Saturday, February 25, 2006

Armoured Killers

Armoured Killers

Collisions between BTR armoured vehicles and cars in Grozny, as a result of which civilians frequently die, have become systematic. Meanwhile, those at fault – the drunken drivers of BTRs from the federal forces – as a rule get away with a meaningless disciplinary reprimand.


On 15th February there was an accident on Grozny’s Staropromyslovskoe highway,near the village of Butenko. An armoured personnel carrier with soldiers from the Interior Troops of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Russia, driving in a military convoy, crashed into a “Zhiguli”, Mark 7. The driver of the “Zhiguli”, Ali Zaipulaev, was seriously wounded and was taken to hospital. The passenger, Salavdi Murtazaev, the head of the Cardiology Centre from municipal hospital number 3 in Grozny, died ot the scene of the accident.

Witnesses maintain that the armoured vehicle unexpectedly veered out of the convoy of vehicles and ran into the “Mark 7” , which was parked on the side of the road. The soldiers tried to get away from the scene of the accident but they were blocked by people [at the scene], which meant that members of the Chechen police service arrived in time to take the BTR and its crew to the regional branch of the interior affairs authorities (ROVD).

As usually happens in this type of case, the military quickly came to the defence of its colleagues. At the military prosecutor’s office (whose staff had also been to the scene of the accident), they announced that the accident was the fault of the driver of the “Zhiguli”. “My colleagues have informed me that the BTR was driving along on its own side of the road but the doctor’s car drove right at it”, said Maksim Toporikov, the Military Prosecutor of the United Group of Forces in the Northern Caucasus, in an interview to “Kommersant” newspaper.

Neither did the prosecutor fail to note that it was far too early to come to any firm conclusions on who was to blame for the accident. “There was such a lot of fuss going on, that it was almost impossible to follow up on any fresh leads, as you should”, he said.

The opinion of the witnesses and the members of the regional police force who arrived first at the scene of the accident, are obviously of no interest at all to the military. Plus, they do not bear any relation to the version given by the prosecutor. “The BTR was driving in a convoy, and in the middle of the convoy too, so it was impossible for it to be able to veer out into the Zhiguli, as the military said”, a “Kavkazskii Uzel” correspondent was told in the regional branch of the interior affairs authorities (ROVD).

The police also maintain that the driver of the armoured vehicle was very drunk. “Their (the military’s) drunken escapades cost us dearly”, we were told in the duty room of the regional branch of the police. “It is completely obvious that the military will deny everything and do everything they can to shield yet another soldier with military shoulder straps, guilty of killing someone. As well as trying to blame the driver of the ill-fated “Zhiguli”, the military have also come out with a version that the mechanic-driver of the armoured vehicle ‘could not manage the steering’”.

This is also a fairly widespread and well-developed way of making sure a soldier is not held responsible. And there is quite a lot of evidence to support this. In October last year a BTR carrying Russian fighters crushed 24 year old Eliza Ismailova to death (she also worked as a doctor). The armoured vehicle, which was driving at high speed down Mayakovskii Street in the Leninskii area of town, crashed into a traffic light and knocked down Eliza, who was standing at the bus stop. The “military car” crew, who were extremely drunk, were detained by fighters from the special forces brigade of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Chechnya. The military announced at once that the driver of the BTR was completely sober, that he had tried to avoid colliding with a “Gazelle” minibus that was driving towards him and he simply could not manage the steering. As a result the garrison military court of Grozny sentenced Dmitry Vasil’ev, the driver-mechanic of the armoured vehicle, practical ly the direct killer of the girl, to just one year of service in a disciplinary battalion. (Those who have served in the army probably know what a disciplinary battalion is, or “disbat” as it is usually known”. “Disbat” is part of themilitary but with significantly stricter conditions of service. Usually soldiers who have committed serious misdemeanours in the course of their military service end up there, such as beating up or mocking other soldiers. Service in the “disbat” does not count towards your time in the army and after they have served out their punishment, most soldiers return to their unit. But the “disbat” is also not a usual correctional institution for criminals and the time spent there is not considered a prison sentence). In order to sentence any person guilty of killing a girl, even a soldier, to one year’s service in a “disbat” you would have to have a very rich imagination.

Some time after the death of Ismailova, this time in the Oktyabr’skii region of Grozny, another BTR rammed into two cars (a “Volga” and a “Zhiguli”), which were driving along in the other direction. Thankfully, there were no deaths that time, although the driver of the “Volga” was seriously injured. The mechanic-driver of this armoured vehicle was also extremely drunk.

