A Long History of Injustice Ignored: The Smashing of Chechnya - Part I to IV

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

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by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
I. A Brief History of the Repression of a People

II. Manufacturing A Pretext for Extermination

III. Acts of Genocide: A Small Price to Pay for Political Gain

IV. Undercutting the Investigation of Human Rights

V. Western Humanism in the Caucasus

VI. Muslimђ Values in the New Millenium


In the last half of 1999, Russia invaded Chechnya for the second time that decade. The Wests policy towards the crisis provides considerable insight into the motivations behind the formulation of policy, and thus elucidates the structure of the global order and the degree to which it is connected to humanitarian principles. Before inspecting RussiaҒs 1999 invasion, it is of course important to understand the historical context of Russian-Chechnyan relations and their character. After briefly elucidating this matter, the general tenore of Russias invasion is examined and on this basis an analysis of the WestҒs corresponding reaction is conducted.

I. A Brief History of the Repression of a People

The 1999-2000 crisis in Chechnya is merely the latest episode in a grim, three-centuries long oppression of Muslims under Russian colonial dominion. The Chechens, who have lived in the mountains and plains of Chechnya since the first millenium BC, are a subjugated people thanks to Russian rule, according to Peter Daniel DiPaola.[1] To many westerners, Muslims often seem like constant trouble-makers or, worse, terroristsӔ, observes US foreign correspondent Eric Margolis for the Canadian newspaper the Toronto Sun. But let us recall the Muslim world was the principal victim of rapacious 19th and 20th century European and Russian colonialism. The majority of FranceӒs, Hollands, and RussiaҒs colonial subjects, and almost half of Britains, were Muslims.Ҕ[2] During the last 250 years or so, the Muslim people of the Caucasus - Chechen, Ingush, Circassians, Abkhaz, and Dagestanis - have repeatedly attempted to revolt against the repressive rule of imperialist Russia, with the largest rebellion occurring in the mid-1800s under the leadership of the Dagestani Imam, Sheikh Shamil. Russias priority has consistently been to crush these uprisings that threaten itsҒs hegemony over millions of Muslims. In the process of clamping down on all these revolts, Russia has even managed to attempt genocide at least twice.

For example, in the 1940s 14,000 Chechens and Ingush - 3 per cent of their entire populations - were shot and killed by Stalins secret police, their bodies then dumped into a pit. The act is comparable to the mass murder of Jews in the pit at Babi Yar, committed four years before by HitlerҒs forces. Stalin later proceeded to cleanseђ almost all 1.5 million Chechens, forcibly deporting them to concentration camps in Siberia. About 25 per cent of them died in these camps. Another 2 million Muslims in the former Soviet Union, including Dagestanis, were similarly evicted to join their dying brothers and sisters in Stalins death camps.[3] Eric Margolis thus notes that the Chechens are ғthe children of a nation that has three times nearly been exterminated by Russian genocide: in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the last when Stalin had tens of thousands of Chechens shot and the remainder of the Chechen people deported to Siberian concentration camps.[4]

David Damren, an Associate Faculty Member in the Department of Religious Studies at Arizona State University, provides an overview of RussiaԒs attempts to wipe out both the Chechen people and their Islamic faith: During WWII, when disturbances occurred in Chechnya in 1940 and again in 1943, Stalin responded with astonishing brutality that bordered on genocide. Accusing them of still unproven collaboration with Nazi Germany, in 1944 he forcibly relocated six entire Caucasian nationalities, including the whole Chechen and Ingush populations, to special camps in Central Asia. All told, more than a million Muslims from the Caucasus were deported, with tremendous loss of life. By some estimates one third to one-half of the population of Chechen-Ingushetia alone - well over 250,000 people - disappeared after the republic was liquidated in February 1944.

ӓThe Chechens and other groups spent more than a decade in isolated work camps in Kazakhstan. But by all accounts, the forced resettlement failed to break either the Sufi brotherhoods or Chechen national spirit. Describing the fearsome psychology of submissionђ that prevailed in Soviet relocation camps, Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed that only one people refused to be broken by the ordeal: the nation as a whole - the Chechens.ђ...

In 1957, when the Chechens and other exiled Caucasian groups were proclaimed ӑrehabilitated and returned to their republics, they found that their land had been ґRussified. Hundreds of thousands of Russian farmers brought in to work the land during their absence had become permanent residents and now comprised a quarter of the regionҒs population.

