A parade of corpses before the decisive battle
By Mansur Muratov, Grozny
Parade of corpses
Last Tuesday (May 6) Kazbek Tovbulatov, an investigator of the Chechen Republic Prosecutor’s Office, was killed in a road traffic incident in Chechnya’s Gudermessky district. The incident at once sparked rumours that he had been dealt with at the hands of members of Sulim Yamadayev’s Vostok battalion. It was said that Tovbulatov had been investigating the discovery of a secret burial ground in the vicinity of Gudermes.
Yamadayev’s men are suspected of having killed the men whose corpses were found last week. Representatives of the republic’s Investigative Committee have refuted these allegations. However, the very nature of the rumours, which paint a picture of a bloody massacre, shows how electric and explosive the atmosphere around the conflict between the Moscow-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and the Yamadayevs has become.
Ramzan Kadyrov is trying to eliminate the Vostok battalion in exactly the same way as he has destroyed or neutralized other special units that were not under his control. The Chechen authorities began active monitoring of the operations of Vostok after the incident that took place between Kadyrov’s guards and Yamadayev’s men on April 14.
On the very next day, April 15, appearing on local television, Kadyrov accused the Yamadayev brothers of committing serious crimes including murder, kidnapping and unlawful security operations, such as the notorious "mop-up" in Borozdinovskaya. That operation resulted in the deaths of two people, while twelve local residents went missing without trace and several houses were burned to the ground. Kadyrov also attributed to the Yamadayevs the murder of two brothers of the well-known Moscow banker Abubakar Arsamakov.
Disintegration of Vostok battalion
A few days later, Kadyrov began the game of dividing the Yamadayevs against one another, with a public explanation that while he had no complaints about the Vostok battalion, there were questions about "individual criminals". Hundreds of Yamadayev servicemen took advantage of the chance to abandon their commanders, under whose feet the ground was rapidly starting to crumble, and switch to Kadyrov’s side. Procedures of this kind, which are questionable in terms of military valour, have become commonplace in Chechnya ever since the guerrillas began to defect to the side of the pro-Russian forces in large numbers.
This collective betrayal quickly yielded results. One Yamadayev serviceman revealed the location of a secret burial ground, from which seven corpses were exhumed on May 5. The burial ground is situated at the edge of the decommissioned Gudermes biochemical fertilizer plant, in a trench where power cables were to be laid. The melted snow and rainwater in the trench have caused severe decomposition of the remains. It will only be possible to identify the corpses by means of DNA testing.
However, the investigators suspect that the dead men were the victims of special operations conducted by Vostok at different times and in different parts of the republic. Representatives and officials of the various ministries concerned rushed to announce this in public, without waiting for the results of the investigation.
On the same day, obviously following the guidance of the same anonymous Yamadayev serviceman, a second burial ground was discovered. A man’s badly decomposed body was found in the wasteland grave. According to the investigation, the victim was a Vostok serviceman... Of the clothing on the body only the underpants were left remained, but there was a pair of handcuffs on one of the wrists. When they examined the remains, the forensic experts discovered round holes that had completely penetrated both shoulder blades and were presumably made by gunshot received from an automatic weapon. The shots had been fired into the man’s back. So far the dead man’s identity has not been formally established. However, according to witnesses, these are the remains of Vakharsolt Zakayev, platoon commander of the special purpose company at whose base the Vostok special battalion was formed in November 2003. According to the same witnesses Zakayev was shot on suspicion of having murdered company commander Dzhabrail Yamadayev.
Story of an assassination
This is an old story which has in recent years become surrounded by a large number of rumours and imaginary details, and it is impossible to verify the authenticity of all the facts. Nevertheless, the story gives quite an accurate portrayal of the mores that prevail in the Chechen law enforcement bodies, and of the relationships between the various figures in recent Chechen history.
The youngest of the Yamadayev brothers, Dzhabrail, was killed in the village of Dyshne-Vedeno on the night of March 4-5, 2003. Returning after a two-day special operation in the mountains, he lay down to rest on a sofa in a house where the company was quartered. At that moment there was an explosion. The bomb was allegedly placed directly under the sofa.
The guerrillas had long been seeking an opportunity of dealing with “Dzhaba”, as they contemptuously nicknamed Dzhabrail. The mojahedin had more than enough reasons for hating him. It is said that Dzhabrail Yamadayev took particular pleasure in humiliating women – the guerrillas’ female relatives. He used them as servants, forcing them to prepare food for him and to perform various duties around the house. The same house which contained the ill-starred sofa – Dzhabrail’s favourite spot for relaxation. Popular rumour has it that it was these women who planted the bomb which killed Leutenant Yamadayev. But they could not have succeeded in carrying out such a complex operation without outside help. The house in which Yamadayev spent the night was carefully inspected before his arrival and was under guard. Only the guards themselves, or someone whom they assisted, could have placed the bomb. The Yamadaevs had long been suspected of treason, and they sought the traitor in their own ranks. According to the same popular sources, the traitor was Vakharsolt Zakayev.
The denouement approaches
The conflict between Kadyrov and the Yamadayevs is spiralling, even though the authorities have reduced the intensity of their criticism of the latter. Everyone is waiting for the conclusion of the events connected with the change of power in the Kremlin. In anticipation of the denouement, both sides are accumulating compromising material about each other. The Yamadayevs are spreading rumours that they have the support of the new Russian president, who is said not to be averse to getting rid of the odious Chechen president.
At the same time the Yamadayevs are sending signals to the Kremlin leadership, hinting that the Kadyrovite hordes may not be reliable. Thus, speaking recently on RTVi, one of the Yamadayev brothers said that “75% of the Chechen police are shaytany [satans, devils] – amnestied guerrillas who may withdraw to the mountains again at any time."
But the Yamadayevs are themselves former guerrillas. The difference between the Kadyrovites and Yamadayevites is that the former went over to the side of the federal centre with slightly less promptness than did the latter.
When one considers that when the Yamadayev servicemen surrendered to Kadyrov they also brought him a complete database of all the dark sides of Vostok’s activities, it seems possible that further terrible discoveries may be made in Chechnya in the near future. Human rights defenders say that the number of people missing in the republic is estimated at more than 4,000.
(Translation by DM)
(T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· An interview with Sulim Yamadayev (Youtube, 8.5.2008)
· Chechen battalions slipping out of control (PW, 28.8.2007)