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(en) Barricada #?, Interview with a Russian Anarchist Chechnya War Veteran

From Chuck0 <chuck@mutualaid.org>
Date Thu, 21 Nov 2002 06:26:38 -0500 (EST)


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The following is an interview with a Russian  Libertarian Communist taken in 
the summer of 2002, in Southern Russia. Due to gag-rules of Russian soldiers, 
and of course, retaliation of Chechens or Russians, we will just call him 
Alex. He is very clever, physically fit, and gives off the impression of 
someone who has not gone through the horrors which he has. He is very active 
in the anarchist movement in Russia.

Barricada: Let?s start with some background. What were you before you were 
drafted into the army?

Alex: A gangster.

B: When did your term start in the army?

A: In June 1996 I had to join the Army. [Russia stills has compulsory 
military service --ed.] I began the course of the ?young warrior?, that is, 
taking an IQ test, physical competitions, things like this. Several hundred 
men tested, and the officers decide what part of the army people will go to.

B: Did you want to join the army?

A: I wanted to go.

B: How long was the training for?

A: Two months.

B: Were you concerned about the possibility of going to Chechnya?

A: I knew it was a possibility. I was not surprised when I went there.

B: Looking back, do you think the training was sufficient for what happened 
in Chechnya?

A: We did some exercises in mountain warfare. And during training the 
officers made us chant ?Death, death, death to Chechens!? Out of 375 people, 
only 15 of us went into Chechnya. I was taken for Special Forces.

B: Tell us about your first day in Chechnya.

A: From a city in the north Caucasus, we were helicoptered into 
Staropromyslovski district of Grozny. I didn?t think of any danger. When we 
landed, some men who had already fought in Chechnya and were going home were 
waiting for us. We changed weapons, bullets and bombs. At this time I heard a 
bomb explode. It was my first feeling of fear.

B: What did you do the first few months in Grozny?

A: From August to October (1996) there was cruel fighting between Russian 
forces and Chechen rebels in Grozny. The main fighting I was in was in 
Minutka square. This square was well known on Russian TV news. The officers 
were so stupid, I mean really unintelligent, they did not know what they were 
doing. Often it was the Sergeants who would set up the strategies and we 
would just ignore the officers. This one time on Lenin street [In Minutka 
Square, Grozny], we had to help get some group of Russian soldiers who were 
surrounded by Chechen forces. The officers were stupid and just sent us in 
without information on the situation. We never reached the other Russian 
soldiers. We were trapped on Lenin street for seven days with little water, 
and only about 200 grams of canned meat a day. We had to fight for seven days 
strait. A group of SOBR, another elite special force in Russia, had to come 
in and help us get out. My first squad was fifteen people and ten died on 
this operation. It was terrible, hot, no water, no strategy. We went back to 
the Russian base, and we set up a plan, not the officers, and went back in a 
rescued the first group of Russian soldiers who were trapped there. We were 
successful.

B: Were day to day conditions always difficult for the soldiers?

A: During the first Chechen war, we soldiers had rotten bread, but the 
officers had plenty of meats and candies and things. And they did not even 
try to hide this from us, they would eat in the open in our view. We learned 
to hunt for snakes and frogs. The street fighting lasted for less than three 
months for me. I would have about eight operations a month in the city. In 
October, General Lebed (Head of the army at the time) decided Russian losses 
were to great and ordered an end to all Russian offensives. We were not 
supposed to attack rebel forces anymore at a large scale. Only small 
operations in villages.. General Lebed was stupid too. I think if we fought 
for another two weeks, Russia would have won the war. He died five years ago 
accidentally in his retirement, but most of us believe it was on purpose. By 
the time we stopped going into Grozny, my hands had begun shaking from killing.

B: What were the small operations after October like?

A: We would mostly go into small villages in the mountains. I personally 
killed between thirty-five to forty people in villages. But when we were not 
involved in aggressive operations we would do other things. My squad excelled 
in hand to hand combat, bombs and mines, medicine... we were very talented 
soldiers. There are around nine levels [in skills and fighting ability --ed.] 
of soldiers, and we were at the top. We were kept secret. We would look like 
peace-keeping soldiers, and go out to de-mining. Nobody knew that these 
soldiers removing mines were actually special forces doing reconnaissance.