The Chechens, Ingush and Daghestanis also discovered a land scoured of Islam. Soviet authorities had experimented with the near total suppression of Islam in the region, closing over 800 mosques and 400 religious colleges. Mazars were demolished, converted into state museums, or made inaccessible. Only after more than 30 years, in 1978, Soviet authorities in the Caucasus allowed under 40 mosques to reopen and staffed them with less than 300 registered ulema.Ӕ[5]

From 1994-96, the Russians waged yet another war to crush the Chechens popular plea for self-determination. Though the Chechens eventually managed to drive Russia out, Russian forces still succeeded in slaughtering 100,000 Chechens, wounding 240,000, and scattering 17 million anti-personnel land mines across the country.[6] Russia had used ғmass artillery, rocket barrages, and airstrikes to smash Chechen villages and towns, ԓconducted wide scale torture, and razed most of Chechnya to the ground, reports the Toronto Sun.[7] The former Soviet UnionԒs imperialist imperative had also received wholehearted support from its former Cold War enemy, the United States. President Bill Clinton… helped finance RussiaӒs war in Chechnya.[8] Clinton had ԓlent Yeltsin $11 billion to finance the operation, and ԓeven went to Moscow, lauded Yeltsin, likened Russias savage repression of tiny Chechnya to AmericaҒs civil war, and had the effrontery to call Yeltsin Russiaђs Abraham Lincoln.Ҕ The extent of American support for Russias campaign to subjugate the Chechen people was even clearer when in 1996, ғClinton reportedly ordered the CIA to supply Moscow top-secret electronic targeting devices that allowed the Russians to assassinate Chechen president, Dzhokar Dudayev, while he was conducting peace negotiations with Moscow on his cell phone.[9]

However, RussiaԒs assault on the tiny country failed despite its devastating impact, and its forces eventually had to pull out. A treaty was then instigated granting Chechnya de facto independence. It also recognised the 31 August 1996 agreement stipulating that a popular referendum be held in Chechnya on 31 December 2001 to determine the ultimate fate of its independence. Yet in 1999, Russia launched another attack on Chechnya in violation of its 1996 treaty, and in violation of the 1990 CFE treaty.[10] Russias attack was justified as a response to bombs that exploded in Moscow and other cities in September 1999, killing over 200 people. Russia blamed the bombings on Chechen ґterrorists. However, ғno convincing evidence has been presented to support allegations of Chechen involvement in the bombings.[11] According to the Economist: ԓNo clear evidence has yet been found for who was responsible for those bombs, and no one has claimed responsibility.[12] In fact the bombings ԓwere more likely carried out by Russian political provocateurs as a pretext for Moscow hardliners to invade Chechnya and intimidate freedom movements in other parts of the Caucasus.[13] This conclusion is supported by ԓthe record of violent crime and political assassinations on the part of Mafia elements that compete for influence within Russian government circles.[14]

The ambiguity surrounding the possible perpetrators of the bombings, and the sheer lack of evidence that they were carried out by Chechen ԓterrorists, was further reported by the International WorkerԒs Party (Russia), which noted that the bomb attacks in Moscow were soon followed by a number of scandalous mutual accusations between different power groups in Moscow and the Federation which incriminated Russian secret services. The commission of investigation has still not produced any convincing results which will permit the conclusion that the attacks were organized by the Chechen guerrillas.Ӕ[15] Moreover, the US must have been fully aware of the non-existent results of the Russian investigation - which have not produced any evidence of Chechen involvement in the bombings - since the State Department and FBI chief Louis Freeh offered technical and investigative assistanceӔ to the Russian government in its investigation of the four apartment explosions in Moscow.[16] Nevertheless, along with its European subordinates, the US has chosen not to expose the vacuity of Russias pretext for its war, but has instead expressed open agreement that Russia has a problem with Chechen ғterrorism - this consent to Russian propaganda has ominous implications which we shall be returning to in due course.

