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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Budanov's Guilt Is Not The Issue

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Just when it looked like Colonel Yury Budanov was going to walk free, the military prosecutor was pulled Monday.

The prosecutor, who was supposed to be making the case against Budanov, had recommended he be sentenced to three years in prison but then freed on amnesty. With prosecutors like this, who needs defense lawyers.

Then the judge postponed the verdict, which had been expected Tuesday, and ordered another psychiatric evaluation. The last one had found Budanov not in his right mind when he killed a young Chechen woman two years ago.

So it does indeed look as if the court (or whoever is directing the court) is moving toward a ruling that will punish Budanov.

He deserves to be punished. He is a war criminal. But that's not the real issue. The issue is what message his conviction is meant to send and to whom.

President Putin has been making nice noises lately about Chechnya. At a Kremlin press conference last week with hundreds of foreign and Russian journalists he called the violence in Chechnya a tragedy, said the Chechen people were not guilty of anything and the mopping-up operations must stop (if certain conditions are met).

In Putin's rosy new relations with the West, Chechnya remains a stain, and one wonders how much his words were meant for Western consumption.

The suspicions grow stronger in reading what his commander in Chechnya, General Vladimir Moltenskoi, had to say Tuesday. "The law should be the same for everyone, including for those in uniform," Interfax quoted him as saying. "All are equal before the law. That is what democracy means."

Moltenskoi is the commander who issued the order in March requiring federal troops to behave themselves when mopping up villages, an order that has been widely flouted.

What clearly is lacking is a system of control over military men and the will to punish all who commit war crimes.

Even Moltenskoi seems to recognize this. In Tuesday's remarks, he attributed Budanov's actions to a lack of control by the military command and an "elementary lack of discipline." He could have added a lack of a sense in the military that torturing and killing Chechen civilians is wrong.

Witness the comments of Budanov's old commander, Vladimir Shamanov, now the governor of the Ulyanovsk region.

He called Budanov "an honest officer who within the limits of his moral and physical strength successfully fulfilled his tasks, while looking after his subordinates," Interfax reported Monday.

Budanov is likely to be made an example of. But whom is he to be an example for?