On December 27, 1999, Interfax reported Russian forces were using fuel-air explosive bombs in the fighting in Chechnya.(1) The use of fuel-air explosives (FAEs), popularly known in Russia as "vacuum bombs," represents a dangerous escalation in the Chechnya conflict--one with important humanitarian implications. FAEs are more powerful than conventional high-explosive munitions of comparable size, are more likely to kill and injure people in bunkers, shelters, and caves, and kill and injure in a particularly brutal manner over a wide area. In urban settings it is very difficult to limit the effect of this weapon to combatants, and the nature of FAE explosions makes it virtually impossible for civilians to take shelter from their destructive effect.
This report shows that military support for paramilitary activity remains national in scope, and includes areas where units receiving or scheduled to receive U.S. military aid operate. The report relies on Colombian government documents and extensive interviews with government investigators, refugees, and victims of political violence.
Russian soldiers summarily executed at least thirty-eight civilians in the Staropromyslovski district of Grozny, Chechnya, between late December and mid-January, according to testimony taken by Human Rights Watch. Most of the victims were women and elderly men, and all appear to have been deliberately shot by Russian soldiers at close range.