Rather than being a response to terrorism, as Dr. Aslambek Kadiev explained to the BBC: ԓThere are two main reasons for the two wars which Russia has launched against Chechnya. The first is economic. Russia wants to control the Caucasus oil fields and pipeline routes. The second is connected with the political situation in Russia, and particularly inside the Kremlin… The political purpose of the first Chechen war was to increase Boris Yeltsins popularity and get him re-elected as president in 1996. The main aim of this second war is to ensure that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former [KGB] spy and President YeltsinҒs anointed heir, becomes president at the next elections. The apartment bombings in Russian cities early this year were used by Russia to justify its invasion.[17]

II. Manufacturing A Pretext for Extermination

Dr. KadeivԒs observations were confirmed when the Independent obtained a videotape in which Russian officer Lieutenant Galtan testified: I know who is responsible for the bombings in Moscow [and Dagestan]. It is the FSB [Russian security service], in cooperation with the GRU [Russian military intelligence service], that is responsible for the explosions in Volgodonsk and Moscow.Ӕ[18] Further evidence arose when on 22 September 1999, a third bomb was discovered in the basement of a block of flats 100 miles south of Moscow. Local residents had noticed two men and a woman acting suspiciously and called the local police, who then arrested them. The police discovered explosive devices hidden in what looked to be bags of sugar. It was soon discovered that the suspects planting the devices were Russian FSB agents.[19]

According to Russian bomb squad officer Yuri Tkachenko, who defused the third bomb, It was a live bombӔ, made of the same explosive as the previous bombs (Hexagen). Its detonator had been set for 5:30AM, and would probably have killed most of the 250 tenants of the block of flats it was planted in. Boris Kagarlitsy, a member of the Russian Institute for Comparative Politics, stated: FSB officers were caught red-handed while planting the bomb. They were arrested by the police and they tried to save themselves by showing FSB identity cards.Ӕ The first man to enter the basement, Police Inspector Andrei Chernyshev, related: It was about 10 in the evening. There were some strangers who were seen leaving the basement. We were told about the men who came out from the basement and left the car with a licence number which was covered with paper. I went down to the basement. This block of flats had a very deep basement which was completely covered with water. We could see sacks of sugar and in them some electronic device, a few wires and a clock. We were shocked. We ran out of the basement and I stayed on watch by the entrance and my officers went to evacuate the people.Ӕ Despite the arrest of the FSB officers by the police, they were quietly released when the secret services Moscow headquarters intervened. The Observer reports that the next day, in an attempt to cover-up the discovery, ғthe FSB in Moscow announced that there had never been a bomb, only a training exercise.[20]

The fact of Russian complicity had been finally confirmed once again when Sergei Stephashin, Russian Interior and Prime Minister for most of last year (he was Interior Minister up to May and then Prime Minister until August, therefore having been at the centre of Russian decision-making), testified according to British correspondent Patrick Cockburn that ԓRussia made its plans to invade Chechnya six months before the bombing of civilian targets in Russia and the Chechen attack on Dagestan which were the official pretext for launching the war. His account wholly contradicts the official Russian version… which claims that it was only as a result of terroristђ attacks last August and September [1999] that Russia invaded Chechnya. Stephasin himself testified that the plan to send the Russian army into Chechnya ԓhad been worked out in March [1999], and he had played a central role in organising the military build up before the invasion. He stated that the invasion ԓhad to happen even if there were no explosions in Moscow. Cockburn points out: ԓThe revelation by Mr Stepashin, that Russia planned to go to war long before it has previously admitted, lends support to allegations in the Russian press that the invasion of Dagestan in August and the bombings in September were arranged by Moscow to justify its invasion of Chechnya.[21]

Boris Kagarlitsky, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Comparative Politics, ԓdrawing on a source with close knowledge of the GRU similarly stated that the bombings in Moscow and elsewhere were arranged by the GRU. He noted that the Russians manipulated ԓmembers of a group controlled by [a Chechen warlord] Shirvani Basayev… to plant the bombs which ԓkilled 300 people in Buikask, Moscow and Volgodonsk in September. The ԓinvasion of Dagestan by Shamil Baseyev himself - ShirvaniԒs brother - in August was pre-arranged with a senior Kremlin leader at a meeting in France in July.Ӕ Kagarlitsky observed that the motive for all this was the need for the political leadership in the Kremlin to control the succession of Boris YeltsinӔ, who by last summerӔ was deeply unpopularӔ, and whose family and associatesӔ feared for their fortunes if a president hostile to their interests was elected this June.Ӕ[22] One option being considered by the Kremlin and its oligarchical associates to ensure an appropriate presidential successor who would protect their freedom and fortunesӔ, was terror bombings in Moscow which could be blamed on ChechensӔ, reported Moscow correspondent Jan Blomgren in the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet four months before the first bomb, based on sources who were familiar with discussions within the Russian political elite.[23]

