New Twist in Budanov Trial

A notorious Russian colonel could use his murder trial as a springboard into politics

New Twist in Budanov Trial

A notorious Russian colonel could use his murder trial as a springboard into politics

The trial of Yuri Budanov - the Russian tank commander accused of murdering an 18-year-old Chechen girl - is set to unleash a fresh wave of controversy.

As his defence begins to crumble, Budanov's supporters have formally applied to the Rostov electoral commission to register the colonel as a candidate for May's Duma elections.

The reasoning behind the move is clear enough: as a deputy, Budanov would be entitled to immunity from prosecution and all charges against him would be dropped.

Budanov, 37, commander of the 160th Tank Regiment, was arrested last March and charged with the rape and murder of Elza Kungaeva, from the village of Tangi-chu, near Urus Martan.

According to the prosecution, Budanov burst into the girl's home on March 27, threatened her parents with a gun and abducted her. He then took Kungaeva back to the regimental base where she was interrogated and strangled.

The colonel -- whose arrest coincided with widespread allegations of war crimes in Chechnya -- enjoys considerable support from federal army circles and the Russian public at large.

His defence centres around the claim that Kungaeva was a sniper who had killed several of his men and he strangled her after she attempted to grab a pistol during the interrogation.

However the rape charge - which was dropped long before the trial hearings - has come back to haunt Budanov.

Abdulla Khamzaev, a lawyer representing the victim's family, has presented the Rostov court with new medical evidence that Kungaeva was sexually assaulted before her death, directly refuting defence claims that she was raped post mortem by one of the soldiers charged with burying her body.

Not only does the rape charge conflict with Budanov's claim that he acted in self-defence but it is also likely to dampen public support for the defendant.

After accusing both the defence and the prosecution of deliberately withholding medical evidence, Khamzaev went on to say that military investigators had failed to interview a vital witness, Ramzan Batalov, in connection with the murder.

According to the lawyer, it was Batalov who told the federal authorities that Kungaeva was a sniper - just days after local police found an arms cache in his home.

Meanwhile, the Rostov electoral commission is waiting for an official statement from Budanov that he intends to stand for the Duma seat.

One analyst, who asked not to be named, told IWPR, "If he agrees, then he'll have no trouble getting into the Duma on the wave of chauvinistic feeling which is currently sweeping through southern Russia, and Rostov especially.

"But at the same time he'll be admitting that he was completely compos mentis when he raped and murdered Kungaeva. It'll be a hard choice for him."

Meanwhile, Budanov's supporters argue he was used as a scapegoat to appease the international community at a time when the West was demanding action over claims of human rights abuse in Chechnya.

They point out that the colonel had served throughout the Chechen campaign with distinction and had recently been awarded the Order of Valour.

Boris Shamborov is an independent journalist based in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria

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