In May 2005 on the highway near the village of Starye Atagi, an armoured vehicle carrying infantry (BMP) with soldiers from the military commandant’s office from the Itum-Kalinskii region, drove into a “Volga” GAZ-Z110 car. A 14 year old girl died at the scene of the accident and her mother, her younger brother and the driver were taken to hospital in a critical condition.

“What is happening in our republic, including what is happening on the roads, never mind the kidnappings and murders, clearly illustrates that the Russian military are behaving as though they are on enemy territory here. And correspondingly, all the inhabitants of the republic are seen as enemies, people who can be oppressed, burnt, shot and taken hostage without fear of any kind of consequences for yourself”, according to Usman Baisaev from the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

“The most offensive thing about the Murtazaev case is that because of the actions of some drunken scum, an educated, intelligent man has died. A man who has needed by the republic and its people and who saved other people’s lives. And the good-for-nothing who is guilty of his death will laugh about it later and boast that he “got one”. I can even tell you approximately what kind of “punishment” this latest killer in military uniform will get. He will get a year at most suspended with no right to occupy any commanding post. Sergeants, for example, are demoted to the ranks”.

According to human rights defenders, in the last few months, the Russian military have been responsible for several serious road accidents, as a result of which five people have died. And in almost all of this type of case the soldiers who have committed the crime against the civilians of Chechnya get away with a scare or they get a meaningless punishment. And there are many examples that prove this.

For example, on 25th April 2000, on the Alkhan-Yurt- Urus-Martan highway, a “Ural” military wagon drove onto the other side of the road and deliberately crashed into a “Zhiguli” car, driven by Agabiev, a local resident. Apart from the driver, there were three women, a young child and a man in the car. They were all seriously wounded and injured and were hospitalised. Members of the Chechen police detained the soldiers who tried to escape the scene of the accident. The criminal case against the soldier who engineered the accident was closed “due to the expiration of the time period in a long-standing criminal investigation”.

On 9th June 2000, in the regional centre, Shali, an officer of the Russian army driving an armoured vehicle carrying infantry (BMP) whilst under the influence of alcohol, drove into two local women: Kurmagaeva and Dakhaeva. The latter died later from the injuries she sustained. A military court ruled that the officer was guilty of the crime and sentenced him …. to a three year suspended sentence, with a one year probation period and banned him from driving for one year.

Further comment is unnecessary.

Or let’s take another case. On 6th October 2000 in the Khankala settlement, a soldier from the Russian army driving a self-propelled artillery installation (SAU) crashed into a car. As a result of the accident two women died. A military court again found the soldier guilty and sentenced him to a five year sentence with a deferment of implementing the sentence of four years, meaning he was given a suspended sentence. This makes you think involuntarily of the film “Kavkazskaya Plennitsa” (the Prisoner from the Caucasus) and want to cry out: “Long live our courts! The most humane courts in the world”!

“The military prosecutor’s office has many ways of letting soldiers get away without punishment. Often this takes the form of deliberately dragging out the enquiry for a long period of time after which the guilty party is usually cleared due to “the expiration of the time period in a long-standing criminal investigation”. However, the most widespread method of saving soldiers from punishment is awarding a sentence with a deferment of implementation (i.e. a suspended sentence, or a ban from taking up a commanding post and service in a “disbat”)”, says Baisaev.

Why the commanding officers of the Russian military group pay practically no attention to the arbitrariness of those under their command on the roads of the republic, is not at all clear. After all every soldier has a huge number of direct commanders and superiors: the commander of the platoon, company, battalion, unit, brigade, division, army and region. Why do they take no responsibility for the criminal actions of those under their command? If an officer cannot control those under his command, he is a criminal. If he can control them but he is not taking any action, then he is a criminal twice over.

And his place is in a prison along with his soldier. Especially if someone is guilty of the murder of a civilian, however the crime was committed or the conditions under which it was committed.

If the war in Chechnya really did end a long time ago (as they love to repeat in Moscow), then the military should be in their barracks studying military tactics, and not drinking large amounts of alcohol and careering round the streets. Otherwise, it will not be an army at all, but a pale imitation of one, more like a band of anarchists from the time of the Civil War in the last century.

Translated by Claire C.RIMMER

"Chechen Society" newspaper, #04, 22-25 February 2006
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