Kagarlisky added that in July 1999 - a month after the Swedish report - a meeting took place in the south of France attended by Alexander Voloshin, head of the presidential administration, Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord, and Anton Surikov, a former official belonging to the army special services. Both sides had interests in common. Mr BasayevӒs political fortunes had ebbed in Chechnya and might be restored by a small war. The Kremlin was also in need of an outside enemy. According to Mr Kagarlitsky they agreed that Mr Basayev would launch a military foray into Dagestan and that Russia would respond by invading northern Chechnya up to the Terek river. BasayevԒs forces thus invaded Dagestan at Russian instigation on 8 August. The next day Vladimir Putin replaced Stepashin as prime minister.Ӕ However, the invasion of Dagestan did not go as planned.Ӕ Basayevs forces ғwere beaten off but, according to the Russian magazine Profile, were virtually escorted back to the Chechen border by two Russian helicopters. The invasion was also ԓinsufficient to mobilise Russian public opinion necessitating the GRUԒs arrangement of terrorist bombings in Moscow. It was the wave of anger and hatred among Russians against Chechens, universally blamed for the attacks, that gave Mr Putin the backing he needed to invade Chechnya. An unknown figure when appointed, with just 2 per cent support in the polls, he was soon the leading candidate to win the presidency. In December Mr Yeltsin was able to retire more gracefully than seemed possible six months before and Mr Putin became acting president.Ӕ However, importantly, Cockburn further reports that according to Kagarlitsky, Shirvani Basayev and his men did not know exactly why they had been recruited by the GRU for a special mission.Ӕ[24] This lends credence to the notion that they were not entirely aware of Russian motives, the actual nature and purpose of the mission, and thus the plans of those who recruitedӔ them, which strongly suggests that Russian agents had in fact misled them.

As the international Islamic political movement, Hizb ut-Tahrir, concluded from the Russian-directed actions of these Chechen military men: it seems clear to us that it was sections of the Russian government which planned for this in order to realise their objectives. Basseyev and Khattab [another Chechen military man] have fallen into this Russian trap.Ӕ[25] The war on Chechnya thus exists thanks only to the Russian terrorist elite, and its manipulations of two Chechen military men who it seems were unaware of the deceptive nature of Russias machinations.[26]

III. Acts of Genocide: A Small Price to Pay for Political Gain

Russia utilised its propaganda-bombing swiftly, immediately demonising the Chechen people, and carrying out mass arrests in Moscow. Soon about 11,000 people were rounded up by Russian police, hundreds of whom were Chechen and many others who were of Caucasian descent. President Boris Yeltsin ordered an ғintensified security regime for airports, railway stations, markets and other areas. ԓWe should not be afraid to cross into Chechen territory to destroy militants and restore constitutional order, declared General Vladimir Ustinov. Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev elaborated, asserting that if air strikes were ordered, bombings would occur ԓthoughout the territory of Chechnya, irrespective of where the bandits are.[27] Meanwhile, ԓcivilian militias began forming within areas of Moscow to patrol the cellars and entrances of apartment houses. The Russian newspaper Izvestia reported that ԓthe population has decided to build up its own form of security, having recognised that the state could not guarantee their safety. Bewilderment and fear are gradually being transformed into hatred, and the slogan for every house in Moscow, a village in Chechnyaђ has become enormously popular.[28]

On 22 September 1999, Russian planes commenced bombing raids against Chechen targets. Ten days later, 50,000 Russian troops advanced into northern Chechnya backed by over 1,000 armoured vehicles, massive artillery and air power.[29] By mid-October, the army had encircled the country and cut off all gas and electricity supplies from Russia. Already, Chechen cities and villages had been bombarded by 24-hour Russian air strikes and artillery attacks.[30] There were continual reports of deliberate attacks on the civilian population. In early October, residents of the region bordering Dagestan testified that inhabitants had been killed by snipers while fetching water or bringing in the harvest. In one village half a farmhouse was demolished by Russian rockets, while elsewhere schools, hospitals, market places and manufacturing plants were similarly bombarded and destroyed. Even a refugee bus was bombed by the Russian army.[31] By November, an estimated 200,000 Chechen refugees had fled to nearby Ingushetia, 4,000 had been killed, and 10,000 wounded.[32] Another 170,000 were ԓstill inside Chechnya in freezing temperatures with no access to relief. Thousands, many of them women and children, have been trapped at the main border crossing for nearly two weeks in worsening conditions; ԓhuge columns of refugees have trudged in freezing rain to the borders of their homeland. Heavy air bombardments on Grozny and other Chechen towns and cities have spurred on this mass exodus.[33] By April, according to other reports, an estimated 40,000 Chechen civilians has been killed as a result of the war.[34] Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov had appealed in vain to US President Bill Clinton to take measures to prevent the ԓgenocide of the Chechen people. Foreign minister Iyas Akhmadov stated: ԓThe Chechen people are now standing on the threshold of total destruction.[35] Clearly, Russian Generals were living up to their repeated vows to ԓexterminate[36] the Chechens.

