Prague, July 29 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Media reports yesterday quoted Russia’s chief military prosecutor in Chechnya, Maksim Toporikov, as saying one officer serving in a unit known as the Vostok (East) battalion had been indicted on suspicion of leading the raid on Borozdinovskaya.
This was the first time a Russian official publicly acknowledged the possible participation of the Chechen-manned battalion in the raid.
Addressing reporters that same day in the southern Russian city of Kislovodsk, Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel confirmed the reports but said no further details would be released until the investigation is complete.
“Our initial postulate was that this battalion could have been involved [in the raid]," Shepel said. "Since we had testimonies from eyewitnesses, we asked military prosecutors to investigate. I think we will not divulge any names or surnames for the time being, because a crime is considered solved only when concrete charges are brought against concrete individuals."
On 4 June, troops believed to be operating under federal command raided the predominantly ethnic-Avar village of Borozdinovskaya, killing two residents, abducting 11 others, and setting several houses on fire.
Fearing new abuses, nearly all of Borozdinovskaya's 1,000-strong population sought refuge among their ethnic kin in neighboring Daghestan.
Usually reluctant to denounce abuses committed by their own troops in Chechnya, the Russian authorities this time expressed outrage at the raid.
President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the Southern Federal District, Dmitrii Kozak, called the Borozdinovskaya mop-up operation an “act of sabotage” against Russia.
The Vostok battalion is made of Chechen recruits, but formally answers to the Russian Army’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). The Borozdinovskaya raid has raised concerns of possible troubles between the Chechen and Avar communities.
Also named “Yamadayevtsy” after their commander, Sulim Yamadaev, members of the Vostok battalion have gained a reputation in eastern Chechnya of unyielding ferocity.
Yamadaev is a former separatist field commander who switched to the Russian side at the beginning of the second Chechen war.
Addressing reporters a few days ago, Yamadaev denied ordering the Borozdinovskaya operation, or receiving any instruction to raid the village.
“Our subordinates did not take any part [in this]," Yamadaev said. "We did not receive any order [to carry out the raid] and, [as a rule], we do not operate in towns and villages.”
But in a statement carried by Russia’s Interfax news agency, Yamadaev yesterday acknowledged members of his unit were in Borozdinovskaya on 4 June.
Yamadaev, who claims he was ill and lying in bed at the time of the incident, said in the statement that his troops entered the village in search of a man allegedly responsible for the killing of one of the Vostok battalion's soldiers. But Yamadayev denies any responsibility for the attack, which he said took place after his troops had left.
Eyewitnesses insisted it was the Vostok battalion that carried out the raid.
After the pro-Moscow Chechen government promised to search the abducted villagers and pay compensation for the damage caused by the attackers, Borozdinovskaya refugees agreed to return to Chechnya.
However, the majority of them crossed again into Daghestan this week, setting up a makeshift tent camp near the town of Kizlyar.
They have cited different reasons to explain their decision to leave Borozdinovskaya.
Some refugees said they want to protest against the inaction of the Chechen government in looking for their abducted relatives.
Others said they fear further abuses from Yamadayev and his men.
Refugees in Kizlyar told RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service that after police forces deployed near Borozdinovskaya in the wake of the raid were removed and sent to the village of Znamenskoye after the car bomb attack that killed 14 people there on 19 July. They said that since police left, masked gunmen have made incursions into the village to extort money from the residents.
Pro-Moscow Chechen officials claim that most Borozdinovskaya refugees have now returned to Chechnya. But RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service correspondent Nutsar Chumchayev reported from Kizlyar that 400 villagers were believed to be remaining there today.
Human rights activists gathered at a conference in Kislovodsk yesterday said that abductions of civilians in Chechnya remain a major concern and accused both Russian and regional authorities of failing to properly investigate them.
Government officials present at the conference rejected the charge.
But when pressed to let rights groups oversee official probes into abductions, Chechnya’s Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov rejected the idea, saying it would contradict the law.See also:
Does Outrage Over Borozdinovskaya Sweep Presage Change Of Russian Tactics?