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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Colonel Budanov Declared Insane

Itar-TassBudanov sitting in the steel defendant's cage in a Rostov-on-Don court on April 2.
Psychiatrists from Moscow's Serbsky Institute on Monday made it easier for a court to spare Colonel Yury Budanov a prison sentence by declaring he was temporarily insane when he killed a young Chechen woman.

It was the fourth psychiatric evaluation in the politically charged case, which has been dragging on for nearly two years.

Human rights activists said the psychiatrists' report reflects a change in the public mood since the "Nord Ost" hostage crisis, which has emboldened those in the military and political establishment who want to see Budanov walk free.

The latest evaluation was presented to the court in Rostov-on-Don on Monday at a closed hearing, attended only by participants in the trial and a panel of psychiatric experts from Moscow.

Budanov, shown on television wearing a black leather jacket and sporting a new neatly trimmed beard, was removed from the courtroom at the request of the head of the psychiatric team, Valery Krasnov, the news reports said. Krasnov, who heads the Psychiatric Scientific Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Medical Science, said the reading of the evaluation could affect Budanov's condition.

The Serbsky Institute psychiatrists recommended to the court that Budanov be sent to a psychiatric hospital for compulsory treatment.

The court must now decide how to proceed. The charges against Budanov carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years, but if the court accepts that he was temporarily insane, it could considerably reduce the sentence or follow the psychiatrists' recommendation and send him to a hospital instead.

Or the court may disagree with this assessment and consider that Budanov was in full possession of his senses when he strangled 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva in March 2000.

"We hope the court will have nowhere to escape," Budanov's lawyer, Alexei Dulimov, told Interfax after Monday's hearing. "It will have to decide the question of releasing Budanov from custody and providing him with the necessary medical help."

Abdulla Khamzayev, the lawyer for the Kungayev family, was shown on TVS saying he questioned the psychiatrists' conclusion. "The man was excused of what he did after having pleaded that he was insane for five minutes," he said.

It was unclear when the court's decision could be expected. Testimony in the trial was to resume.

The trial had been in recess since July, when Judge Viktor Kostin agreed to a new prosecutor's request and ordered a fourth psychiatric evaluation.

While the first two evaluations had found Budanov mentally competent, the third -- the first conducted at the Serbsky Institute -- had concluded that he was temporarily insane.

The prosecutor's request for another evaluation indicated that someone had wanted to see Budanov held responsible.

Budanov's trial, which has been monitored by human rights groups, has been portrayed as a test of the military's willingness to acknowledge the abuses committed by its men in Chechnya.

The latest evaluation was completed earlier this fall. But several days after the group of armed Chechens seized the Moscow theater in late October, the Health Ministry withdrew the sealed psychiatric evaluation from the court, saying that some technicalities needed fixing.

"We can only guess what was done in that unprecedented move, but right at that moment it became clear to all that if the case against Budanov collapsed, there would be no harsh public reaction," said Lyubov Vinogradova, the executive director of the Independent Association of Psychiatrists of Russia.

Alexander Podrabinek, a human rights campaigner who investigates abuses in psychiatry, said the Serbsky Institute was doing the military's bidding.

"Serbsky has remained a citadel of punitive medicine since Soviet times, when it declared many dissidents insane," he said. "Its style is to serve the authorities, not people or justice."

Budanov has admitted killing Kungayeva, but said he did it in a fit of anger while questioning her at his base.

The colonel was said to have been drinking with his soldiers the night of March 27, 2000, to celebrate his daughter's second birthday. Budanov testified that a Chechen informer came to tell him about Kungayeva being a sniper who had killed several of his men.

Kungayeva was at home with her family in the village of Tangi-Chu when Budanov and some of his soldiers barged into the house about midnight and took her away in an armored personnel carrier, according to her father and neighbors. She was left in the hands of Budanov. The next morning, he told his subordinates to bury her body.

The psychiatrists' latest assessment drew a bitter reaction from the pro-Moscow leadership of Chechnya, which has persistently called for Budanov to be punished.

"It will be difficult for the republic's leadership to explain to the people why Budanov, if he was really sick, was sent to command a division in the zone of the counterterrorism operation," deputy head of the Chechen administration Taus Dzhabrailov told Interfax.

Budanov has found support throughout the trial from various corners. NTV television on Monday showed a group from the ultra-nationalist organization Russian National Unity, or RNE, picketing the Rostov-on-Don court and elderly women holding a homemade poster that read "Freedom to a Russian Officer."

The colonel also has gotten public support from his former commander in Chechnya, Vladimir Shamanov, who is now governor of the Ulyanovsk region.

A political career could also be in Budanov's future. TVS reported Sunday that a group in Rostov-on-Don planned to nominate him for the regional legislature to be elected in March.