. They say 10 of the dead militants are Arabs and one is an African. No proof is ever provided.
Still later, one detainee is shown on state television. He is now the only survivor, according to the authorities. His story exactly matches Ustinov's report to Putin: the attack was planned by Aslan Maskhadov and Chechen commander Shamil Basaev. The militants were directed by a sadistic madman called the 'Colonel.' Their aim from the very start was to blow up the school.
Negotiations, according to Ustinov, would have been fruitless: "Constant threats were addressed to the hostages and members of the bandit group [by the group leader]: 'We are going to die anyway, we have only one goal and that is to carry out this terrorist act.' After two days, when they started changing their system of explosives for some reason, an explosion took place, after which panic began, many of the hostages tried to escape, and the gunmen opened fire."
But the official version is contradicted by many eyewitnesses and former hostages. According to the newspaper "Izvestiya," whose reporter interviewed one of the emergency staffers who drove up to the school in the minutes before the siege was broken, there were no initial explosions.
He said someone -- he does not know who -- opened fire from outside the school, at which point the militants fired back. Then came the explosions. Other witnesses suggest the initial gunfire might have come from among the crowd of parents and relatives waiting outside the school. Some say the explosions were actually Russian tank fire, which blew off part of the school's roof.
Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer also doubts the Kremlin's version of an unplanned, last-minute decision to storm the school, saying the appearance of attack helicopters points to a coordinated, pre-planned move.
"Although there is an air base near Beslan, I know how much time it takes to transmit instructions to pilots. Even if the helicopter was fueled, armed, and waiting, and the pilots were already suited up -- if it had been a spontaneous decision -- they would have had to wait for instructions. An order would have had to be given. They would have had to get aboard, to warm up the engine. They could not have made it to the school in less than half an hour or even more," Felgenhauer said.
Whether the hostage takers intended to die from the very start is also unclear. They did in fact have a demand -- the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya -- despite the Kremlin's initial denial of any motive.
And it appears they were also open to talks. In addition to the negotiations with Aushev, one former hostage interviewed by "Izvestiya," a 15-year-old-girl, says she spent several minutes talking to the chief militant who told her of the pain of losing his daughter in the war in Chechnya. Shouldn't a professional psychologist have been included in the negotiating team, "Izvestiya" asks?
But asking too many questions does not seem to pay off. "Izvestiya" Editor in Chief Raf Shakirov said he was forced to resign after the paper's publisher objected to his "negative" coverage of the crisis. RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrei Babitskii was detained at a Moscow airport on charges of hooliganism and never made it to Beslan. Anna Politkovskaya, another well-known reporter with extensive experience in the Caucasus, said she was poisoned on her flight out of Moscow, en route to Beslan. After losing consciousness, she awoke in a hospital in Rostov-na-Donu.
Ruslan Aushev, who could hold many of the answers to the hostages' identities and motives, has disappeared, turning off his cell phone.
I have loved ones in Moscow. Do you?
Get them out.
Or do they work for the Kremlin?
Children of Chechen "Spetzoperations"
by Anna Politkovskaya
May 19 2002
Do you still think you should be supporting the war in Chechnya because of some aim that's being pursued, so things wouldn't get worse? We have reached a stage in Russia now, where every schoolchild knows that Chechnya is being "cleaned", and adults no longer bother with the inverted commas.
"Zachistka" in this sense entails thoroughly sorting out someone or something and, on the whole, we prefer not to enquire too closely into who or what. For this meaning of this old word we have the war in Chechnya to thank, and more particularly the high-ranking military brass who routinely update us on television with the latest news from Russia's Chechen ghetto, popularly known as the "Zone of Anti- Terrorist Operations".
It is March 2002 and the thirtieth month of the second Chechen war. "Zachistka", if we are to believe the military, is precisely the aim of the current "special measures". From last November until now, lunatic waves of special measures have been sweeping over Chechnya: Shali, Kurchaloy, Tsotsan-Yurt, Bachi-Yurt, Urus-Martan, Grozny; again Shali, again Kurchaloy; Argun again and again; Chiri-Yurt.
