Unravelling the truth about Chechnya

By Brian Low

The Chechen rebels were expelled from Grozny. It has taken months of bitter fighting, but in the face of overwhelming opposition, Chechen fighters withdrew and relocated to the mountainous hillsides where the struggle is sure to continue indefinitely. They persist because they believe they are fighting for their freedom. Why the Russians persist is anybody’s guess.

Now that the rebels are out and there is partial access to the 40,000 civilians who occupied the city while fighting went on, tales of gross human rights abuses are coming to the fore. The group Doctors for Human Rights reports conclusive medical evidence of torture and beatings inflicted upon Chechen civilians. Stories from the civilians confirm this. One unfortunate man was beaten unconscious four times in one week as the federal troops vented their rage. Over half report having themselves witnessed Russian executions of civilians.

Even more damning than this, however, is graphic video footage of Russian soldiers tossing bound Chechens into an unmarked mass grave. The first official Russian line was that it was rebel propaganda. "Our troops don’t behave that way; it had to be rebels dressed up as us and acting."

Well it was a pretty good act, because no one believed for a second that they were Chechen actors. Then the story changed. The current Russian position is that the film contained footage of actual Russian troops, (no actors whatsoever), but they were conducting an honourable burial of rebels killed in combat so that the bodies could be identified later.

Excuse me if I have a tough time swallowing some of this pap. If these were rebels killed in combat with Russian forces, why were they bound? Is it really standard Russian practice to tie up the dead for burial? Last time I checked, it was prisoners who get tied up, not corpses. And the execution of prisoners is a war crime at par with those of the Nazis. And the mangled bodies were being tossed in an unmarked mass grave for "later identification?" C’mon. Do the Russians really think anybody is buying this?

At present Russia will not allow media and human rights groups to operate independently within Chechnya. This is because the Russians would never lie about what’s happening, and there are no human rights abuses going on. And we should trust them because forthrightness and transparency are pretty much the hallmarks of Russian government. Yeah, hallmarks.

Clearly, it is not until there is a change in the practice of official Russian censorship that there will be any change in the practice of Russian warfare–and clearly, change is needed. Let it be noted that what happens in Chechnya isn’t so far removed from our own power. The West holds the purse strings and curries the diplomatic favour which Russia needs for continued survival as a viable world power. It’s time we in the West do more than just scold the Russians for what’s going on in Chechnya. It might just lead to real change.

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