Russian General Admits 'Crimes' in Chechnya




MOSCOW, July 11 ? The commander of Russian military

forces in Chechnya said today that his troops had

committed "widespread crimes" in two days of terror

they inflicted on civilians in Chechnya. Fifteen

hundred residents of two villages were arrested,

subjected to beatings and electric shocks and saw

their homes looted after mine blasts killed Russian

soldiers nearby.

Lt. Gen. Vladimir Moltenskoi, acting commander of

Russian forces in the Northern Caucasus, assembled his

subordinate officers at Russia's main military base in

Khankala, near the Chechen capital of Grozny, and in

front of Russian reporters engaged in a rare

self-criticism of the army's performance.

"Those who conducted the searches" in the villages,

Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk, "did so in a lawless

fashion, committing numerous outrages and then

pretending that they knew nothing about them," the

Itar- Tass news agency quoted him as saying. 

The general said he was making the statement because

crimes had been committed. He instructed his

subordinate commanders to respond to every citizen

complaint filed with prosecutors ? there are hundreds

already ? as a result of the "mopping up" operation

that went awry on July 3 and 4.

Dozens of witnesses said in interviews in the villages

last week that a column of more than 100 armored

personnel carriers whose identifying numbers had been

covered entered the hamlets over two days and set up

mass "filtration" centers in open fields and pits. 

There, the witnesses said, men and boys between the

ages of 15 and 55 were beaten and given electric

shocks with hand-cranked generators during


Hundreds were forced to lie face down in the sun for

most of a day. Cars and trucks were stolen, a school

and a hospital were sacked, safes blown open, money

seized and drug cabinets looted.

The general's public confession was prompted by strong

protests from Chechen and Russian officials who are

trying to re-establish order in the war-torn region,

where rebels continue to ravage Russian Army convoys

with mine attacks while federal troops enforce martial

law, which engenders deep resentment.

Seeking to reassure Chechen leaders, President

Vladimir V. Putin dispatched a number of top aides to

the region to investigate the assault on the two


The sudden outpouring of frustration and protest over

the conduct of Russian military forces, triggered by

this most recent assault, reflects the larger

frustration that has been building for months over

Moscow's inability to consolidate a military victory

that President Putin has sought over Chechen rebels

since 1999, when he began the military campaign as

prime minister.

Earlier this year, Mr. Putin was forced to halt the

pullout of Russian troops from Chechnya months after

large-scale military operations had reduced Grozny to

rubble, wrecked manufacturing and oil industries and

set more than 300,000 refugees to flight.

Yet today, small bands of rebel forces loyal to Aslan

Maskhadov, the former Chechen president; Shamil

Basayev, the rebel commander; and their allies

continue to circumvent the heavily fortified positions

of the Russian Army in Chechnya, leaving a destitute

civilian population trapped in the lawless spaces

between them.

Despite Mr. Putin's pledge to begin the reconstruction

of houses and government institutions this year, much

of Chechnya remains a landscape of devastation ruled

by an increasingly undisciplined army and, at the same

time, terrorized by rebel bands who have undertaken a

campaign of assassination against Chechens who

cooperate with the Russian authorities.

The Kremlin's intervention after the reports of last

week's abuses was clear from the abrupt turnaround in

statements by top military and government officials,

who initially defended the actions of the troops as


Even General Moltenskoi, meeting with outraged Chechen

officials hours after the raids last week, sat silent,

one participant in the meeting said, and "admitted

nothing" when village officials complained of looting

and torture by marauding troops.

Today the Kremlin scrambled to recover from the

appearance that the Russian military was waging a war

against Chechen civilians. Sergei Yastrzhembsky, an

aide to President Putin, said on Russian television,

"Apparently the very practice of mopping-up operations

should be changed, and perhaps it should become a

feature of the past."

He said "pinpoint" operations, like the one that

recently killed Arbi Barayev, notorious for his

involvement in the kidnapping and hostage trade that

has flourished in Chechnya, "are much more efficient."

And Mr. Yastrzhembsky said he advocated delegating

"more responsibility" to the Chechen authorities

appointed by Moscow to try to restore order in the

rebellious region.

The head of the Chechen government, Akhmad Kadyrov,

warned today that "if we don't punish the culprits" of

military abuse, "I will not be able to face my

people." He added that Chechen refugees now living in

neighboring Ingushetia would never be persuaded to

return to their homes.

Viktor G. Kazantsev, who as a general commanded the

assault on Chechnya in 1999, met with Chechen leaders

in private on Tuesday and said afterward that he had

apologized for the behavior of federal troops.

Mr. Kazantsev, who now serves as Mr. Putin's envoy in

the Southern Federal District, which includes

Chechnya, said that the results of an investigation

would be concluded by Friday and that he would report

them to Mr. Putin.

General Moltenskoi indicated that he personally would

travel to the two villages over the weekend to meet

with aggrieved residents.

In Moscow, Russia's top intelligence officer, Nikolai

P. Patrushev, who has had overall command of the

"counterterrorism" operation in Chechnya since the

beginning of the year, met with Mr. Kadyrov today and

assured him that "the general public will be made

aware of the results" of the investigation.

But Chechnya's member of the Russian Parliament,

Aslanbek Aslakhanov, said on Russian television

tonight that "I am not sure that those who are guilty

will be punished." He added that a number of

mopping-up operations "accompanied by mass pillaging"

and "violations of human rights" had occurred, "but

nobody has reacted to these."

On Tuesday he told reporters than five people were

found killed and eight are still missing in the

village of Kurchaloi after federal troops conducted a

raid there. 

In March, six civilians in the Novogroznensky

settlement 35 miles east of Grozny were executed by

soldiers, witnesses said, after a mine blast destroyed

an armored personnel carrier on a nearby highway.

Mr. Aslakhanov has broken with other Chechen leaders

by calling for negotiations with Mr. Maskhadov, who

remains in hiding, presumably in Chechnya's

mountainous region, and serves as the nominal head of

the rebellion.

So far, Moscow insists that it will not negotiate with

rebel leaders.

One former commander of Interior Ministry troops,

Anatoly Shkirko, was quoted today in the newspaper

Izvestia as saying the outcry over military abuses was

"inspired by the guerrillas, directly or indirectly." 

He warned against another humiliating withdrawal of

Russian forces from Chechnya, like the one in 1996

that paved the way for the rise of criminal gangs and

a kidnapping industry that has terrorized the region.


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