Towns and villages are besieged for days; women wail; families try desperately to evacuate their adolescent sons - where to doesn't matter providing it's a long way from Chechnya; village elders stage protest demonstrations. Finally, we are regaled with general Moltenskoy himself, our supposed commander-in-chief of the 'Front Against Terrorism', festooned with medals and ribbons, there on the television screen, pumping adrenalin, larger than life; and invariably against a background of corpses and "cleaned" villages.
The general reports some recently achieved "significant success". But there's still no Khattab with Basayev.... And you know full well that something isn't right, because you went to school when you were little and can do enough mental arithmetic to add up the numbers of enemy fighters he claims to have caught over the past winter. It amounts to a whole regiment of them. Just the same as in last year's warfare season.
So, how many fighters are still there? What exactly does "zachistka" involve? What is the truth, and who is telling it? What have these special measures actually turned into? What is their aim? Last, and most important, what are their results?
His eyes looked so calm
- I was relieved when they took us out to be shot.
- Relieved? What about your parents? Didn't you think about them then, and how sad they would be?
Mahomed Idigov, recently taken out to be shot, is 16.
He is a pupil in the tenth grade of School No 2 in the town of Starye Atagi, Grozny region. He has a favourite pair of jeans, a much loved tape recorder, and a stack of pop music cassettes which he enjoys listening to. He's a typical 16-year-old. The only disturbing thing about him is his eyes, which have the level steadiness of an adult's. They don't go with his teenager's skin problems and adolescent gawkiness.
There something wrong, too, in the measured way Mahomed relates the story of what was done to him. In the course of "zachistka" he was subjected to the same electric torture as the grown men. Having themselves been tortured, these men pleaded with Russian officers not to torture the boy but to torture them again in his place.
- No way, was the reply. - We get good counter-terrorist information out of schoolboys.
When I ask about his parents, Mahomed pauses for a time. His eyebrows finally arch childishly as he tries not to cry. He manages, and replies clearly and directly, as you can when something's over,
- Other people get killed too.
Indeed. Why should Mohamed have it easier than other people. Everybody is in the same situation. The "zachistka" of Starye Atagi from 28 January to 5 February was the second time the town had been "cleaned" in 2002, and the twentieth time since the beginning of the second Chechen war.
It is subjected to "special measures" nearly every month. The official explanation is plausible: with a population of around 15,000, Starye Atagi is one of the largest towns in Chechnya. It is 20 kilometres from Grozny and ten from the so-called "Wolf's Gate", as Russian soldiers call the entrance to the Argun Gorge. It is considered a trouble spot full of terrorist wahhabites and their sympathisers.
But what has this to do with Mahomed? On the morning of 1st of February, when the twentieth "zachistka" was at its most ferocious, masked men seized the boy from his home in Nagornaya Street, threw him like a log into a military truck and took him to a "filtration point", where he was tortured.
- It was very cold that day. First we were "put against the wall" for several hours, which means you stand with your hands up and your legs apart, facing the wall. If you try to lower your arms you get beaten immediately. Any soldier who walks past is likely to hit you. They unbuttoned my jacket, pulled up my sweater and cut it into strips with a knife, like a clown's jacket.
- Just to make me feel the cold more. They saw I was shivering.
I can't bear it. Mahomed is too dispassionate. I can't bear the calm, thoughtful look on his face as he relates his appalling story. I wish this child would at least cry and give me something to do. I could comfort him then.
- Did they hit you a lot?
- All the time. On the kidneys. Then they put me on the ground and dragged me through the mud by the neck.
- What for? Did you know why they were doing it?
- Just because. For fun.
- But were they trying to get something out of you?
- For a whole day there was nothing. They just hurt me. They took me to interrogation in the evening. They interrogated three of us. They showed me a list and said, "Which of these people are fighters? Where are they treated for injuries? Who is the doctor? Whose house do they sleep at? Which of your neighbours is feeding them?" I answered, "I don't know".
- And what did they say?