Extermination certainly seemed to be a primary motive. On 4 February 2000, Russian air and ground forces deliberately targeted the Chechen village of Katyr Yurt, west of Grozny. The village was occupied by hundreds of refugees fleeing the fighting elsewhere in Chechnya, as well as its regular inhabitants. The devastating onslaught commenced in the early morning, with three planes bombing until mid-afternoon. Russian ground troops moved in after the buildings were bombed to loot and kill any other survivors. Particularly horrifying was the departure of a civilian convoy assembled in the afternoon. The convoy had been promised safe passage out of the village by Russia through a certain road accordingly dubbed a ԑsafe corridor. ғAs it departed, down a two-kilometre road on the western edge of Katyr Yurt, each vehicle bearing large white flags made of blankets, it too came under systematic attack, reports Dispatches. ԓWhole families, old men, women and children, were slaughtered. Eye witnesses and survivors counted the number of the dead at 363. Many of the bodies, they reported, were simply piled into mass graves by Russian soldiers. The war crime at Katyr Yurt is one of the dirtiest episodes in Russias dirty war in Chechnya.Ҕ Dispatches reporter John Sweeney, met with survivors and eyewitnesses at the border with Russia, and then at the village itself. They testified that the Russian army had herded Chechen civilians into vehicles and then deliberately opened fire on them as they drove down the supposedly ӑsafe corridor to the border.Ҕ Dispatches further notes that far from being an isolated incident, carried out by low-ranking soldiers in the heat of battle, the Katyr Yurt massacre was just one of a series of atrocities reported by refugees of this bloody war.Ӕ The Emmy-award winning team of investigative reporters found that the finger of blame pointed right back to the man in charge at the Kremlin itself.Ӕ[37]

This particular atrocity was elaborated on by Sweeney in the Observer: The village of Katyr Yurt, ӑsafe in the Russian-occupied zone, far from the warҒs front line, and jam-packed with refugees, was untouched on the morning of 4 February when Russian aircraft, helicopters, fuel-air bombs and Grad missiles pulverised the village. They paused in the bombing at 3pm, shipped buses in, and allowed a white-flag convoy to leave - and then they bombed that as well. The result was ԓa landscape as if from the Somme, streets smashed to matchwood, trees shredded, blood-stained cellars, the survivors in a frenzy of fear. The village was littered with the remains of Russian vacuumђ bombs - fuel-air explosives that can suck your lungs inside out, their use against civilians banned by the Geneva Convention. There is, furthermore, no question of the sustained attack on the civilian convoy being a ԑmistake. Russia had actually ceased bombing at about half past four in the afternoon, leaving the population two hours to leave. Buses with white flags were sent in by Russian forces for this apparent purpose. ғThe convoy set off, each car showing a white flag, some cars showing two or three, packed with mainly women and children - the men held back, to make more room for children, said Rumissa [one of the eye-witnesses and survivors of the attack]. It headed west towards the town of Achoi Martan and safety. When we were on the open road, they fired ground-to-air rockets at us. It was a big rocket, not as big as a car. It was strange. It didnђt explode once, it exploded several times. Every car had flags, how many cars I dont know. It was a mess, lots of them. They hit us without stopping.Ғ Could the Russians have mistaken the white-flag convoy for fighters? No, they couldnђt mistake us. They knew very well there were a lot of refugees: 16,000 refugees and 8,000 locals in the village. In front of us was a big car full of children, not grown-ups. They burnt before my eyes…. Another eyewitness, a wounded man of the killable age, said: ґThey started bombing. Bombs, artillery. They were killing people. At our local school on the edge of the village there were Spetsnaz troops. They said: We will give you a safe corridor. So everyone started to go towards Achoi Martan. Then they used rockets against us. Some say 350 refugees were killed, 170 from the village itself.Ҕ[38]

