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(en) Barricada* - Commentary: No War But Class War: An Interview With A Russian Anarchist Chechnya War Veteran

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 22 May 2003 08:52:22 +0200 (CEST)


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> Interview by Leon, Barricada Collective (NEFAC)
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 didnââ,¬â"¢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 soldierââ,¬â"¢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
mygroup 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.

LETTERS

Dear Barricada,

Regarding the interview with a Russian Anarchist in issue #18/19,
there needs to be a clarification. For all intents and purposes you
seem to regard this person as a genuine anarchist despite the fact
that the interview itself reflects very little about him that is
anarchist. Though the story Alex is telling about himself took place
before he supposedly became an anarchist, the tone of the article
leaves some confusion and none of it was critiqued from an
anarchist perspective. It could lead one to think that these crimes
are the actions of a conscious anarchist. On the page before the
interview, there is a manifesto of Autonomous Action. To compare
this manifesto with Alex's actions highlights some aspects of the
interview that should have been addressed and criticized. In this
manifesto it is stated that "every state is an instrument of
oppression" and that they were "against state army as a system of
violence." Would an anarchist join the army to act as an agent of
oppression or pride himself on how many villagers he killed in the
name of nationalism? (Granted joining the army was compulsory,
Alex makes it clear that he wanted to join and was not surprised to
be sent to Chechnya.) Would an anarchist refer to this as 'work' or
complain that he didn't get a salary for his killing? In the manifesto
there is a statement of opposition to all forms of domination. Is the
presence of an imperialist Russian army in the villages of Chechnya
for over 100 years not an extreme form of domination? "Chechens
historically are cruel people." "It was a successful operation, only
one man died, and he was a Chechen." "To show that it was good to
kill a Chechen." These statements do not reflect an anarchist
sentiment of solidarity with oppressed peoples, but rather reflect
Alexâ's racism.

The editor interjects twice to further support Alex's claims that
Chechens are cruel and brutal people, to state that videos of torture
made by Chechens were "devastating." Is not the mass grave at
Goryachevodskaya Mountain devastating? Would anarchists
consider it cruel or brutal of any people to defend their homes from
destruction and their people from genocide?

Alex's actions are not those of someone whose beliefs are centered
on equality and peace between different people. His actions are not
those of an anarchist. While describing his nationalistic and
murderous past, he was not critical of himself or of the other
Russian soldiers at all. Nor was the editor critical, something to be
considered a major flaw in the article. Even at the end of the
interview, when Alex counts the dead, he only counts Russian
soldiers. Nor were the Russians, ignoring those who aren't of his
ethnic or national background. The article reeks of racism, sexism
and nationalism. It was written poorly, edited poorly, and it was
enraging as an anarchist to read this interview. It should have been
called 'An Interview with a racist Russian Soldier.' If the editor
wanted to bring light to the situation in Chechnya, s/he could've
gone about it in a much better way, by, perhaps, interviewing a
Chechen rebel. And if the editor wanted to write about a Russian
anarchist, it would be nice to read what a real anarchist would do
that actually helps the anarchist movement.

Thank you for your time,
R. Healing
Seattle, WA


Dear R.,

The interview came about through what I found to be a rather
inspiring story of an anarchist I met while in Russia. A man who was
a gangster after the fall of Bolshevism and all the social chaos which
came in the aftermath of that fall. He then was drafted into the army
for a horrible war, in which he, like so many other soldiers on both
sides, committed horrendous acts. After the war, with no social help
from the government he used drugs and alcohol to escape the
memories of war. He then looked around for support and found right
wing militias (who in many parts of the world are more effective in
recruiting torn, angry, working people than we anarchists are.
Something we must work on.). He left that scene and came across
an anarchist publication and became interested and found the
anarchist movement, and realized that it was the environment for
him.

You suggest a better source to interview would have been a
Chechen rebel, or a real Russian anarchist who actually helps the
anarchist movement. For the former, I was not able to enter
Chechnya, and did not come across and Chechen rebels in Russia.
There is still a war, and I do not have ability to meet any rebels. As
to the latter, I will overlook your baiting of "real anarchist", because
it is true I never asked Alex about the anarchist projects he worked
on during the interview. Why? For two conscious reasons. One, it
was not the purpose of the interview to find out information on
Russian anarchist views, strategy, or actions. The Manifesto for
Autonomous Action gives most of that information. The second
reason is, as mentioned in the introduction of the interview, the
gag-rule placed on Russian soldiers. That means Alex broke the law
telling me what he did. I would never print particular projects he was
involved in. Anarchist are not well liked by Russian authorities, and
as anticipated, this article was well circulated, not only in Barricada
but it was reprinted (not by us, and without us knowing) on A-Infos,
and the EE email list in eastern Europe. Yes, it would be a security
risk to discuss present actions. I will say this though, during the
many anarchist meetings I attended in Russia, his projects were
among the most pro-active. They were centered around bread and
butter projects with working-class people, children's education, and
organizing outside of the clichÃf© activist world. He was very
critical of the anarchist punk world, and propaganda which glorified
black-blocs, and alternative sub-culture.

Now, as you even say, the interview mostly deals with his life
"before he supposedly became an anarchist." So when he tells of his
experiences, they were not the actions of an Anarchist.

So it seems you are concerned with an anarchist who has such a
past. As long as there are nationalist armies, Fascist groups,
junkies, gangsters, and patriarchy, we as anarchists will oppose
them. But I think it is safe to suggest that working people who fall
into these scenes do so out of desperation or ignorance. So, if we
can convince, recruit, or what have you, and allow them to become
anarchists, so that they disregard and condemn their past actions,
we win. In Russia I met anarchists with various pasts such as
dealers, convicts, prostitutes, fascists and so on. It was very
inspiring to see they are now involved in the anarchist movement
and are over their past ways. How many anarchists have such pasts
in the USA? Anarchist in Russia consciously agitate amongst these
circles, because they are the product of state repression and
capitalism. There are millions of working people in the world who
have ugly pasts, we should never turn our backs, nor scorn them,
when they approach us, and have changed their ways

No, Alex is no longer a gangster, a nationalist, nor a soldier in a
nationalist army. He is an anarchist! It goes without saying that as
anarcho-communists we condemn violent acts towards women,
nationalist wars, racism, genocide, and war crimes. This is
Barricada... jackass!

Leon and Jorge, Barricada collective

* [Ed. Notes: Barricada is the Journal of an anarchist collective
member of the NEFAC - Nort Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists]


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