Mr. Gerikhanov , your intervention in the Budennovsk hostage crisis begins on the evening of June 15, 1995, when you reach the city hospital, occupied by Basayev’s men, with the intention of starting negotiations. The task had been assigned to her by the Minister for Nationalities of the Russian Federation, Mikhailov. Do you remember how you responded to his request? Were you able to communicate with ChRI authorities from the time you were called to the hospital until you entered the hospital?
That’s essentially how it went. As chairman of the Constitutional Court , I had no contact with the leadership of the Chechen Republic, and was busy reporting on the war crimes that were taking place on the territory of our republic. I have personally held dozens of international conferences and roundtables, in which I have called for the intervention of the world community to stop the destruction of the Chechen people as an ethnic group!
At the time I was in Moscow, as an expert in the session of the International Tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Chechen Republic, headed by State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, later killed due to her civil engagement on the events in Chechnya. While I was at work, I was approached by one of my compatriots who held a responsible position in the presidential administration of the Russian Federation. He was looking for me at the request of the Minister for Nationalities, Mikhailov, who asked for my assistance in freeing the hostages held in Budennovsk. Naturally, I accepted the assignment, aware of the moral responsibility I had for these facts, as a senior official of the republic.
First of all, I interpreted my mission as that of allowing the hostages to understand the reason for this armed incursion, and to explain to them that they were not “militants”, as reported by all the world’s media, but defenders of their homeland.
Two or three days after I received the request, I was on a plane bound for Grozny, on which was also a delegation from the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Zhirinovsky. We had no contact with them, but the departure of the plane from Moscow was delayed for several hours.
Together with her were other Chechen officials. Who were they? And why did you choose them?
With me . were Paskushev and D. Khangoshvili . The second is a Georgian Chechen. Neither was an official of the state structure of the republic. I didn’t choose them, we just happened to be together. In fact I was not the head of the delegation. The other two simply knew my position among the authorities of the republic, and they recognized me as a sort of “primacy” in relation to the responsibility of my work. Unfortunately Khangoshvili passed away a week ago. Paskushev remained at headquarters in the Ministry of Internal Affairs building to ensure our safety.
I take this opportunity to express my special gratitude to my comrades for their courage and perseverance in these events. We were exposed to mortal danger of being shot in the rear by the Russian army, or by a sniper, or of being shot by our own if the military’s provocations ended with the assault on the hospital.
Did you personally know Basayev before Budennovsk? What opinion did you have of him? And how has it changed after the seizure of the hospital?
Before these events I had never had personal contact with him, as a Member of Parliament on first call and President of the Constitutional Court I was busy with my duties.
My opinion on this raid is still ambiguous today, I am against violence against civilians, although dozens of times we Chechens have seen how Russian troops put groups of civilians in front of them and went on the attack. But war is war , there are no rules of engagement and no one chooses the methods. This was mutually evident when civilians were killed by carpet bombing on the territory of the republic and filter camps were set up, where ordinary civilians, both women and men, were tortured, raped and killed.
The indifference of the absolute majority of Russian citizens and the world community gave the following result: our soldiers were forced to attract everyone’s attention in this way, to stop the destruction of the Chechens on a national basis. By the way, to this day the participants of Basayev’s raid are “found guilty” and sentenced to the maximum sentence, while not a single officer or soldier of the Russian army, except for the freak and rapist Budanov, has been held responsible for the criminal acts made on the territory of our republic.
This raid, with its pitiable innocent victims, produced results: the war was stopped and the Khasavyurt Accords on the cessation of hostilities and the beginning of peace negotiations were signed.
After landing in Budennovsk and reaching the hospital, you made contact with the Chechen units barricaded in the facility. Your first request to talk to Basayev, however, was turned down. Aslambek Ismailov, clarified that there would be no negotiations. Why do you think Basayev reacted so harshly? Didn’t he recognize you as a senior ChRI official? And speaking of Ismailov, did you know him before the Budennovsk events?
Before our arrival in Budennovsk, Basayev made it clear to everyone that there would be no negotiations before the withdrawal of the Russian army from the territory of our republic and that negotiations with Dudayev for the recognition of independence should begin. To all delegations, including one composed of Basayev’s relatives, he made it clear that he would not speak to anyone, and that any attempt to force the situation would lead to the death of the hostages.
