Deserter tells of Russian atrocities in Chechnya

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Tue, 19 Mar 2002 05:49:21 -0000

MOSCOW A Russian Army officer who fled the battlefield as Moscow sent
military forces into Chechnya in 1999 says that young fascist cadets in
his elite airborne unit encouraged soldiers to execute civilians during
the assault. 
The officer, Captain Andrei Samorodov, a communications specialist in
Russia's 21st Airborne Brigade, deserted his post in November 1999,
moved his wife and two children into a village in the Russian
countryside and later made his way to Mexico. There, he took a bus to
the U.S. border, forded the Rio Grande near Laredo, Texas, and turned
himself in to surprised Border Patrol officers. 
"I love Russia and I have been in love with the Russian Army since
childhood," said Samorodov in a recent interview in San Antonio, where
he now makes a living as an electrician and a fencing instructor while
he studies English three days a week. "But I was faced with a choice: I
could either leave or die." 
Samorodov said he confronted unruly recruits from neo-fascist groups in
his unit. He tore swastikas off the uniforms of some cadets, he said,
and reported to his commanding officer their illegal efforts to incite
troopers to murder civilians. But those efforts were rebuffed, and he
was threatened with death, he said. 
In one instance, Samorodov said, he came across a roadside execution of
Chechen civilians. He stopped to intervene and was arrested by another
officer who was presiding over the killing, he said in the interview. He
was sent back to his unit under guard, beaten and threatened further.
Unidentified men showed up outside his home in Stavropol, a southern
regional capital near Chechnya, and killed the family dog in front of
his 13-year-old son, Yevgeni, he said. 
The allegations represent a significant confirmation from within the
ranks of the armed forces that civilians were singled out by soldiers
who were driven by ethnic hatred or ultranationalist ideologues to kill
Chechens. This was at a time when Russian commanders were stating openly
that any Chechen male between 15 and 60 was considered a rebel. 
In late 1999, a number of human rights organizations expressed their
alarm that Russian forces entering Chechnya were executing civilians
during the campaign to suppress the rebellion there, including the areas
where Samorodov's brigade was fighting. 
Samorodov, now 40, himself betrays an ethnic bias against Chechens as
chronically rebellious and prone to banditry, but he said he regarded
the murder of civilians a crime, and he said he was disturbed by the
breakdown in discipline and support for the armed forces. 
The greatest threat to discipline in the ranks, he said, arose from the
neo-fascist Russian National Unity party. Founded in 1990 by Alexander
Barkashov, the party was banned in Moscow for its openly fascist and
anti-Semitic views, but cadets from the party flooded into the ranks of
military units around Chechnya and some splintered factions still thrive
in southern Russia. 
A Kremlin spokesman, Alexander Machevsky, said he had no knowledge of
this rare case of post-Cold War defection, but he questioned the
officer's motives. "Why didn't he do the right thing and go to the
prosecutors?" Machevsky asked. "Maybe he just wanted to go to the United
After spending six months in an immigration detention center, where he
gave U.S. intelligence officers a detailed briefing on the state of
Russian battlefield communications and cryptography, Samorodov was
granted political asylum in the United States on May 12, 2000. 
Samorodov's defection emerged last fall when a San Antonio newspaper
made an appeal to its readers to pay the air fare to bring the former
officer's wife and children to the United States. They arrived three
months ago from Stavropol under the same grant of asylum. 
John Blatz, an immigration lawyer in San Antonio for the Refugee Aid
Project, which took up Samorodov's case, said a critical factor in
persuading Judge Susan Castro to grant asylum were numerous news reports
that he and Samorodov were able to compile from the Internet. 
They showed that the Russian National Unity party had organized a
training camp in Stavropol for "Russian Knights," made up of teenagers
gathered from the poverty stricken region and indoctrinated in
ultranationalist ideology. 
About 400 of these Russian Knights joined Samorodov's 21st Airborne
Brigade and the 101st Brigade of Russia's Interior Ministry forces in
1999. That was when the Russian Army was unleashing its assault on
Chechnya to end the rule of rebel forces who had invaded the neighboring
territory of Dagestan and who were being blamed for terrorist bombings
in other parts of Russia. 
"Andrei had serious problems" with the cadets from the Russian Knights
that entered his unit, said Blatz, referring to his client. "He abhorred
what he saw as the rise of fascism." 
The party leader in Stavropol at the time, Andrei Dudinov, has denied
that the party is fascist. But in speeches he is known for drawing
comparisons between post-Soviet Russia and Germany in the 1930s and
likes to say that Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is a "must" read "for any
intelligent man." 
Reached by telephone in Stavropol, he denied any knowledge that the
cadets he trained were involved in inciting atrocities. As for
Samorodov, he said, "he is just pulling you by the nose." 
Samorodov winces when he thinks about what his commanders might be
saying about him back in Russia. 
"My father has not spoken to me since I left," he said. "There is always
the question of the honor of the uniform." 

Source:  New York Times

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