The Russians have proved, yet again, that they cannot be trusted. The peace agreement signed between Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Moscow on May 27 and whose details were worked out in Nazran, the capital of Ingushetia, over several days, was violated once the Russian presidential elections were over. On July 7, Russian occupation troops unleashed a reign of terror in southern Chechenya targeting Gekhi, Mekhkety, Elistanzhi. Vedeno and Dargo villages. Four days later, the town of Shali was subjected to a similar assault.
Hundreds of civilians have been massacred in one of the worst onslaughts the Muslim Caucasus republic has witnessed since the Russians invaded it in December 1994. The Russians have carried out bombing raids from the air, and with artillery and missiles. These were continuing as we went to press.
Yandarbiyev warned that if Russian troops did not stop killing Chechen civilians, he would be forced to execute Russian prisoners in retaliation. On July 11, major general Nikolai Skripnik, second in command of the Russian interior ministry troops in Chechenya, was killed when his armoured personnel carrier hit a mine near Gekhi.
The assault on Gekhi was launched following reports that Yandarbiyev was there. Like his predecessor, general Dzhokar Dudayev, who was killed when the Russians lured him to a field telephone on April 21 for `peace talks’, Yandarbiyev has similarly been targeted, unsuccessfully so far. On July 12, the Russians dropped several tonnes of additional explosives on Gekhi in a fortuitous attempt to flatten the town and terrorise its population.
The latest Russian attacks have occurred amid statements from general Alexander Lebed, Yeltsin’s new security chief, that he is for `peace’ in Chechenya. Lebed went so far as to say that he would like to meet Yandarbiyev during his visit to Chechenya. Yet the growling general has been astonishingly silent about his army’s crimes in Chechenya. He also claimed that he was going to replace Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, the hawkish Russian commander in Chechenya. Far from replacing him, Tikhomirov seems to have been given a free hand to carry out the slaughter of Chechen civilians.
Under the Moscow agreement whose details were finalised in June between Russian and Chechen negotiators at Nazran, the Russians had agreed not only to a ceasefire but also to an exchange of prisoners, dismantling of all check-points in Grozny, the Chechen capital, by July 7 and the withdrawal of all Russian forces by September 1. Additionally, the Russians were to close all torture camps - euphemistically called `circulation centres’. The Russians simply relocated them to new areas. Chechens complain that Russian soldiers at check-points harass civilians and rob them of their possessions.
The check-points have not been dismantled. As this report is being written, only about 3,000 of the 48,000 troops had been moved out of Chechenya. In light of the current flare-up in fighting, there is no likelihood of the remaining troops moving out by September 1. In fact, it is clear that the Russians were totally insincere in signing the ceasefire agreement. Yeltsin used it simply to improve his electoral chances.
The election itself was a farce. There was much irregularity and Yeltsin used the estimated US$10 billion handed out by the international monetary fund to buy votes. The entire exercise - the first round on June 16 and the second on July 3 - was dubbed an `experiment in democracy’ by the Yeltsin-doting west.
The Russian army is perpetrating horrible crimes against humanity in Chechenya. It may be able to destroy the whole of Chechenya physically but there is no reason to believe that the Chechens’ spirit for independence can be crushed. A people who welcome martyrdom and cherish freedom cannot be defeated, certainly not by an army led by drunkard generals and common thieves. The Russian soldiers, too, would rather be in the nightclubs of Moscow that dying in the harsh mountains of the Caucasus.
Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996