B: Did villagers ever put up resistance?

A: In general, not, as such operations were very fast, and very effective. 
The people attacked did not have time to organize resistance. We were based 
near the village K____. It was about 10 kilometers outside of Grozny. We made 
an agreement with the villagers. We would not attack them, and they would not 
attack us. The village was surrounded by Russian army positions, so if they 
attacked us, they would have been annihilated. Though sometimes at night 
there would be some sporadic machine gun fire. They were lightly armed and 
not very organized.

B: Did you ever have day to day contact with Chechen villagers?

A: Very rarely. It was rare to have contact even with the Russian population 
in Chechnya. We would get our orders moments before an operation. So we would 
leave the base right after, and return immediately after the operation. So we 
had no time to meet people.

B: Did you see the villagers as rebels?

A: Of course some could be rebels, and some might not. But we would go in 
only when we had information that there were rebels. Special forces turned 
into ?punishers?. We would punish the villagers. Officers would tell us there 
were rebels in a village, and we were ordered to go into the village find 
them and kill them all. We mostly killed the men and not women.

B: Is that because only Chechen men fought?

A: There were women soldiers among the rebels. Chechen women fighters were 
known as excellent snipers. Russian soldiers hated them. We called them 
?white stockings?. The first time a white stocking was caught in my presence, 
I saw how much Russians hated them. Her hands were tied to one car, and legs 
to another. The cars drove in opposite directions ripping her body apart a 
portion of her body was collected and dropped from a helicopter into her 
village. The second white stocking we caught was tied to a tree. Two 
kilograms of C4 trotil (an explosive material used in bombs and mines) was 
place under her. A slow wick, about 4 or 5 meters long was lit in her view. 
These wicks burnt about one second per centimeter. She had no fear at all, 
her face showed no signs whatsoever. After she blew up I was haunted by her 
face. I began using drugs after that to get over the pain. The third white 
stocking we captured was offered to us by our officers. They told us we could 
all rape her before she was killed. None of wanted to, none of us did. So we 
shot her. A few weeks later we found out she was Ukrainian (where there is a 
lot of anti-Russian sentiment). She was the cousin of one of the men in my 
group.

B: What was his reaction?

A: He did not change much. Two men did begin going crazy though. One soon 
hung himself. The other tried but we found him before he was dead. Like I 
said, our group was very talented, and kept a secret. We drove around during 
our offensive operations in an armored personnel carrier with our symbol 
painted on it. So Chechens new about us, but not who we were. They would send 
messages to the base that if the officers did not turn us over to the Rebels, 
than the rebels would kill every single Russian soldier in the area. Once in 
a bigger village, X_________, the rebels had a very good defense against 
normal Russian soldiers, who in turn, always failed on their operations in 
this village. So we were sent in. We attacked during their morning prayers. 
They did not see us coming. We captured seventeen rebels without a shot fired 
at us. It was a very successful operation, only one man died, and he was a 
Chechen. The prisoners were interrogated for information, then shot. It was 
all filmed.

B: Was it common to film operations?

A: I have records of cruel fighting between Russian and Chechen forces. 
Videos you could never see on TV. Real blood, real death, real brains on 
cars. Many soldiers have records of the war. Some may be of poor quality, but 
they are good for memories. Some records of the first Chechen war were used 
on TV as propaganda. To show that it was good to kill Chechens, because of 
their brutality, but even these clips did not show the real horror.

B: Was it just Russian soldiers who were cruel?

