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A Dirty War by Anna Politkovskaya

A Dirty War by Anna Politkovskaya

Author:Anna Politkovskaya [Anna Politkovskaya]
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
ISBN: 9781407018287
Publisher: Random House


20

THE DECISIVE BATTLE

20 March 2000

The fighting around the village of Komsomolskoe in the mountain foothills, now in its second week, will decide the fate not just of the war but of Russia itself. Our country's territorial integrity, independence and economic well-being depend on the outcome – or so the official announcements tell us.

Try as we might, we cannot square events in Chechnya today with what the authorities say. It is not just that reality is more complicated. Quite simply it does not correspond to the propaganda of either presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky or of the combined forces headquarters.

Lema and Ruslan are 30 and 26 years old, relatives and members of the same teip or "clan". They are also Chechen fighters, and both in the detachment commanded by Ruslan Gelayev. (It was a condition of the interview that I did not give their surnames.)

We made no particular effort at concealment in order to talk. Yet Lema had come out of Komsomolskoe only the night before, during the most intensive fighting when federal forces had the village "completely" sealed off. His appearance leaves no doubt about his recent activities. Extremely thin, his face is black and he constantly scratches his head (lice). Ruslan looks much better. His commander ordered him to leave the group earlier. But Ruslan's story is virtually identical: he left the village of Shatoi then, surrounded by federal troops, took to mountain paths with the wounded, and escorted them to hospital (that was his assignment). Now he is being treated for the severe frostbite he suffered during that expedition.

Neither bothers to hide the fact that they are waiting for April, when the trees in Chechnya come into leaf. Then they will go back and fight again. Most of the fighters now resting or recovering are also waiting for those same leaves to appear, they say.

Before 1994 they were ordinary villagers. One grew maize in Naura, the other planted wheat at Samashki. During the first war Lema did not touch a weapon. Ruslan is more experienced; he fought then.

Q. How could you get out of Komsomolskoe if it was completely surrounded by soldiers?

LEMA: We came out at night, naturally. The sentries were on duty and the artillery shelled the place. The soldiers were coming under fire from their own side. They held their ground, but were terrified of everything – they want to live. In our case, the soldier was crouched beneath a tree because the bombardment was very intense. We walked past ten metres away.

Q. Are you sure the soldier saw you? It was dark, after all . . .

LEMA: I'm sure he saw us. Without a word, he cocked the bolt on his rifle and we did the same in reply. We "greeted" each other and parted. I think he knew: if he fired a shot we'd kill him straight away. But the soldier doesn't want this war, he just wants to live.

Q. So you came out of Komsomolskoe bearing arms?

LEMA: Of course we were armed. There were times when a group of up to 50 fighters walked past the soldiers and they saw us.



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