Russian soldiers cleared of Chechen murders
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
The Independent, 01 May 2004
Efforts to bring the Russian army to book for its atrocities in
Chechnya have suffered their biggest setback yet after a court
cleared four special forces soldiers of murdering six civilians in
cold blood despite the men's own confessions.
The "Ulman case" is one of a handful that has made it to the Russian
courts in the past decade and its harrowing nature has made it a
cause célèbre for human rights groups.
But a Russian jury in the city of Rostov-on-Don has shocked Chechens,
human rights activists, the Moscow-backed Chechen administration and
Russia's legal profession by acquitting all of the accused.
The four men - Captain Eduard Ulman, Ensign Vladimir Voevodin,
Lieutenant Alexander Kalagansky and Major Aleksei Perelevsky - were
all accused of murder. The events, which took place in Chechnya on 11
January 2002, were not disputed by the accused.
Captain Ulman and his team, all members of Russia's "Spetsnaz" -
special forces - were parachuted into a remote area thought to
contain Chechen rebels. They were authorised to use "targeted force"
and did so when a Jeep carrying six people refused to pull over.
The captain and his men sprayed the Jeep with machine- gun fire,
killing one of its occupants and wounding two others. When the dust
had settled, however, the Russian troops realised the vehicle's
occupants were civilians, including at least one female invalid. The
troops bandaged the Chechens' wounds and radioed their superiors for
instructions. Three hours later an order came from Major
Perelevskyto "liquidate" the survivors.
The Chechens were executed and their vehicle doused with petrol and
set on fire to make it look as if it had been blown up by a mine. But
there had been witnesses to the events, and the four men were brought
to trail on murder charges.
However, the Rostov court ruled that the men were following orders
and that, although the orders might have been criminal, it was not
clear who ultimately gave them.
Ludmila Tikhomorova, a lawyer for the victims' relatives, said it was
an outrage. "[The message is that] it's possible to kill anyone in
Chechnya without reprisal. It's practically a licence to kill
civilians." Unusually, Russia's military prosecutor agreed: he has
said he will appeal against the jury's decision.