After arriving at the Headquarters, headed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Egorov, I informed everyone about the purpose of my visit and after long discussions I called the hospital directly to explain that my intention was to visit the building where the hostages were being held. Since it was night, I resolved to enter the building the next morning. Ismailov, Basayev’s deputy, answered me. I had never met him before. He knew me, he knew I was a high official of the republic. He promised to tell Basayev what I was proposing, and to give me an answer within a few hours.
To get an affirmative answer, I had to declare that I was willing to remain inside the hospital together with the hostages and Basayev’s men if my efforts to resolve the crisis were unsuccessful.
June 18 , you finally managed to enter the hospital, leading two different groups inside the facility and starting negotiations to open an exit corridor for Basayev’s men, in exchange for the release of a certain number of hostages. How did these negotiations take place? Why do you think Basayev changed his attitude towards you?
My first contact was on June 16 , when Khangoshvili and Ismailov met at the hospital entrance. Before our arrival a sniper had shot one of Basayev’s men, and his corpse was still lying in plain sight, covered in blood, at a distance of 1.5 – 2 meters. To avoid risking the same end, we met on the entrance stairway, sheltered from snipers. After a short conversation with Ismailov, we parted. On the same day he contacted the General Headquarters informing those present that Basayev was available to meet the President of the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic.
What situation did you find in the hospital? Do you remember the conditions of the hostages and militants during your stay in the facility?
The situation was very tense, there were many women and children, some wounded, mothers who had just given birth. With respect to this, the Russian media presented a distorted version of reality: with the exception of military pilots and police officers, the hostages were shown respect and care, relative to the conditions in which they found themselves. The hostages themselves had spread white scarves and sheets outside the windows to prevent an assault by the Russian army. I saw a woman, a doctor from the hospital, slap a police lieutenant general who was saying that Basayev’s team was putting women and children against the windows!
Khangoshvili and I have been to the hospital 5-6 times until June 18th , and each time we came back with several children, who we returned to their mothers. They persuaded me to take the children with me, referring to the fact that Basayev would not object and that the children would be saved. On our next visit, we heard the voices of the women talking to each other saying that there was a “mustachioed prosecutor” and that another group of children needed to be rounded up.
According to press reports, it was you who developed the text of the agreement that led to the resolution of the crisis. Do you remember the genesis of this document? Were there discussions about what should be written on it? Do you keep a copy of this document?
Yes, I wrote that text. At the first meeting with Basayev he recognized my rank as an official, but said that he was accountable to his command, and that without the approval of his bosses he would not take any decision. Basayev insisted that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and the republic’s independence could not be negotiated. His detachment would not have left if these two conditions were not met. If necessary they would all have sacrificed their lives for this. I had to talk to all the members of Basayev’s team to explain to them that at this stage of the conflict, fulfilling both conditions would be impossible, even with the sacrifice of all Chechens on earth.
In the end, thanks to the help of the witnesses I brought, and the arguments of my reasoning, I managed to persuade Basayev that the withdrawal of troops and the opening of negotiations would be real steps towards ending the war and recognizing Chechen sovereignty . After another visit to the hospital on June 17 , Basayev finally declared that he was ready to open a dialogue on this basis, and asked me to draft a document. To the above conditions he added the request for a guarantee of safety for his men, so that they could return to Chechnya without incident. Finally, he reminded me that, as a Chechen, I would answer to the people and to Allah if the Russian military and political leadership did not abide by the agreements.
The text was signed by responsible persons. I was asked to sign as head of the Chechen delegation, but I refused because I was a state official. However, having to identify a guarantor among the Chechens, I asked Kanghoshvili to sign, since the Russian government would not accept my signature as an official of the Chechen Republic.
The main concern for me and for Basayev was: who would guarantee the free passage of the buses on which the Chechen fighters and their escorts would leave? Knowing the insidious behavior of the Russian military and leadership, when I returned to the HQ I asked on my own initiative that this guarantee be given by the Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin: without his direct intervention, Basayev’s men would not have left the building, and they would have agreed to fight to the death. All those present reacted with anger: Deputy Prime Minister Yegorov , FSB director Stephasin and other military commanders invited me to leave. To which, brusquely, I told them that if they stormed the hospital, the whole world would immediately know about it from me, and the death of the hostages would remain on their conscience!