In other words, Russias arrangement of the so-called ґsafe corridor was a set-up, expressly designed it appears, to ғexterminate the Chechen people. In accord with this sublime objective, Russia has established four concentration camps - ԓfiltration camps - supposedly designed to ԑfilter out Chechen ґterrorists from civilians. The largest camp is at Chernokozovo ғwith about 700 detainees - possibly ranging to over a thousand - reports the British press, only 7 of whom are genuinely suspected of taking part in the war. ԓRussian soldiers are beating, raping and torturing Chechen prisoners according to human rights groups, prisoners who ԓhave been summarily arrested on the flimsiest of pretexts. Evidence shows that ԓlarge numbers of young Chechen men are being rounded up arbitrarily and detained. In early February, ԓa letter detailing the brutality of the camp regime, apparently written by a Russian soldier there, was leaked to the media. The soldier described ԓhow Chechen inmates were being systematically beaten, killed and raped. One should note the observation of Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch representative in the region: ԓThese men are being taken to unknown detention facilities and their families are not being informed of where they are. Some men are never heard of again. Given the mass abuses which took place in these centres during the last war, we are gravely concerned about this developing trend.[39]

Additionally, ԓRussian soldiers have been raping Chechen women in areas of Russian-controlled Chechnya according to a team of Human Rights Watch investigators in Ingushetia. Numerous eyewitness testimonies confirm that cases of the rape of Chechen girls and women by Russian soldiers is high. The nature of these cases can be gleaned from the consideration of even just a single incident referred to by HRW, narrated by ԓZaman, a Chechen women aged 55 from the village of Alkhan-Yurt. Zaman testified that at one time five or six women were raped in her village ԓincluding one old woman like me. At night at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., the soldiers came into the cellar. Some soldiers would stand guard, aiming their guns at [the people in the cellar] while the others were raping. Rape is also likely to be under-reported in Chechnya. Zaman stated: ԓA lot of women were raped, but our people wont talk about it - these women have to marry.Ҕ HRW reports that Zaman broke out in tears as she described the extreme precautions she and her neighbors had to take to protect their young daughters from rape: ӑThere were five young women with us in the cellar: my three daughters aged twenty-six, twenty, and twelve, and our neighbors girls, aged eighteen and nineteen. We made a pit outside in the yard near the stables. We put a pipe [for air] in the pit, covered it with earth, and the five girls were staying in that pit. The soldiers used to come by and say, ґWhere are the young girls, we need three girls for each soldier. So we kept the girls in the pit. The girls were kept there for several days.Ҕ The testimony unfortunately only increases. Another witness from Alkhan-Yurt, forty-year-old SultanӔ, told HRW about another case: Seven contract soldiers [non-officers who serve in the military on a contractual basis] raped a woman in our village. It is a savagery. Her family lives near the cemetery; there were few people left in that part of the village. They [the soldiers] pulled her husband out in the street, and then raped her. The woman is not young, she is forty-two or forty-three. I know the womanӒs name, but it is against our traditions to name her.[40]

This state of humanitarian crisis is unlikely to be over soon. The French Press Agency (Agence France Press [AFP]) reported that ԓRussian troops will remain in Chechnya for decadesђ in their bid to maintain control over the rebel province, according to Duma parliamentary Speaker Gennady Seleznev.[41] The fearless Russian-American journalist Andrew Babitsky, who was arrested by Russian authorities in Grozny and detained for six weeks, testified from his experiences: ԓIn Chechnya, there is a Russian police state that quite effectively rules by fear… There were hundreds and hundreds of civilians in Grozny, and only a few of them had a chance to leave. AFP reports that Babitsky ԓhad compiled video interviews with several hundred civilians cowering in the citys basements, who told stories of how Russians pulverized whole sections of the rebel capital from the air with no regard for the people trapped insideҔ; the footage however was confiscated by federal troops and never returnedӔ. Babitsky was sent two days later to the notorious Chernokozovo ӑfiltration campҔ, where he stated that guards brutally beat him and tortured many others, including women, for hours on endӔ (he was to be hospitalized… for treatment after what he claimed was weeks of physical abuse by Russian captorsӔ). He affirmed of Chernokozovo: This is a concentration camp in every sense of the word. There were practically no fighters there. They are sweeping up civilians and breaking them down in Chernokozovo.Ӕ[42] I suffered the same treatment as everyone, without exception, who passes through there. That is to say dozens of blows with batons.Ӕ Whilst in the camp, they tortured a woman. I say tortured because I canӒt find another word for it. Her screams showed that she was suffering extreme, unbearable pain, and over a long period… I saw people beaten very heavily, black and blue, for example Aslanbek Sharipov, from Katir-Yurt, who was beaten endlessly, morning, midday and night. Most of his teeth were broken. He also observed: ԓWeve all read about concentration camps during the Stalin era, we all know about the German camps - itҒs exactly the same there.[43]