- They said, "Do you need some help?" And they tortured me with electric current. That's what they meant by helping. They connected the wires and turned a handle, like on a telephone. The more they turned it, the stronger the current that passed through me. They asked me where my older brother, "the wahhabite", was as well.
- And is he a wahhabite?
- No, of course not.
- What did you say?
- I didn't say anything.
- And what did they do?
- They passed the current through me again.
The war has been lost
- Did it hurt?
Mahomed's head on his thin neck slumps down below his shoulders, into his angular knees. He does not want to answer, but it is an answer I need.
- It hurt a lot then?
- Yes, a lot.
- Is that why you were relieved when they took you out to be shot?
Mahomed is shaking as if he has a high fever. Behind him is an array of bottles with solutions for medicine droppers, syringes, cotton wool, tubes.
- Whose is this stuff? It's for me. They damaged my kidneys and lungs.
There are a lot of people in the room, but it's as silent as if we were in an uninhabited, sound-proof bunker. The men are completely motionless. Somewhere outside the Idigovs' house the nightly artillery barrage is starting, but nobody so much as stirs at its uneven booming which sounds like the drums at a funeral.
I realise that this war, which from force of habit we still call an 'anti-terrorist operation' has been lost. It can't be continued solely for the momentary gratification of a group of people who long ago has gone mad. The silence is broken by Mahomed's father, Isa, a haggard man whose face is deeply etched with suffering.
- I was wounded serving in the Soviet army. I served on Sakhalin. I know the way things are. During the last "zachistka" they took my oldest son. They beat him up and let him go, and I decided to send him as far away as I could, to people I know, where he'd be safe. Was I wrong to do that? During this "zachistka" they've crippled my middle son, Mahomed. What am I to do? My youngest is already eleven. How long will it be before they start on him? Not one of my sons is a gunman. They don't smoke or drink.
- How are we supposed to live? I do not know how. I only know that this is unacceptable.
I know too how it has come about: our entire country has joined hands to follow the lead of our great statesmen (and not only Russia, but Europe and America too), and at the beginning of the twenty-first century we are acquiescing without a murmur in the torture of children in a present-day European ghetto mendaciously called a 'zone of anti-terrorist operations'. The children of this ghetto will never forget what we have done.
You give birth to a dead baby?
"Zachistka" began on 28th of January. In the evening several soldiers and armored vehicles surrounded the village. By dawn all streets were swarmed with APC's with their ID numbers painted over with mud. Very low, as if approaching for landing, above the village, helicopters hovered, and roof tiles as maple leaves in the fall wind, flew from the roofs away, leaving them uncovered. In the morning, on 29th of January, Liza Yushayeva, being in the last month of her pregnancy, went into labour. This frequently occurs unexpectedly and doesn't depend on the periods and parameters of "spetzoperations" set up by General Vladimir Moltenskoy, who commands the United Grouping in Chechnya. Liza's relatives went to ask military men, who were standing in the nearest encompassment, to let the pregnant women pass into the hospital, but they didin't allowed it for a long time. The women loudly shamed them, they said, you have also mothers, wives, sisters. But they answered that they arrived here to kill those who are alive, not to help those who are giving birth.
As a matter of fact, it turn out, when servicemen ended their rage, this "process" went ahead, but Liza couldn't go those 300 meters, which was the distance to the doctor, which also was closed by troops by their "zachistka's cell". So, they began to negotiate again, about a vehicle, and again time passed away. Finally, Liza was brought to the hospital. But since there, entirely other soldiers stood, they pinned down the arranged driver and Liza to the wall - like to a fighter, who's been captured: hands up, legs spread wide apart. Yushayeva endured "the wall" for sometime and then she began to faint. Soon, a baby was born, but it was dead.
Do you still think you should be supporting this war because of some aim that's being pursued and so things wouldn't get worse? Things cannot get worse. We have lost all sense of the morality and restraint we were taught in less tumultuous times, and something more vile and loathesome than we could ever imagine has erupted from the murkiest depths of our souls.
- Do you deliver a dead baby, because you weren't allowed to give birth to a live one? - point blank, like a shot, asked a woman looking into Magomed's room.
- If you know the answer, you are still a happy person.
