(Washington, DC--November 21, 2001) A Russian journalist who recently fled into exile because of her reporting on the war in Chechnya told an RFE/RL audience yesterday that "a state of total military anarchy" exists in Chechnya, where even "bits of territory inside a Russian military zone" are subject to ever-changing lines of authority among various Russian military units.
Anna Politkovskaya, a special correspondent for Moscow's "Novaya Gazeta", described the Russian military campaign in Chechnya as a "war of colonels", particularly in the mountains, where federal troops act on their own and define their role as "to avenge their fallen comrades." Under these conditions, prosecutors and courts in Chechnya allow the Russian military to engage in "ethnic cleansing" and the taking of hostages, Politkovskaya explained. She estimates that there are 2,000 Chechen families searching for their relatives at this time, unable to pay Russian troops the required ransoms to obtain their release.
Politkovskaya said she sees no quick end to the conflict, because new armed formations have entered the on both sides of the fighting. Some Russian troops in Grozny have joined the Chechens and a "civil war" exists among the Chechen field commanders, 90 percent of whom detest the presence of Arab mercenaries that are reportedly aiding some 10 percent of Chechen units. Politkovskaya said that in two years of covering the war she "had not seen a single Arab mercenary, dead, wounded or alive, among the Chechen fighters", although Russian military spokespersons consistently point to such a presence.
On the basis of her own reporting, Politkovskaya believes that the controversial Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev is cooperating with the Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB) which now directs the Russian campaign in Chechnya. Basayev is said to use Arab mercenaries among his troops. Politkovskaya said that when the Russian military seeks to publicly justify its war against radical Islamic bandits in Chechnya, Basayev's troops will enter a village to provoke an attack and "escape" before Russian military units begin their "cleansing" operation. She gave two examples she witnessed of this pattern: the village of Mahkeri in Vedeno district and the town of Gudermes in August.