The camps have also been confirmed by Human Rights Watch which reported how ԓRussian camp guards are torturing, beating, and on occasion raping Chechen civilians at a filtration campђ inside Chechnya on the basis of credible testimony from former detainees. ԓWhats happening in these filtration camps is unspeakableҔ, said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. We saw the same kind of torture and ill-treatment in filtration camps during the last Chechen war.Ӕ[44] Horrific acts of genocide committed by Russian soldiers have been ongoing since the beginning of the war. Widespread massacres of Chechen civilians, along with arson, rape and looting, have occurred with systematic impunity throughout Chechnya in various villages and towns.[45]

The ruthless subjugation of Chechnya has been useful in strengthening Putins popularity, as was planned by the Russian elite. The American intelligence think-tank Stratfor pointed out soon after the Moscow bombings that ғYeltsins opponents, such as former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, have long feared that Yeltsin would call a state of emergency for political gain. The recent bombings could give him the excuse to do this legitimately.Ҕ[46] The press similarly observed: With the news agenda in Moscow dominated by the war in the Caucasus, YeltsinӒs presidential nominee, the hawkish Vladimir Putin, has been given a major boost by the popularity of Russias military campaign. The Kremlin-backed Unity (Edinstvo) party has also benefited from the war. Led by RussiaҒs Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu - shown on television daily dealing with the human consequences of the Chechen crisis - the party has soared in the polls, currently trailing just behind the Communists. Putins recent promise of support for Unity strengthened its position - despite the fact that the party has still not bothered to give voters any indication of what it stands for. Shoigu has proffered no economic programme other than to support whatever PutinҒs government does.[47] As the Washington Post remarked: ԓPutin has staked his presidential candidacy on the wars outcome, and so far his popularity has soared.Ҕ[48] The policy of smashing Chechnya for political gain thus ultimately culminated in a landslide success, with the appearance of victory hav[ing] propelled Mr. Putin to power in what critics have denounced as a brazen bid by Kremlin insiders to bypass the democratic processӔ, and install a president not hostile to their oligarchical interests, according to the Times.[49] Putins victory is thus primarily a result of the sheer mass of domestic pro-war propaganda being constantly trumpeted by Russian media, described by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting as ғA Chilling Flashback to the Soviet Past.[50]

Unlike Russian warmongering, however, Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov put forth offers of peace talks to resolve the dispute. The AFP reported at the beginning of March 2000: ԓThe Kremlin flatly rejected on Thursday an offer of peace talks from Aslan Maskhadov, the separatist president of Chechnya, and warned that it would wipe out the last remaining rebel units within a week.[51] The Institute for War & Peace Reporting further noted of the amnesty offered by Russia ԓfor rebel fighters to voluntarily hand over their weapons - which was extended to 1 April - that the numerous reports of ԓsummary executions and savage brutality at the Chernokozovo filtrationђ camp will serve to dissuade any war-weary fighter from throwing himself on Moscows mercy.Ҕ[52] At this time - early in March - a political solution to the war in Chechnya was not in Russian interests, since Putin had not yet achieved his domestic political victory; only once the political victory was achieved near the end of March did the utility of Chechen blood become questionable. According to the Guardian: In his three months as acting president, his only policy has been to prosecute ruthlessly his war in the Caucasus. Having exploited Chechnya as his vehicle to power, he may now turn to the search for an exit strategy and the quest for a political settlement.Ӕ[53]

