On the evening of April 7, both Channel One news and Segodnya, the NTV news program, reported, citing Interfax, that Dudayev fighters in Samashki shot the village elders, who had called on the rebels to leave the village and who wanted to allow Russian troops to pass through. Interfax in turn cited «well-informed sources in the Russian military in Mozdok.»1 NTV also reported that «according to Interfax sources, surviving elders requested the federal forces’ leadership to help them evacuate civilians from the Samashki area.»2
On April 11, S.Volgin, an official from the Ministry of Defense Press and Information Department stated on radio3 that fighters in Samashki had «shot the leaders to make a point.» The next day, Lt.-Gen. Antonov confirmed that «civilians who had sought contact with Russian officers were shot by a Chechen battalion that had previously fought in Abkhazia.»4
In an April 11 interview with ITAR-TASS, Mukhamad Alarbekov, the mufti of Chechnya denied these reports.
Interviews with a number of refugees from Samashki, including members of the village elders, led OM monitors to conclude that reports about the shooting of the village elders were false. Indeed, according to reports by village elders5 and by the Samashki village mullah,6 on April 7, when a group of elders, together with the mullah (eight people in all), returned to the village after negotiations with the Russian command, the two cars they were riding in were shot at by small arms fire. While there were bullet holes in the cars, fortunately no one was injured, with the exception of elder Ajalil Salikhov, whose finger was slightly wounded. The shots were fired from Russian troop positions.
According to L.Abdulkhajiev,7 head of the village administration, and his deputy, M.Borshigov,8 both had seen firing from Russian positions located in the Sunzha hills on the cars transporting the elders to Samashki from the checkpoint.
When M.Borshigov returned to the checkpoint the next day he asked the general who was there (who did not give his name), «What did you shoot at the elders for?» The answer he received was, «What do you expect? There’s a war going on!»9
On April 11, Samashki village leaders signed a statement in Sernovodsk denying the false reports about having been shot by rebel fighters. The elders’ side of the story and their statement were presented at a Memorial Human Rights Center press conference on April 13 on the events in Samashki. After this, there were no further statements or comments by leaders of Russian forces concerning the alleged shooting of village elders.
During the parliamentary commission hearings on May 29, it was acknowledged that such reports were untrue. However the commission did not find it necessary to investigate how these reports began and were circulated, despite a request by Sergei Kovalev to this effect.
Hence, the command of federal troops in Chechnya quite clearly and intentionally lied. Why was this done?
The authors of this report lack the information necessary to judge whether the shooting at the vehicle transporting the village elders was an accident or an intentional provocation. However, there can be no doubt that disinformation about how Dudayev fighters shot the elders was spread intentionally in order to justify to the public those actions taken by MVD divisions at that time in the village.
During the spring and summer of 1995, highly-placed MVD officials continued to circulate information concerning the alleged shooting of village elders that was remarkably similar to that described above. This was done by using the Duma commission. At the commission’s hearings on May 29, Maj.-Gen. Pavel Tikhonovich Maslov, head of the MVD Internal Troops Operations Department, reported that on April 7, «pro-Dudayev fighters prevented civilians from leaving» the village. According to P.T.Maslov, «it was obvious that they were turning back people, who then returned [to the village].»
A paper on the Samashki events given by the parliamentary commission to a Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representative reported that «soldiers were upset by the fact that Dudayev fighters were shooting at civilians who were leaving the village; fortunately, no one was killed.» The report makes reference to an entry in a journal of military activities, made at 2:37 p.m., but it does not cite testimony by villagers on the incident.10
Of the more than 200 Samashki residents interviewed by OM members, none mentioned such incidents. In response to direct questions, we received negative responses. This allows the authors to conclude that reports that Dudayev fighters would not allow civilians to leave Samashki and shot those who attempted to leave were lies. Moreover, it is doubtful that the description of events — if in fact it exists — in a journal of military activities can be considered adequate in and of itself.