While returning to Moscow with the Chechen delegation, the human rights activist, S. Kovalev, approached us, and told us that Chernomyrdin was willing to talk with us about the guarantees to be given to Basayev’s men. I replied that this shouldn’t have been behind the scenes, but that it should have been an official statement. I then demanded that the Prime Minister speak to Basayev directly on the phone, and threatened to abandon the negotiations, and to return to my job if the conversation did not take place.
When you left the hospital, you took about a hundred hostages with you. Do you remember any of them? Were you able to exchange a few words between you? What did the hostages think about what was happening?
As I said, after I learned that Chernomyrdin would call Basayev, I returned to the hospital on June 18th . Arriving from Basayev I asked him: if the Prime Minister provides a guarantee of safe passage to Chechnya, will this be a sufficient basis for the release of the hostages? Basayev and his men laughed: they didn’t believe such a guarantee would be possible. However Kovalev and the accompanying State Duma deputies confirmed my words, so we added this clause to the agreement, and signed it. I asked Basayev to give a sign of good will by handing over, together with the request for agreement, at least 100 hostages, including women and children, to be released. Basayev agreed to the request the next day.
Upon your departure, Basayev reportedly warned you: “Remember that you are a Chechen. If even a single hair falls from my fighters’ heads along the way, your whole family will answer for it!” Does this mean you got involved in a family feud to save the Budennovsk hostages?
Naturally this was a provocation on Basayev’s part. After all, I could not vouch for their free passage through Russian territory. Knowing about Yeltsin’s intention to show himself to the world community as a fighter against “terrorists”, I nipped in the bud another provocation thought up by the head of the operation to free the hostages, General Yerin . As soon as I arrived in Moscow, I gave several interviews to Russian and foreign journalists in which I feared a possible military provocation against Basayev’s detachment on the way back.
After signing the agreement, on your way home, you were abruptly called back at Aslambek ‘s explicit request Abdulkhadzhiev . The feds had asked all those who had joined Basayev on the return journey to sign a document that effectively exempted the Russian authorities from any responsibility in the event of accidents on the way back. It was a tacit admission of a willingness to raid Basayev’s convoy as soon as it entered Chechnya. Abdulkhadzhiev stated that without your intervention the negotiations would not have resumed. Did you know him? Why was your presence deemed necessary?
I have already mentioned General Yerin , the author of this receipt stating that such and such a person “voluntarily joins Shamil Basayev’s group…”. Abdulkhadzhiev reacted urgently to this provocation and declared that without a conversation with the President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic, the agreement would not proceed.
A car caught up with us on the way to the airport, and we were asked to come back. Upon arrival in Budennovsk, after reading the text proposed by General Yerin , I asked to speak urgently with Chernomyrdin and, after my explanations, Chernomyrdin slipped through Yerin , scolded him about the receipt and ordered him to cancel it. It later became known that the General was preparing an assault on Basayev’s convoy on orders from President Yeltsin, who was outside Russia at the time. Indeed, an attempted assault took place near the Chechen border, at the height of Kurskaya , when military helicopters began flying over the buses. However, due to the great attention these events caused and the presence of many foreign journalists, the attack did not take place.
After resolving this second crisis, you were faced with the frustrated reaction of the Russian military and civilians who had witnessed the kidnapping. Why were they mad at you? What made them so nervous?
The answer in this case is unequivocal. Many soldiers wanted to destroy Basayev’s detachment and gain prestige. They didn’t care about the hostages and their punishments at the time. On our next visit to the hospital we realized that the army’s special units clearly wanted to take advantage of the stalemate in operations due to the negotiation process to storm the hospital. And the police major’s snide comment: You can’t come here, you’re no better than the terrorists you sent home I assumed I never expected the most basic humanity or gratitude from these people.
After Basayev’s return to Chechnya, your mission was over. Were you able to contact Dudayev, or another official of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria?
