Johnson's Russia List
18 September 2003
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A CDI Project
September 18, 2003
Book Sees Kremlin's Hand in 2nd Chechen War
By Robin Munro
A new book on Chechnya presents evidence suggesting that Kremlin
manipulations, not Chechen terrorism, were behind the start of the second
war in the republic in 1999.
"Der Krieg im Schatten" (The War in the Shadows) was released Wednesday in
Germany as the war is about to enter is fifth year.
Edited by Florian Hassel, the Moscow correspondent of the Frankfurter
Rundschau, it has contributions from German, Russian, Chechen, British and
American authors who discuss various aspects of the bloody conflict.
Hassel argues that truth was the first casualty of the war.
"The history and run-up to the second Chechnya war is laced with lies: lies
by the rebels, but above all the lies of the Kremlin, the Russian military
and the secret services. They have lied and continue to to an extent that
it is difficult for Western citizens to understand."
While the official cause of the war is that it was a reaction to continuing
terrorism and rebel leader Shamil Basayev's invasion of Dagestan in August
1999, the book presents evidence that the war started for similar reasons
to the first: the Kremlin wanted a "small, victorious war," in this case to
help Vladimir Putin get elected president.
Hassel reports meeting in October 1999 five Dagestani policemen who had
briefly fought against Basayev's troops in the mountains.
"Basayev's attack on Dagestan was apparently organized in Moscow," said one
policeman, Elgar, who watched the Chechens retreat from the village of
Botlikh on Sept. 11. "Basayev and his people went back comfortably in broad
daylight with about 100 cars and trucks and many on foot. They used the
main road to Chechnya, and were not fired at by our combat helicopters. We
received express orders not to attack. The Chechens even had time to
quietly make a video recording of their retreat."
Inside Chechnya, several people separately gave similar descriptions of how
Basayev's convoy arrived in their town, Mesketi. "On Sept. 11 about 1,000
men, without any haste pulled up on the road behind the mosque," Mesketi
farmer Ali Abdulayev told Hassel. "Basayev was in front. There were
Chechens, Russians, Arabs, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Africans. The whole column
was accompanied by Russian helicopters. They did not attack Basayev and his
men, but seemed to be escorting them. Instead, one day later the Russians
began to bombard us."
Tomas Avenarius, Moscow correspondent of the S?ddeutsche Zeitung, also
writes of Chechens astounded by the apparent benign attitude of the Russian
military toward the rebels.
Based on a visit to the Chechen village of Serzhen-Yurt in early February
2000, Avenarius reports that a rebel training camp run by Khattab just
outside the village had continued to operate for months after the war began
without being attacked. The houses of Serzhen-Yurt, however, had been under
bombardment since the end of August 1999 and many civilians had been
killed. The rebels left, with all their weapons and jeeps, only at the
beginning of 2000.
The book also examines the apartment bombings of 1999 that killed hundreds
of people in Moscow and elsewhere and drove public opinion firmly into the
Citing material presented to State Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalyov's
commission, which looked into the bombings and the contentious finding of
sacks filled with white powder in the cellar of a Ryazan apartment
building, the book supports allegations that the Federal Security Service
was behind the blasts.
The FSB says the bombers placed bags of explosives in the cellars of the
high-rise buildings and used time-delay fuses to blow them up. Achemez
Gochiyayev, the purported leader of the bombers, however, said that he had
rented the storerooms at the request of a childhood friend and FSB officer.
Gochiyayev says he understood only after the first explosions that the
cellars were being used to store explosives.
The commission set lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB officer, on the
trail, who said he found out who the FSB officer was who had misled
Gochiyayev, Hassel writes.
Two other suspects sent a letter to the commission, dated July 28, 2002, in
which they said they had helped carry out the attacks but did so because
they had been told that the targets would be military or secret service
buildings, not civilian apartment buildings.
Despite such opportunities to clarify the circumstances of the bombings,
those willing to investigate found official barriers at every step, Hassel
One suspected motive for the murder of commission member Sergei Yushenkov
in April is opposition to the commission's work.
Other chapters of the book are written by Tageszeitung correspondent
Klaus-Helge Donath, human rights lawyer Miriam Kosmehl, Chechen journalist
Musa Muradov, Los Angeles Times correspondent Maura Reynolds, Russian
philosopher and culture critic Mikhail Ryklin; Jens Siegert of the Heinrich
B?ll Foundation and Thomas de Waal, co-author of "Chechnya: Calamity in the