Air Defense: October 17, 2003


The Prosecutor's Office in Chechnya completed their investigation into the "gang of antiaircraft gunners" who waged a personal war against Russian aircraft for two years, referring the case to the republic's Supreme Court. For security reasons, their case will be heard in Rostov-na-Donu but the trial date remains unset. This small team was extremely effective, downing three helicopters and killing over 150 soldiers (including a slew of senior officers and generals).

The Russians admit that it was sheer accident that the caught the "Ichkeria air defense forces". In January 2003, a spetsnaz unit paid a preventive visit to Shamsutdin Salavatov and found an entire arsenal in his apartment (including an Igla portable surface-to-air missile system). A Kalashnikov assault rifle confiscated from Salavatov was determined to be the same one used to kill Lieutenant General Igor Shifrin on a Grozny street in November 2002. 

Salavatov spilled the beans, naming comrades Sultan Matsayev, Doku Dzhantemirov and Viskhan Khabibulayev (who were hiding in the Ingush village of Sleptsovskaya, posing as refugees). Police officers found another three portable surface-to-air missile systems in their old Grozny apartments. This "Chechen air defense forces" group was created in the summer of 2001 under the personal leadership and financial patronage of veteran rebel leader Shamil Basayev. Amir Salavatov was given $1 million for buying arms. Dzhantemirov was the antiaircraft gunner, having received combat training at a military base in Turkey. The money was used to buy ten portable surface-to-air missile systems in Georgia. They had been stolen from a former Russian military base and smuggled to the Chechen capital.

Their first victory in September 2001 was an Mi-8 over Grozny, the subsequent crash killing two generals, eight colonels, and three crew members died as a result of the disaster. Their biggest victory came on August 19, 2002, when they downed a Mi-26 helicopter near the Khankala air base and killed 127 on board. - Adam Geibel


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