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OUR NEW MIDDLE AGES, OR WAR CRIMINALS OF ALL THE RUSSIAS
W e currently have two kinds of war criminals in Russia. The crimes of both relate to the second Chechen war, which began in August 1999 just as Vladimir Putin was appointed prime minister. The war—a feature of his first presidential term—continues to this day.
All the war-crimes prosecutions that have occurred have had one common attribute: their outcome has been determined on ideological rather than on legal grounds. Inter arma silent leges: In time of war, the laws are silent. Those found guilty have been sentenced, not after due process but in accordance with the ideological winds blowing from the Kremlin.
The first kind of war criminal is someone who was, in fact, involved in military conflict—for example, an army soldier engaged in the “antiterrorist operation” in Chechnya, or a Chechen fighter who opposed the army. The former is always cleared of his crime; the latter, treated with scant regard for the law, is charged with a crime. The former is acquitted by the judicial system even where there is manifest proof of guilt (which is rare, since the prosecutor’s office usually makes no attempt to collect evidence). The latter is given the severest sentence possible.
The best-known federal case is that of Colonel Yury Budanov, commanding officer of the 160th Tank Regiment. On March 26, 2000, the day Putin was elected president, Budanov abducted, raped, and murdered an eighteen-year-old Chechen girl, Elza Kungaeva, who lived with her parents in the village of Tangi-Chu, on the outskirts of which Budanov’s regiment was temporarily deployed. We’ll examine Budanov’s experiences later in this chapter.
The best-known Chechen case is that of Salman Raduev. Raduev was a renowned Chechen field commander, a brigadier who had been carrying out terrorist raids since the first Chechen war, when he had commanded what was known as the army of General Dudaev. Raduev was caught in 2001, sentenced to life imprisonment, and died in mysterious circumstances in Solikamsk high-security prison. Solikamsk is an infamous prison city, nestled among salt mines in Perm Province, in the Urals, a place of exile since czarist times. Raduev was a symbol of those fighting for Chechen freedom from Russia. There are many cases like his; as a rule, they are heard behind closed doors, to conceal information from the public. The need for such hush-hush activity is often obscure. Occasionally it is possible, with great difficulty and in great secrecy, to obtain the court records of cases brought against Chechen fighters. The accused are usually found guilty; no time is wasted on the collection and consideration of evidence.
Thus, no one in the first category of accused war criminals, whether federal or Chechen, gets a fair trial. After sentencing, Chechen fighters are sent off to remote labor camps and prisons and do not survive for long. Opinion polls show that even those who support the government’s war in Chechnya believe these prisoners are “gotten rid of” at the behest of the authorities. Almost nobody in Russia believes that the judicial system is fair, while almost everybody believes that the judiciary is subordinate to the executive branch.
Then there is the second kind of war criminal: the individual who is in the wrong place at the wrong time, someone run over by the juggernaut of history—not a soldier on either side but a Chechen who becomes a convenient scapegoat. A typical case is that of Islam Hasuhanov. Everything about his story is redolent of Stalin’s purges. Witness statements are beaten out of people; torture and pyschotropic drugs are used to break the will of the accused. This is the hellish path traveled by the majority of Chechens who have found themselves in the torture chambers not only of the FSB but of all the other security agencies rampaging in Chechnya. Individuals were tortured by the henchmen of the late Ahmat-Hadji Kadyrov, who, until his assassination, was head of the pro-Moscow Chechen puppet government; they are tortured in the military commandant’s posts, in pits on the territory of army units, in solitary-confinement cells at police stations.
All these practices are coordinated and managed by the FSB. These are Putin’s people, they enjoy Putin’s support, and they carry out Putin’s policies.
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