Anna Politkovskaya from Stariye Atagi
The parallels with our press are getting to be more than a little . . . sobering.
April 18, 2003
The Russian Army in Chechnya
By Pavel Felgenhauer
The armed conflict in Chechnya that began in September 1999 is well into its fourth year. Despite repeated pledges by the authorities in Moscow that they would do their best to improve the human rights situation and stop the constant abuse of civilians by members of the federal military and security forces, the atrocities continue, apparently unabated.
As far as is known, no high-ranking Russian officer has been meaningfully punished for allowing or participating in the abuse of civilians or the mistreatment of separatist combatants who have been taken prisoner. In December 2002 the most publicized case of a Russian officer to face charges over conduct in Chechnya - the prosecution of the tank regiment commander Colonel Yuri Budanov, accused of strangling an 18-year old Chechen girl in 2000 - ended with the defendant acquitted on the grounds of temporary insanity. Following an international outcry, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the verdict in February 2003 and has ordered a retrial.
Budanovs initial acquittal by a military court seemed like a signal to Russian commanding officers and security service officials that killing Chechen civilians was acceptable and that no one would be seriously punished, no matter what they did. At the same time, it is clear that continued massive mistreatment of the Chechen population is undermining the Kremlins policy of trying to pacify the rebellious republic. Virtually all outside observers, including many influential members of the military and political elite in Moscow, agree that the continuing abuse of civilians by the military and security forces is the main source of support for the rebel movement helping it to recruit more young men and women to fight for the cause to revenge dead relatives.
A Promise Unfulfilled
In October 1999, when Russian troops invaded Chechnya to crush the separatist rebellion, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (who has been president since 2000) told the nation that this time it would be done properly: the enemy would be defeated, casualties would be low, the war would be short, and it would be the Chechens themselves, not the Russians, who would be fighting the rebels - chasing them out of villages. It actually seemed at times that Richard Nixon was back, talking of the "Vietnamization of the war" (the notion that the Vietnamese would fight Vietnamese, while the U.S. soldiers would go home).
Instead of attacking with infantry and tanks, the Russian army, in an attempt to reduce its own casualties, used heavy equipment and firepower to lay waste to the Chechen capital Grozny and many other towns and villages. The loss of life, mostly civilian, and the damage to property was terrific ---- today most towns are still in ruin. In many instances Russian troops committed appalling war crimes, deliberately attacking the civilian population in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions. There is credible evidence of use of the so-called Heavy Flamethrowing System (TOS-1) - a fuel bomb land-based multiple launch delivery system, also known as "Buratino" among the Russian rank and file - against Chechen towns and villages during the winter campaign of 2000. The third protocol of the 1980 Geneva Convention strictly forbids the use of such "air-delivered incendiary weapons" in populated areas, even against military targets.
After the fiasco of the first Chechen war, the Russian Defense Ministry created "permanent readiness" army brigades and divisions that were intended to be almost fully manned and ready for deployment to deal with local conflicts. But the basic quality of the Russian troops did not change dramatically. It turned out that "permanent readiness" units could not be moved to the front as full-strength brigades and divisions. In combat in Chechnya in 1999-2003 Russian military staffs were forced to use combined "operational groupings" instead of a traditional system of divisions, regiments, brigades and battalions. Combined tactical groups were formed, often built around battalions with strong reinforcements, especially of artillery.
A Strategy of Bombardment
As the campaign has progressed, it has become obvious that the Russian forces in Chechnya do not have any good infantry units capable of swiftly engaging Chechen fighters at their weakest moment without massive air and heavy artillery support. Instead of seizing the initiative to exploit sudden opportunities, Russian field unit commanders tend to plough ahead with the execution of battle plans approved in advance by their superiors.
To compensate for the low quality of their fighting units in Chechnya, Russian military chiefs have adopted a strategy that tries to copy NATO's policy in the Balkans in 1999: bomb till victory and win without heavy casualties.
