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Journalist Describes Captivity During Chechen War - 2001-11-21

Russia has received an official inquiry from the United Nations regarding the treatment of a Russian reporter covering the war in Chechnya. The reporter, Anna Politkovskaya, talked Tuesday to reporters about her capture by the Russian military, mistreatment and subsequent flight from the separatist republic.

Anna Politkovskaya won numerous awards for her coverage of the Russian campaign in the separatist republic of Chechnya before she ran afoul of the Russian military.

In an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday, Ms. Politkovskaya talked about her two days in captivity with the Russian military, house arrest and subsequent flight to Western Europe, where she now resides.

Last January, she was awarded the prestigious Golden Pen Award by the Russian Union of Journalists for her outspoken coverage of Russia's second war in Chechnya for the bi-weekly, Novaya Gazeta. She is just as outspoken today.

Ms. Politkovskaya told the audience in Russian that the war in Chechnya is not a war against "terrorists," as it is described by President Vladimir Putin. Rather, she said through her translator, it is a war against the civilian population of Chechnya. "No one is certain whether they will be alive in the next minutes," she said. "No one, including people who are in their houses, people that step out of their apartments, people that are walking on the street."

Ms. Politkovskaya says civilians enduring this second Russian military campaign in Chechnya have been living a life of fear for two years, with no end in sight. She says one in every 2,000 Chechen families has lost someone who was taken into Russian custody. And while she welcomed a recent return to peace talks by the Russian government and Chechen separatists this past weekend, she said she holds out little hope for progress.

In a statement some Russia analysts challenge, she says President Putin has lost complete control of the Russian military in Chechnya, and this does not bode well for the rest of Russia. "I am absolutely certain," she said through a translator, "that this not only concerns Chechnya, but that a military that conducts themselves in this manner in Chechnya will do so in other regions as well."

But Andrew Kutchins, the Director of the Russia/Eurasia program for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says he does not forsee an expansion of the Russian military campaign in Chechnya to other regions.

He also challenged Ms. Politkovskaya's claim that the Russian military is out of President Putin's control. He said, "I don't think it's a fair assessment to say Mr. Putin has lost complete control of the Russian army in Chechnya. Certainly, there have been a lot of problems with military discipline and morale in both wars. But I don't think he's lost complete control. So, I think its a bit of an overstatement. I'm also a bit mystified as to what she means about the Russian army ready to proceed into other areas for attack."

Mr. Kutchins also defended the Bush administration, whose officials, he said, have taken Russia to task on Chechnya. "While we may not have heard much in public by the Administration about Chechnya, I am confident and I know for a fact that this issue has been raised in bilateral meetings since the [Bush] administration came to power."

Ms. Politkovskaya says she hopes that the United Nations' interest in her story of mistreatment by the Russians will mean no one else will have to endure captivity or house arrest as she did. She hopes to return to Russia one day, but pledges to continue covering the Chechen conflict from afar. Chechen separatists won de-facto independence after a 1994-96 war that ended with a Russian withdrawal, but Moscow sent troops back into the breakaway republic in October 1999. The protracted guerrilla war has claimed tens of thousands of lives.