Staunton, February 27 – Although Russian and Chechen officials insist that there was no ethnic component to a fight on Tuesday among soldiers of Russian, Chechen, and Daghestani nationalities, the situation regarding Ramzan Kadyrov and his reappointment as head of Chechnya is so fraught that many are investing it with broader ethnic meaning.
In today’s “Gazeta,” Elizabeta Mayetnaya and Vladimir Dergachev report what little is known about the clashes, which took place on Tuesday but about which the first reports appeared only yesterday. The Moscow journalists also interviewed one of the soldiers involved (gazeta.ru/politics/2016/02/26_a_8095793.shtml).
Apparently the fight among the soldiers began when one tried to break into a lunch line and others objected. They beat the individual soldier who had tried to jump the line; and then others joined in. About 30 soldiers were involved in all. An ethnic Chechen intervened on his behalf, the soldier interviewed said; otherwise the soldier in question could have been killed. He is now in the hospital with “serious trauma.”
Because those who supported the soldier who had broken into line were mostly his fellow Russians and those who opposed him were either Chechens or Daghestanis, the fight quickly took on an ethnic coloration, especially after a video of the fight appeared on the Internet (gazeta.ru/army/video/2016/02/26/massovaya_draka_voennosluzhashih_v_odnoi_iz_chastei_popala_na_video_.shtml).
This is not the first such conflict that had occurred on this Russian military base in Chechnya, the journalists say. A year ago, there was another incident, several soldiers suffered, but things quickly quieted down. One reason is that the Chechens who work on the base are well paid compared to Chechens in the surrounding community.
Kadyrov on Instagram played down the incident saying that it was the kind of thing that happens in every army in the world. The Russian Presidential Human Rights Council confirmed that clashes had occurred but was unable to provide additional information. Its spokesman suggested that the draft of Chechens into the army, for the first time in 20 years, may have had something to do with it.
The reason for that conclusion, the spokesman said, is that clashes in Russian military units had become increasingly rare during the period when Moscow did not draft anyone from the North Caucasus nationalities. Dedovshchina occurred, but it was less along ethnic lines than it had been or may be again.
Unfortunately, the spokesman said, it is increasingly difficult to say what in fact is happening in Russian military units. Since the Crimean Anschluss, the Russian military has severely restricted the access of human rights activists to individual units and thus is in a position to keep them from finding out what is going on.