This strategy of victory by bombardment has inevitably lead to massive war crimes. In attacks on Chechen towns and villages Russian forces have not only extensively used TOS-1 (Buratino), napalm and fuel air bombs, but also "Tochka" and "Tochka-U" ballistic missiles that can fly up to 120 km and cover up to 7 hectares with cluster shrapnel on impact. The use of such mass-destruction weapons as aerosol (fuel) munitions and ballistic missiles against civilian targets was undoubtedly authorized by Moscow and may implicate the President Putin personally, as well as his top military chiefs, in war crimes.
However, the indiscriminate attacks did not make the second Chechen war a "low casualty" engagement even for Russian forces. Unofficial estimates put Russian military losses in both Chechen conflicts (1994-1996 and 1999-2003) as high as 12,000 dead and some 100,000 wounded. Chechen losses (mostly civilian) are estimated at 100,000 or more.
Contract Soldiers and Their Pay
High casualties and the need to replace conscripts who had completed compulsory military service forced the Russian Defense Ministry to begin in the spring of 2000 a massive campaign to recruit volunteers - the so-called kontraktniki. soldiers in Chechnya involved in combat missions were promised high pay by Russian standards (800 rubles or approximately $28 per day). Many kontraktniki enlisted, but the process of screening volunteers for Chechnya was superficial and they were sent into combat without any further selection or training. Many of these volunteers have been drunks, bums and other fallouts of Russian society.
In 1999 Putin announced that soldiers fighting "terrorists" in the Caucasus would be paid as well as Russian peacekeepers in ex-Yugoslavia - up to $1000 a month. Most likely the Kremlin actually believed that the war would be short and victorious and that the bill for extra pay would be limited. But as the campaign dragged on, the extra pay bill increased to 2-3 billion rubles a month and the Russian Finance Ministry became nervous, as such expenditures were not envisaged in the budget.
From June 1, 2000, the Finance Ministry began to strictly limit the disbursement of funds to cover combat pay in Chechnya. In October 2000, a limit of approximately 800 million rubles a month was imposed for all extra combat pay for all of Russia's multiple armies involved in the Chechen campaign. This has led to growing arrears and protests.
The problem of the extra combat pay was also aggravated by rampant corruption in the ranks of the Russian military. Instructions were issued that not all soldiers were eligible to get combat pay, but only those who were involved in combat and only for the time they were actually fighting. Commanders were given authority to issue or withhold extra pay on whim - a situation that created unique opportunities to steal soldiers pay and has led to constant money scandals within fighting units.
In 2000 Russian volunteer kontraktniki started protesting in the streets of Rostov-on-Don near the headquarters of the Northern Caucasus Military District (NCMD), which is in charge of operations in Chechnya, demanding to be paid. Protests have also spread to the war zone: Russian soldiers told government TV channel RTR reporters in October 2000: "All we think about is getting food and smokes. We're supposed to be on full allowances and pay here, but we get nothing at all. We're not even issued uniforms."
The Russian kontraktniki serving in Chechnya are in many instances not military professionals, but badly trained mercenaries contract killers, not contract servicemen. Typically, they enlist for 6 months to grab pay and leave. But there are many reports coming from the North Caucasus that indicate that these kontraktniki are not getting the money they believe they are owed, and this is further diminishing morale.
There were independent reports that in November and December 2002, several Russian kontraktniki units in Chechnya went "on strike" over pay - refusing to obey orders and staging noisy street demonstrations in Grozny. During sweep operations (searching Chechen towns and villages for alleged rebels) the kontraktniki have pillaged and raped the population - believing they are just taking what they are due, what the Russian government promised them but did not pay in time.
Poor Discipline and Corruption
In July 2000 a series of spectacular Chechen suicide truck bomb attacks left more than 100 Russian servicemen dead or wounded. Days after the attacks Putin publicly scolded military commanders including the Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and the Interior Minister Vladimir Rushaylo for negligence. "Many of the losses could have been avoided in Chechnya with better discipline, professionalism and responsibility," said Putin.
