Russian soldiers and officers stationed in Tajikistan face a threat that has proved to be as dangerous as active duty in such notorious hot spots as the Tajik-Afghan border region. Since late 1992, as many Russians have been killed by terrorists and common criminals as have been killed in combat. Moscow has repeatedly demanded that Tajik authorities do more to ensure Russian soldiers' safety and bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
The statements of two commanders of the 201st motorized rifle division, published in the 6 March edition of Literaturnaya gazeta, suggest Russian army officers in Tajikistan are at the end of their rope. One declared that radical actions were being taken - actions that, although he described them in the present tense, seem to have been more wishful thinking than fact. No such events have been reported by the international media.
COLONEL GRIGORII LAKT1NOV: WE CONstantly raise questions with [Tajik] law-enforcement agencies, but always it's the same sort of answers: The investigation is continuing, or It was thrown out of court due to insufficient evidence. I don't rule out that members of the opposition stand behind these murders, but I know there are enough common criminals. ...
Colonel Victor Kryukov: I connect the curtailment or cessation of investigations with the former Tajik minister of the interior, Yakub Salimov. The ... military prosecutor ... is unable to control the investigation. Unfortunately, in Tajikistan they are murdering not only on [city] side streets. During the course of the last two years, in broad daylight, buses carrying the wives and children of servicemen were fired upon several times by grenade launchers. During New Year's celebrations, about 10 Russian soldiers and several workers from the Russian Embassy were killed with poisoned champagne. The criminals have not been found, the investigation continues. ... Commanders of regiments and special forces of the 201st are giving the order to surround the Interior Ministry building and insist on the delivery of those criminals who were apprehended at the scene of a murder and later released. The Russian ambassador to Tajikistan, Mecheslav Senkevich, [is delivering] a diplomatic note to [Tajik] President Imomali Rakhmonov ... demanding the immediate apprehension and punishment of the criminals.
They say, President Boris Yeltsin is calling Rakhmonov on the phone and delivering the ultimatum: If you don't guarantee the safety of Russian servicemen and their families ... you won't get money or bread or weapons; one more murder of a Russian soldier and we will pull out the troops and you'll be one-on-one with the Islamists.
Russia Speeds Its Execution Machine
When Russia was admitted to the Council of Europe on 28 February, it was asked to place an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, and it committed itself to abolishing the death penalty within three years. Recently, however, executions have been carried out at a much higher rate than in 1992-1994, and President Boris Yeltsin and other senior government officials have said Russia will not submit to pressure on the issue. In a 15 March article in Izvestiya, Presidential Commission on Pardons member Lev Razgon argues that executions are being carried out in a hurry before a moratorium is declared.
CHANGES [IN THE NUMBER OF EXECUtions carried out in Russia] began in 1991, when the president set up the Commission on Pardons. ... This commission ... resisted pressure from public opinion and several law-enforcement agencies, which naively and vengefully believed that the death penalty could overcome the growing crime wave. ... In 1992, the president commuted 55 death sentences, and only five requests were turned down. In 1993, the president commuted 149 death sentences and rejected four requests. In 1994, another 149 sentences were commuted while 19 requests were overturned. Our state was approaching [abolition of the death penalty]. And there can be no doubt that the reputation for humanization played a role in Russia's admission to the Council of Europe. ...
Later, however, a phenomenon began that can only cause alarm. In 1995, 86 people were sent to be shot. In February of this year alone, 30 requests for pardon were turned down. Why are the agencies that prepare papers for the president on the implementation of the death penalty in such a hurry? The reason is that, entering the Council of Europe, we are obliged to review the question of abolishing the death penalty within three years, and from the day we join the council we are supposed to place a moratorium on executions. Until that moratorium is in place, the machine that sends people to their deaths is working feverishly. ... The number of killers is growing, there is nowhere to detain them, and many people with a higher juridical education believe that the answer to the problem is a mass shooting of the mounting number of murderers: a bullet costs less than new prisons.
That conviction contains the dark traits of the past, when the idol of the communists - Stalin - said: There's a person, there's a problem. No person, no problem.
Material contributed by Bruce Pannier and Penny Morvant.