A SCAPEGOAT

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Colonel Budanov, who is accused of raping and strangling a Chechen girl, is claimed by the author of the article to be a scapegoat in the large-scale battle for the post of defense minister.

During the night between March 26 and 27, Colonel Yury Budanov, commander of a tank regiment and a group of his subordinates broke into the house of the Chechen family of Butsyevs in the settlement of Tangi-Chu and, threatening with firearms, took away their 18-year-old daughter Madina. On the territory of Colonel Budanov’s military unit, the officer first raped and then strangled the girl. These were the initial results of the investigation of the young Chechen girl’s death. The joint grouping’s military prosecutor’s office has charged Colonel Budanov with premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances (in accordance with Article 105 Part 2 of the Russian Penal Code). The day after, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Anatoly Kvashnin reported the incident to Vladimir Putin. In an interview to the Vesti information TV program, General Kvashnin called Colonel Budanov “a scumbag, one of those who must be eliminated from our army collective.”

According to the official version, which General Kvashnin immediately grasped at (15 years ago, Colonel Budanov served under the command of Mr. Kvashnin, whose military career started in the armored troops), the colonel got drunk, lost his reason, and committed the said murder. Colonel Budanov himself, according to information agencies’ reports, has stated that he was not drunk and did not rape the girl, but was only “trying to make her confess that she was a sniper.”

Colonel Budanov’s colleagues believe that their commander has been framed? By who? He had many enemies; in the regiment, his enemies were those whom he promised to have legal proceedings instituted against on charges of marauding. And in the settlement of Tangi-chu, Colonel Budanov’s enemies were local residents who held a grudge against him after a mopping-up operation that he and his subordinates carried out the day before. Colonel Budanov could also have been framed by the enemies of General Shamanov (who held the regiment commander in deep regard).

All those are so far initial versions. The reality is much more terrifying. Colonel Budanov is one of the best officers in the federal troops, one of the few who has served without replacement since the beginning of the campaign (that is the burden of good officers – they are left on the front line, because it is impossible to find an adequate replacement for them). Colonel Budanov was one of the first officers to be decorated with the Order of Courage in this campaign and now the General Staff categorically declines to comment on this topic: according to unofficial sources, Colonel Budanov’s personal file was urgently requested by the award department, whose officers were forbidden to comment on the fact that the colonel was decorated with one of the most respected orders. Colonel Budanov acted in the manner to which he was accustomed. He had information about a female sniper who was killing his subordinates and he was looking out for his subordinates, especially for the draftees. Nobody could confirm or deny that information. Budanov did not even think that it was not within his authority to interrogate suspects, for there exists specially trained people to carry out such tasks. However, the war has entered just another phase and the General Staff no longer controls the routine progress of the combat actions. The army on the level of colonels and majors independently fights those who, according to reconnaissance reports, are taken to be enemies. Colonel Budanov was acting not according to the logic of the Geneva Convention, but according to that of a civil war. In fact, the current Chechen campaign is nothing but a civil war. And during a civil war, the logic of revenge always replaces the law. And further developments only proved this.

Colonel Budanov hated contract servicemen and was methodically punishing all of those who were charged with marauding. One day prior to the incident in Tangi-chu, Colonel Budanov promised to court martial three contract servicemen (the commander of an armored personnel carrier, a tank commander and a gunlayer) and one officer for marauding. Those very people later became the main witnesses in Colonel Budanov’s case.

Further on, the logic of the event quickly transformed the colonel into a dispensable object in a huge mechanism. General Shamanov’s friend and General Kvashnin’s former comrade-in-arms, he was an ideal target for the high politics. One day prior to the incident, the question about the defense minister in Russia was settled for the next half a year. The acting president prolonged Marshal Sergeev’s term of service and accepted the latter’s report on the situation in troops. Army General Kvashnin, the major claimant for the post of defense minister, was summoned to the Kremlin and forced to publicly call his friend Colonel Budanov “a scumbag, who is defaming the Armed Forces.” Nobody knows in what way, the General Staff and the Kremlin would have reacted to the incident in Tangi-chu one week before. General Kvashnin outwardly easily “surrendered” his friend. The chief of the General Staff has long since accepted the rules of political games and career motives have gradually replaced the ideas of collective nature and personal loyalty that are more typical of the officer corps (we are not currently speaking of the degree of Colonel Budanov’s guiltiness). General Kvashnin is not loyal to anyone but himself and high politics are his natural environment now. And Colonel Budanov is simply an element of the political scheme; he is a good front-line officer, who is in fact the one who wages the war but who means practically nothing for the layout of the battle for the post of defense minister. By the way, General Shamanov, who was also Colonel Budanov’s friend, may also fail to be appointed commander of the Moscow District of the Internal Troops on account of this scandal, for he is was damaged by his friendship with the defendant. Nobody will ever publicly condemn General Kvashnin for having publicized the tragedy of the Chechen girl, but army officers are unlikely to forget the easiness and swiftness with which the chief of the General Staff was promoted to the Kremlin.

Colonel Budanov has killed a human being. For this, he will certainly be prosecuted. However, the events in the Chechen settlement of Tangi-Chu have once again reminded us that the logic of a civil war has long since brought reality beyond the framework of theoretical plans of how the situation in Chechnya will develop. And the fates of separate people, especially of combat officers, have turned into high politics fodder (…). The blood and suffering of the war are transformed into red-carpet reports overnight.

Years will pass before historians finally learn (if ever) what exactly happened in Tangi-chu, but the fate of Colonel Budanov is already determined. He is arrested on charges, which stipulate imprisonment for life.

Colonel Budanov is 37. He became a regiment commander as a major. He was the youngest commander of a tank regiment in the entire Siberian Military District. His regiment was more than once praised as the best. Colonel Budanov has participated in the current campaign since September 1999. He was promoted to colonel ahead of schedule. Colonel Budanov’s colleagues, whom we have managed to reach for comment, speak about him in the following way, “He has a tough character. He especially disliked marauders. He could easily beat a marauder without any regard for the latter’s military rank. Colonel Budanov was especially feared by those contract servicemen, who had come to Chechnya to profit from looting. He could drink a glass or two, but nobody ever saw him drunk. His regard for family was especially strong. In his tent, were photos of his wife and two children. He organized daily communication between his subordinates and their families via a secret communications channel. He is desperately brave. He used to go on reconnaissance missions and engage in hand-to-hand fights himself. He was trying to save his subordinates’ lives. That is why there have been nearly no casualties in the regiment in the six months of fighting.”

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