October 31, 2010
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The Chechen authorities have taken advantage of conflicting interpretations of precisely what kind of attacks should be classified as “terrorism” under Russian law to refute recent criticism by the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office of incidences of terrorism in the North Caucasus and the inability of local police to counter it.
On October 26, the press service of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov issued a formal statement, which took issue with the negative assessment of the situation in the North Caucasus given to a Federation Council Committee on October 25 by Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Ivan Sydoruk.
Russian media quoted Sydoruk as saying the incidence of “extremist” crimes committed in the North Caucasus Federal District this year was four times higher than in 2009. He marked the number of “terrorist acts” committed in the North Caucasus Federal District this year at 13, and that of “crimes of a terrorist nature” at 352, of which he claimed 254 took place in Chechnya.
Kadyrov’s press service rejected the Prosecutor-General’s Office’s data outright, claiming that “not a single terrorist act was perpetrated and registered in Chechnya in the first nine months of this year” — even though Kadyrov himself, speaking on October 19, had characterized the August 29 attack on his home village of Tsentoroi as an act of terrorism. Kadyrov’s press service further argued that Sydoruk’s statistical data on the number of suspected insurgents arrested and weaponry confiscated in Chechnya testify to the efficiency and professionalism of the republic’s police.
On October 27, a written statement by Sydoruk was posted on the Prosecutor-General’s website, in which he said that the media quoted certain of his comments out of context. Sydoruk specifically referred to a claim attributed to him that the lion’s share of the weaponry currently in possession of the North Caucasus insurgency came from Russian military bases in the region and his proposal that in the framework of ongoing police reform, all North Caucasus police should be vetted for reliability in order to purge the Interior Ministry of “cowards” and “traitors.”
Sydoruk said in his statement that he had made clear in his presentation that “the overwhelming majority” of local police perform their duties “honestly and conscientiously,” and he was speaking only of “individual aberrations.” He did not, however, retract any of the statistical data he originally cited.
The overall consistency of Russian media summaries of Sydoruk’s October 25 testimony is at odds with his claim that he was misquoted. It seems more likely that Sydoruk’s back-tracking was occasioned by the negative reaction his comments elicited in Grozny.
Kadyrov’s interest in refuting any suggestion of disloyalty or inefficiency among Chechnya’s estimated 17,000 police is understandable. But Grozny’s outraged rebuttal of Sydoruk’s claims may also reflect the Chechen government’s long-standing hostility toward and resentment of the federal Prosecutor-General’s Office.
Valery Kuznetsov, a Russian who served as Chechen prosecutor from 2005 to November 2008, was the only Grozny-based federal official who dared challenge illegal activities on the part of the Chechen authorities at that time. Even Grozny-based human rights activist Natalya Estemirova (who was murdered last year after being abducted in Grozny) grudgingly acknowledged that in contrast to his predecessors, Kuznetsov was prepared to cooperate to a certain extent in investigating abductions and other crimes committed by the “force” agencies in Chechnya.
Sydoruk’s statistical data on the worsening situation in the North Caucasus tallies with figures cited earlier this year by his boss, Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika. In April,Chaika said that 15 terrorist acts and 654 “crimes of a terrorist nature” were committed in Russia in 2009; of the latter category, 544, or 83 percent, took place in the North Caucasus.
Three months later, reviewing trends for the first half of 2010, Chaika said the number of terrorist acts was on the rise. He said the terrorist threat in the North Caucasus remains “acute,” partly as a result of corruption within local government bodies and local police.
The dispute over the incidence of “terrorist acts” as opposed to “crimes of a terrorist nature” in the North Caucasus is partly due to changes enacted over the past five years in the Russian Federation Criminal Code, according to a “Window on Eurasia” May 4 analysis. The analysis quotes a Rostov-na-Donu university professor as pointing out that since the Russian State Duma narrowed the definition of “terrorism” in 2006, the officially registered number of “acts of terrorism” fell sharply, while the number of “crimes of a terrorist nature” increased.
“Kommersant” on October 28 quoted Issa Kostoyev, an adviser on legal issues to the Federation Council chairman, as saying that, if anything, Sydoruk glossed over the true state of affairs in the North Caucasus. Kostoyev, an Ingush, also pointed out that most killings of police officers are in fact “acts of terrorism,” but “for some reason” they are not classified as such.
Although Kostoyev did not say so, there are sound statistical arguments for such a casuistic legal approach. During an interview with the radio station Ekho Moskvy in early October, Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin estimated that on average, five or six police personnel are killed every day in the North Caucasus republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria in conditions that he described as “close to war.”