IV. Undercutting the Investigation of Human Rights

Russian representatives have frequently proclaimed their willingness to allow independent commissions of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in Chechnya. However, the actual effectuation of these endorsements reveals that such announcements are designed specifically for public consumption - not for significant action. We can gauge the meaning of Russias willingness to invite international independent organisations to investigate the Chechen crisis, by evaluating - for example - the visit of United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, to Chechnya in March. British journalist Ian Traynor reported from Moscow that Robinson ғended a much-delayed and frustrating visit to Chechnya on 3 April, ԓher attempts to assess alleged war crimes and atrocities by Russia troops stymied by her Russian escort. She was prevented from travelling to three villages outside Grozny where international human rights monitors say Chechen civilians were massacred by Russian troops. Her requests to inspect several detention centres where Russian troops were alleged to have tortured prisoners were also ignored. ԓHer Russian hosts added insult to injury when planned ԓmeetings with senior government officials were cancelled ԓofficially because inclement weather kept her grounded in Dagestan, delaying her by one day.

However, Vladimir Kalamanov, PutinԒs special representative for human rights in Chechnya, dismissed the UNӒs complaints, insisting - in his own words - that ԓwe have honoured our commitments… We were quite open, we showed her everything she wanted to see. In fact, Mary RobinsonԒs letter to the Kremlin before arriving in Moscow had requested information on mass human rights violations by Russian troops or [Chechen] terrorists.Ӕ Kalamanov did not take kindly to Robinsons mention of ғmass human rights violations by Russian troops, although this is exactly the issue in dire need of immediate investigation. ԓThats an insultҔ, he declared. Ours is a modern, civilised European army.Ӕ

The UN high commissioner for human rights, however, disagreed with this assessment: I am hearing of very serious problems of human rights violations carried out by those in Russian military uniforms, special forces uniforms. It is very important that these be fully investigated and that those responsible do not have impunity.Ӕ The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) concurred: The civilian population is the first target of the operations carried out by the Russians… who are responsible for the most serious violations of human rights and international law. These violations constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.Ӕ[54]

Vladimir Kalamanov - the man who finds even the suggestion that Russian troops are committing mass human rights violationsӔ to be an insultӔ - also heads Russias attempt at an ґindependent commission to investigate atrocities in Chechnya. The Guardian reports that Kalamanov ғis Vladimir Putins response to western criticism of atrocities perpetrated by Russian troops in Chechnya.Ҕ While he publicly insists he has a mandate to bulldoze through bureaucracy and demand answersӔ, the progress of his investigationђ reveals otherwise. For example, Asked for details of alleged war crimes, the military prosecutorӒs office sent Mr Kalamanov a perfunctory letter revealing nothing. He tried again. He was told that 129 investigations had been launched. Most were about bullying and other offences within the army. Only seven concerned alleged offences against civilians in Chechnya. Furthermore, he ԓhas asked the army for answers on three specific alleged massacres. No response. Nor can he get the resources he needs. He was appointed on February 17, yet he still has no budget. The staff he has recruited have not been paid. Despite having a nice ԓlarge office in Moscow, ԓhe has been unable to make contact with his people in Chechnya.

His section has one phone line and one fax in Chechnya. ThereԒs no phone link to Moscow, and no email. In fact, many of his claims regarding Chechnya are apparently quite inaccurate. For example, he brandished ԓone detailed list of 646 Chechen detainees, another of 49, of whom ԓ500 have been released. ԓSuch assertions are contested by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who say that thousands of Chechens have been detained by Russian troops.

Unfortunately, it is Kalamanov who heads the proposed ԑindependent national commission to investigate Russian atrocities in Chechnya, that has been so lauded by politicians in the West eager to lend a humanitarian sheen to their new ғstrategic ally. Although the ԓUN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is training some of Mr Kalamanovs staff, are clearly hoping to entrench him in office and then to gradually institutionalise a human rights monitoring mechanism in RussiaҔ, the Guardian notes: that will be too late for Chechnya.Ӕ The effectiveness of such a commission of inquiry is called further into question by the position and attitude of Kalamonov himself. One senior Western diplomat is reported to have confessed: He faces so much obstruction and opposition. His operation is an empty shell… heӒs not in a position to do much. Diederik Lohman of Human Rights Watch in Moscow similarly noted: ԓhe has a reflexive distrust of anything the displaced Chechens say. If thats your attitude before you start your investigation, you know there will be no results.Ҕ[55]