Putin's assessment seems to be accurate: Russian soldiers and their commanders in Chechnya are undisciplined, unprofessional and irresponsible. Putin should have also added: rampantly corrupt. As their chiefs steal big, Russian soldiers and officers also do their best to make some money on the side. A regular racket of kidnapping Chechens as "terrorist suspects" for ransom has been established by Russian military personnel, who also collect bribes from anyone passing a checkpoint, take part in illegal extraction and export of oil in Chechnya and so on.
In July 2000 Russian government TV showed footage of the arrest of a Chechen pusher who was selling heroin to Russian soldiers in exchange for weapons and ammunition in the premises of the main Russian military base and high command headquarters in Chechnya, in Hankala, east of Grozny. While Russian officers were apprehending him, the Chechen pusher began to yell: "I'll pay you $1000! I swear!"
There have been reports of Russian servicemen in Chechnya as high-ranking as colonel being involved in sales of arms and ammunition to the rebels. In May 2002 an explosion of a Russian-made antipersonnel mine in the Dagestani town of Kaspiysk killed and wounded some 200 soldiers and civilian bystanders during a military parade. Several Russian officers from the garrison of the nearby Dagestani town of Buynaksk were accused of selling the radio-controlled MON-90 mine that was used in the attack in Kaspiysk and were put on trial in January 2003. There have been also numerous reports that Russia security forces arrest scores of Chechens as "suspected terrorists" only to release them later for a bribe sometimes as small as $300 and sometimes as big as $2000.
Unequipped for the Fight
It is obvious that Russia entered Chechnya in 1999 without a capable, professional army and also without the kind of modern military equipment that is most needed to fight low-intensity anti-guerrilla wars. For ten years the Russian Defense Ministry has been talking of creating a corps of professional sergeants that would form the backbone of a professional army and also talking of the need to buy modern conventional weapons but it has been just talk.
The Russian forces in Chechnya have no radar-equipped attack planes or helicopters, capable of providing close air support in fog or at night. In the first week of March 2000, a company of paratroopers (84 men) from the 76th Russian Airborne Division based in Pskov was wiped out by Chechen rebels in the mountains of southern Chechnya. The Russian high command announced that this military disaster happened "because fog did not allow the deployment of attack aircraft."
In fact in the 1990s the Russian arms industry had developed prototypes of night/fog-capable attack aircraft. But the Russian Defense Ministry deliberately channeled funds to buy ballistic missiles. Now that the war in Chechnya has fully exposed Russian military deficiencies, attempts are being made to reverse the situation. First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Manilov told me in February 2000 that modified Mi-24N (Hind) attack helicopters with radar had been ordered by the Russian Defense Ministry. He also told me that the Russian military hoped that several Mi-24Ns would be fully operational in several months. Nevertheless as of February 2003 there are still no night-capable attack helicopters deployed in Chechnya and no one knows when any will be ready for combat.
It was also announced that in 2000 the Russian Defense ministry acquired its first three modernized Su-25 attack jets equipped with radar for close air support in fog or at night. But up to now there has been no indication of the deployment of such planes in the North Caucasus region. Until battle-ready night/fog-capable close air support units are deployed in the Caucasus, Russian forces in "liberated" Chechnya will either have to stay put at night and in bad weather, or risk being ambushed by rebels.
A Shortage of Munitions
Indeed the first and second wars in Chechnya have been wars without any serious procurement of heavy military equipment or munitions. The Russian Defense Ministry has been dipping deeper and deeper into Soviet Cold War stocks that have become increasingly depleted. In October 1999, at the beginning of the invasion of Chechnya, Russia was able to deploy in the war zone only 68 transport and attack helicopters a quarter of the number amassed for the war in Afghanistan, though the number of Russian servicemen sent to Afghanistan and the second Chechen war were roughly the same.
Between August 1999 and January 2003, Russian forces lost up to 50 helicopters in Chechnya. The attrition rate has been appalling and especially painful for the Russian military, because there was no additional procurement during this period. Spare parts to repair aging planes that are often riddled by enemy small arms fire are a serious problem. Its reported that helicopter fans for Mi-24 are especially in short supply. Replacements for lost helicopters in Chechnya are being sent to the NCMD from other Russian military districts, while injured planes are dismantled for spares. The Russian troops in Chechnya have lost the capability to perform large-scale tactical air-mobile operations. Even company-size helicopter airborne landings in Chechnya seem to be out of reach as the Russian army's airlift capability diminishes further and further.
