Russia: August 28, 2002


Follow-up on an earlier report, Privates Oleg Khismatulin and Nikolai Bozhkov confessed to killing eight fellow-servicemen on the Ingush stretch of the Russian-Georgian border. The two missing border guards were detained not far from Vladikavkaz on the evening of 27 August. During questioning, they confessed to the murders, and all ten weapons were recovered. No motive was given for the murders, but theft is a likely guess. - Adam Geibel 

Locating Chechen rebel commander Ruslan Gelayev sounds like an episode of "Where's Waldo?". Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmad Kadyrov reported on 28 August that Gelayev's unit is still in Georgia while just the day before, Russian military sources were leaking theories that Gelayev's groups (numbering 30 fighters each) were ready to relocate from Georgia (where they were hiding near the border, while Gelayev and his headquarters were in a Pankisi gorge village about six miles away). Russian border guards estimate that Gelayev commands about 250-280 fighters. 

The task of finding Gelayev is still plagued by distractions that prevent cooperation between Russia and Georgia. Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a scathing attack on the 28th against Georgia's control of its lawless Pankisi Gorge, while the day before Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze accused those who ordered the recent attack of barbarism. Moscow defended its innocence on the 27th, volunteering immediately after the incident to hand over rader records that proved that no Russian aircraft had crossed the border. Georgia has no tracking equipment in the area.

Georgian TV tried tracking a group of about 500 Chechen and Arab rebels in the Tianeti mountains [north of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi] on 22 August. Local shepherds say that the Chechens who moved there from the Pankisi were led by Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelayev, after spending three days in the Batkhi ravine. The site is 12-15 miles away from the nearest village and close to the Iori river. They left the Tianeti mountains after receiving a special order and moved towards Khevsureti [the northernmost region of eastern Georgia]. Local speculation is that they moved to the neighbouring Itlo Gorge, intending to move to Abkhazia. - Adam Geibel

The worst of "Political Correctness" appears to have finally reached the Kremlin. Russian military commanders are now being tasked to try to curb smoking among their servicemen and must explain to their subordinates the advantages of a healthy life. Conscripts will be advised to have foodstuffs (like sugar, caramels or lollipops), instead of cigarettes and matches. The chief of logistics will see that cigarettes containing too much nicotine and tar do not reach the troops. 

The Kremlin might as well try to hold back the tide with a teaspoon, since cheap, potent cigarettes are a staple of Russian life. In 2000, there were 340 billion cigarettes on the Russian market (330 billion produced in Russia and 10 billion imported). A pack of Pall Malls or Winstons in Moscow costs $.50, compared with $4.50 in a Washington, D.C., vending machine. Russian cigarettes cost even less. - Adam Geibel


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