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Russian Colonel, Insane But Fit for Duty

The Russian media have commented at length on the recent determination by psychiatrists employed at the Serbsky Institute in Moscow that Colonel Yury Budanov–on trial in a military court in Rostov-on-Don for having strangled a young Chechen woman in March of 2000–had been “temporarily insane” at the time he committed the murder. The head doctor of the team of psychiatrists who examined Budanov, Galina Burnyashova, observed in her report, a copy of which was obtained by Moskovskie Novosti: “In the Serbsky Institute, I am the chief doctor for Budanov. He is fit for military service, with limitations, and is deemed as having been insane only during the time that he murdered El’za Kungaeva. He will stand trial concerning other charges (the abduction of the young woman, the beating of a subordinate). He has been assigned compulsory outpatient treatment. His treatment does not involve isolation. Budanov is not socially dangerous” (Moskovskie Novosti, May 22). On May 17, a recess in the trial of Budanov was announced until May 27 (, May 17).

In a commentary on the psychiatrists’ finding, which she saw as having been arrived at under heavy pressure from the Kremlin, award-winning Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya wrote in the May 16 issue of Novaya Gazeta: “Colonel Budanov, the commander of a tank regiment, on March 26, 2000, on the night following the election of Putin as president, abducted, raped and monstrously strangled a young resident of the Chechen settlement of Tangi-Chu, El’za Kungaeva. Budanov has been determined to have been insane at the moment he committed these crimes…. What follows from all this? Extremely simple and concrete things: The rating of the president among the [military] officers will go up and become firmer, since the vindication of Colonel Budanov is the vindication of the methods of the Second Chechen War. It is as simple as a whistle blast.” The message being sent to “the many-thousand-strong military contingent in Chechnya” and to all veterans of the war, Politkovskaya concluded, is this: “Lads, do everything you want, and do it in the way you have till now. You are heroes and only heroes, whatever you have done, while any Chechen man or woman is not a person at all. ‘Our’ laws do not protect them. ‘Our’ law is for ‘you’ and not for ‘them.'”

“I often ask myself,” Politkovskaya went on, “why I do not like President Putin. The answer has come. Because of his cynicism, and because of the fact that the ‘unhealthy” Budanov is nearer and more understandable to Putin than is a defenseless village girl, whose misfortune consisted in the fact that she was born to a Chechen father and mother. And because of his racism–for dividing the people who elected him into first- and second-class people. And, finally, for his openly implanted neo-Sovietism: when, for the sake of an Idea, even a mythical one (at the present moment it is ‘the struggle with international terrorism’), those who faithfully serve that Idea (that is, first-class people) can ‘do anything.’ The remainder (second-class people) are doomed to be rubbed out.”

Asked by the mass-circulation weekly Argumenty i Fakty to comment on the psychiatrists’ determination, Ruslan Khasbulatov, an ethnic Chechen and a former speaker of the Russian Supreme Soviet, recalled: “Next to the hall during the trial [of Budanov] there formed up stormtroopers with swastikas and Cossacks with whips. The crowd shouted, ‘Keep your hands off Budanov!’ The [neo-Nazi] Russian National Unity demanded that Budanov be vindicated because he is an ethnic Russian while the murdered El’za was a Chechen. No one among the local authorities tried to halt the bacchanalia of the extremists. And they put pressure on the court.” “Simple Russian women in Chechnya,” Khasbulatov continued, “have approached me with the request that I convey their condolences to the relatives of Kungaeva. They have recounted to me how ‘valorous’ commanders have mocked them and their children. I underline the following: rapists and murderers have no nationality; they exist among every people… Budanov turned out to be insane? And what were they looking at earlier? This colonel had served in the army for twenty years. An army in which insane commanders serve is a shameful phenomenon” (Argumenty i Fakty, May 23).

On May 25, the pro-Maskhadov website reported: “On May 22, Russian soldiers kidnapped a young Chechen teacher in Argun. Sveta Madarova is 26 years old, single and lives at 125 Shali Street. In the morning the Russian soldiers asked her to come down to them. She went out and disappeared. The officials of the commandant’s office give no information about the visit of the Russian soldiers to the Chechen teacher…. The cases of encroachment on Chechen women have become more frequent. Apparently the Russian aggressors derive inspiration from the impunity of Budanov, who murdered a 18-year-old girl.”

James Dunlop is the editor of Chechnya Weekly, where this article originally appeared.

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