The Russian troops in Chechnya have made extensive use of heavy artillery fire to suppress the rebels and this has severely depleted munitions stockpiles, as there has been no serial production of heavy shells in Russia for a decade. In the 1994-1996 Chechen war officers complained that they were using shells produced in the 1980s. In the present conflict shells produced in the 1970s and 1960s were supplied to the front. In December 1999 the Russian government reportedly released 8 billion rubles ($285 million) to buy new heavy shells. But the Russian defense industry has not managed to resume serial production of such munitions.
Reports from Chechnya say that Russian troops are running out of ammunition for their most used heavy gun - the 122mm D-30 howitzer. One of the remedies being considered in the General Staff in Moscow is to bring out of strategic storage the pre-Second World War M-30 122mm howitzer for which there are millions of rounds, kept since the 1940s.
A Vicious Cycle of Degradation
Its often said that wars speed up military-technological progress. In the North Caucasus the opposite is happening - the Russian army is degrading both morally and technically. Bad training, badly organized logistical support, and constant marauding by the troops have brought low discipline. soldiers, constantly high on drugs or vodka, fail to maintain their equipment and misuse it. Outdated military equipment constantly breaks down, even when properly managed. Outdated munitions misfire, killing and maiming troops, which reduces morale still further.
Today the Russian troops in Chechnya are trapped in a vicious cycle of degradation. The process has become so obvious that the Kremlin, despite its constant barrage of "victory over terrorists" propaganda, was forced to acknowledge the problem and announce a serious review of its operations in Chechnya.
Moscow has pledged to withdraw troops from Chechnya, while the local pro-Moscow militia will be expanded. In the end, the Kremlin insists that only permanent garrison units of the 42nd Defense Ministry Motor-Rifle Division and the 46th Interior Ministry Motor-Rifle Brigade will stay in Chechnya (approximately 22,000 men), supplemented by local pro-Moscow Chechen Interior Ministry forces. But the withdrawal has been constantly postponed and is at present on hold.
The problem is further complicated by the poor quality of Russian troops, especially the newly formed 42nd Motor-Rifle Division. This unit was planed by the Kremlin to be a first-rate reinforced 4 regimental division of 16,000 men, manned mostly by professional contract soldiers and armed with the most modern conventional military equipment.
In reality this division is one of the worst in the present Russian army. To form the 42nd Motor-Rifle officers were gathered from all over Russia and, predictably, many commanders used the occasion to get rid of outcasts that they wanted out anyway. In 1995-1996 the Russian Defense Ministry also formed a "permanent deployment" brigade in Chechnya - the 205th Motor-Rifle based in Hankala. Throughout the NCMD the 205th brigade was known as "always drunk" 205th. In the battle for Grozny in August 1996 the 205th brigade was defeated and decimated by the Chechen rebels. Its remnants were withdrawn later to Budenovsk in the Stavropol region where the unruly kontraktniki of the 205th created havoc, assaulting the local Russian population.
The worst cases of contract soldiers not being paid during the present Chechen campaign are reported from the 42nd division. It was also reported that in the mountains of Chechnya the soldiers of the hapless 42nd division actually eat bark, to stop diarrhea caused by drinking contaminated water, because they do not have any other medicine. The water purification equipment has broken down and their is no replacement, overall sanitation is appalling, medical supplies have been commandeered by the top brass, and it is felt that officers do not care about the men.
Such a "permanent garrison" will hardly be able to control Chechnya on its own anytime soon. Other Russian units will have to stay to reinforce them, so the announced "partial" withdrawal of troops will be very partial indeed. It would be equally unreasonable to expect that there will be any significant improvement in the overall situation of the military in Chechnya at any time in the foreseeable future.
Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent Moscow-based defense analyst, and a columnist for The Moscow Times.
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Surprised at what view? That I understand why the Russian journalists are afraid to say much, but the journalists around the world have no excuse for their silence?
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