A: No, of course not. With the Russian soldiers it was often the common 
soldiers who were not well educated or trained who acted cruelly, special 
forces usually just stuck to the work. I knew some common Russian soldiers 
who would cut of Chechen?s ears, and make necklaces which they would wear 
into combat. But the Chechens were cruel too. It is my opinion that Chechens 
were cruel for reasons more than they wanted independence. Chechens, 
historically, are cruel people. There is a long history of cruelty in 
Chechnya, cruelty against them, and their cruelty against other and 
themselves. When Chechen rebels captured a Russian soldier it was common for 
them to get a camera and video tape them shooting off fingers, and sending 
video to soldier?s parents. [I have seen such videos, it is very 
devastating--ed.]. They would usually ask for ransom for the release of the 
prisoner. If the family had no money, they would either video tape more 
torture, usually by breaking every bone in his body or castration, and ask 
again for money, or kill him. [I saw a video of a soldier being held to the 
ground by a rebel standing on his head, another rebel then jammed a knife 
into the soldiers throat and slit it. This tape was sent to the mother, who 
could not get the ransom --ed.] They sometimes crucified living Russian 
soldiers, naked, and put honey or sugar on them to attract flies. And left 
them there to die. Once we found a soldier with no legs, but we could not get 
to him, because there were Chechen snipers posted to shoot anyone attempting 
to save him. In some villages they would decapitate Russian soldiers, and 
spike their heads onto sticks, and place these outside the villages. Often, 
there would be razor wire wrapped around their head like Christ had. And 
usually, there would be a contraption set up so that when someone went to 
remove the head, a bomb would blow up. They would lay mine, with mines 
underneath them. So when the first mine was removed the second would blow up. 
Mine removers never know if a mine is trapped or not, and it is very 
difficult to notice a second mine, and to remove two mines at once. Sometimes 
they would set up a mine with a trip wire, which ran to a bomb a good 
distance away with a 200 meter kill radius.

B: Were you ever wounded?

A: Yes, I was wounded by an RPG. I had shrapnel in 21 places. A comrade and I 
were trapped in a building shooting at rebels when the bomb went off. My 
comrade was knocked unconscious. He lost some hearing and now has difficulty 
speaking. This happened when on the TV?s in Russia the politicians were 
saying the war was over. But fighting continued.

B: While in the hospital, did you want to go back, or get out of there?

A: I felt that I wanted to go back. I felt a responsibility to the men in my 
group to help them. I was also using lots of drugs at that time to forget 
about the pain I felt from killing so many people.

B: So when you finally left Chechnya, what happened?

A: I was the leader of my group, and if there were five soldiers like me, 
together we could destroy an entire city. I had opportunities to fight in 
Daghestan and Yugoslavia, but I could not live with all the blood on my 
hands. In Chechnya I had to use drugs to stay mentally and physically active. 
After Chechnya, I couldn?t sleep for two or three years. Always, I would 
remember more and more of what happened. I still get nightmares to this day, 
but not as terrible as the first two years after I returned to Russia. I got 
no medals or honors in Chechnya, but only one special ring. I was paid only 
660 roubles (US$100 at the time), instead of 6,600 roubles (US$1,000) which I 
was supposed to get. This happened to most soldiers in the first Chechen war. 
The Officers would steal the money, and give us next to nothing. I was a 
killer without a salary. In the second Chechen war, soldiers received all 
their money. But money was not the reason I was in the war. So I wasn?t 
disappointed about the money. For a time I fought revenge for all the 
Russians who had died before me. The state gave us no medicine or money for 
it. After the war I have illnesses in my lungs, legs, and perhaps my brain. I 
need medical help, but don?t have the money for qualified help. I was not the 
only one used as a soldier in a political game. So many people didn?t realize 
why they were really fighting. Now so many soldiers are invalids, beggars, 
junkies, alcoholics, junkies, homeless, criminals, and insane. After the 
first Chechen war, the government had no rehabilitation, mentally nor 
physically.

B: What did you do with yourself?

A: I finally stopped drugs, but then the nightmares came back, so I started 
drinking a lot. Eventually I knocked off the booze, and now I drink very 
rarely. After three years of being apolitical, I joined the Russian National 
Unity (Ultra-right wing militia), I even took part in some of their actions. 
But they did not have the answers for me, and I soon realized this was not 
what was needed for Russia. It was just another form of oppression. By chance 
I happened to pick up a copy of X_____, an anarchist magazine. My aims and 
beliefs are centered around equality and peace between different peoples. I 
wanted to get rid of all borders, so that I can travel around and meet 
different people, and see what their living conditions are like. So the 
anarchists interested me. I wrote them a letter, and we met a few times to 
discuss their ideas and actions. I realized this is what I had believed. I 
now have comrades of different nationalities, which has opened up a lot to 
me. We believe in people, the Russian government wasn?t interested in their 
soldiers. That war was worse than the war in Afghanistan. In two years in 
Chechnya, 20,000 Russian soldiers died. In ten years in Afghanistan only 
16,000 died.

Interview by Leon
-Barricada Collective


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