Unfortunately no, I was very busy with the international tribunal, and until 1996 I was unable to return to the republic. According to Abdulkhadzhiev , in the presence of Ismailov and Basayev, my actions in this mission were highly appreciated by the President, who said that at the first meeting with me he would present me with the Republic’s highest award, the “Honor of the Nation ”. Unfortunately, the infamous assassination of the President of the Chechen Republic prevented us from meeting on this earth.
Did the Russian authorities give you any credit for ending the Budennovsk hostage crisis?
First of all, I didn’t expect anything from gold and I didn’t work for them. I only accepted the offer to participate in this matter, in good faith, because I was one of the highest officials of the Republic. Secondly, I did what I did out of civic duty, and I am grateful to the Almighty for giving me the opportunity to be of service to my people and to free more than 1200 hostages who were not involved in hostilities, like dozens of thousands of civilians in Chechnya, who suffered the most from the presence of the Russian army.
It was said a long time ago that I was offered an apartment in Moscow. Speculation around this topic was a useless farce of the Russian leadership, just as some newly emerged “patriots” among the Chechens could be accused of treason, who even today cannot understand and evaluate my actions as Chairman of the Constitutional Court of the Republic Chechen. But that’s another topic!
The Budennovsk crisis allowed the Chechen government to conclude a truce which proved useful in winning the war. However, it has cast a shadow of terror on the resistance. How do you think Budennovsk changed the history of independent Chechnya?
Today the whole world has known the face of the Russian Empire and has finally understood that the war of the aggressor, launched against our republic, was the beginning of perfidy and contempt for all norms and principles of international law, so as well as its obligations to the world community. The Budennovsk events forced the Russian leadership to sit down at the negotiating table, and this saved tens of thousands of lives, both on the territory of our republic and in Russia itself.
As for the “shadow of terror”, state terror was declared against the Chechen people by Russia, exclusively on a national basis, and has not stopped to this day, even though the peace treaty with the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria was signed a long time ago! So who is guilty of terrorism? Who is the terrorist?
Thank God the European community has already declared Russia a sponsor of terrorism. This is mine answer at the your last question !
The document, translated for us by Inna Kurochkina, says:
Agreed text for the time 10 hours 40 minutes 18.06.95.
On the release of the hostages, the city of Budyonnovsk.
-On the part of the Government of the Russian Federation represented by the Prime Minister
Immediately stop hostilities and bombardments of the territory of Chechnya.
All other issues, including the disengagement of troops, should be resolved exclusively by personal means on the basis of the negotiation process.
The person authorized to negotiate with the Chechen side is Usman Imaev.
-From Shamil Basayev:
Release of hostages, with the exception of the security assurance team.
Time of completion:
Statement by Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation Chernomyrdin.
The release of the hostages in the amount of one hundred people Sh. Basaev immediately after the speech of Viktor Chernomyrdin.
The rest, with the exception of the security guarantee group, are released during the time for the security of the departure of Sh. Basayev’s group.
10 hours 03 minutes
Viktor Stepanivich Chernomyrdin
From the Government of the Russian Federation on behalf of Viktor Chernomyrdin: Head of
the Delegation Sergey Kovalev
From the Administration of the Stavropol Kraj Member of the delegation Sergey Popov
Deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Yuliy Rybakov
From the side of the Chechen diaspora Khangoshvili Dzhabrail
Federation Council Deputy Viktor Kurochkin
Assistant to Kovalev Oleg Orlov “Memorial”
The document, translated for us by Inna Kurochkina, says:
Additional agreements to the text of the Agreement dated June 18, 1995.
The delegation of the Russian Federation and Shamil Basayev’s group agreed on the following:
All questions of a political settlement, including the question of the status of the Republic of Chechnya, its relations with the federal authorities of the Russian Federation, and the republics of the Russian Federation, and other issues, should be resolved exclusively by peaceful means, on the basis of international legal acts, legislation and agreements reached in the negotiations.
This procedure should be the subject of consideration by authorized officials of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and representatives of the Government and the Federal Assembly of
the Russian Federation.
11 hours 03 minutes
From the side of the Chechen diaspora Khangoshvili Dzhabrail
From the delegation of the Russian Federation:
Juliy Rybakov (Deputy of the State Duma)
Viktor Kurochkin (Member of the Federal Assembly)
Oleg Orlov (“Memorial”)
From the Administration of the Stavropol Kraj Sergey Popov