Russia’s Hero Complex with Yury Budanov

In light of the slaying of lawyer Stanislav Markelov, we are digging into the archives of older news reports to inform our readers of the story of former colonel Yury Budanov, whose release on parole Markelov spent his final days fighting.  It is important to understand how the trial and imprisonment of Budanov became a rallying point for ultra-nationalists in support of the campaign in Chechnya.

“Rape and Murder Trial Puts Russia in Dock over Chechnya,” by Andrew Jack, Financial Times, (June 22, 2002, pp. 16)

In most countries, a soldier accused of raping and murdering an 18-year old girl would be heavily stigmatised. In Russia, where nearly three years of fighting has poisoned relations with its breakaway republic of Chechnya, Colonel Yuri Budanov has become a strange kind of hero.

The colonel sits in a cage in the military courtroom of the Russiancity of Rostov on Don, 1,000km south of Moscow, reading a book andignoring the proceedings which may see him walk free in the next fewdays although there is no dispute that he killed Kheda Kungaeva twoyears ago. (…)

According to evidence gathered by military prosecutors, ColBudanov, a tank commander, became drunk on March 27 2000, whilecelebrating his daughter’s second birthday. He burst into a house inthe Chechen village of Tangi-Chu, seized Kheda Kungaeva, took her tohis tent and beat, raped and strangled her, before ordering hissubordinates to bury the body. (…)

Outside the court, members of the ultra-nationalist RussianNational Unity movement claim that Col Budanov is being made ascapegoat for the entire Chechen conflict. They say they have alreadycollected enough money to buy him a car on his release. (…)

Successive medical reports have modified the original charges,concluding that rape took place after death, thereby reclassifying itas the more minor offence of mutilation of a corpse. The attack hasalso been blamed on Budanov’s subordinates, who were tried and quicklygiven amnesty. (…)

There is little doubt that Col Budanov has already been brokenand humiliated. His career has been destroyed and his family hasabandoned him. But for many Chechens, the court case is fostering asense of impunity for the army, and triggering anger which could leadmany more to take up arms against Russia.

“It shows that the Russian government does nothing to defend itscitizens against the army,” says Imran Izhiev, a human rights activistwho has followed the case closely, and whose front teeth were knockedout during an interrogation a few months ago by Russian troops.

But in Rostov, many Russians are hostile to the Chechens andindifferent to the Kungaevas. As one local builder, who identifiedhimself simply as Alexander, says with a shrug: “War is war.”