published by the
Institute for Democracy
in Eastern Europe
Dispatches from
No. 25, June 13, 2002

Russian Media’s Deceptive Illusion of Peace in Chechnya

The Situation in the Chechen Republic in May-June 2002

GROZNY - Notwithstanding all the deceptive coverage on Russian mainstream television, the war in Chechnya is not over.

         Looking only at Russian broadcasting services, one might conclude that peace in Chechnya has been restored and reconstruction work is under way. Both national and local TV channels air reports about the stabilization of the situation, the return of weapons by terrorists, and the large-scale reconstruction of Grozny.

        The head of the Chechen Administration asserts that much progress has been made in restoring peace and order. In fact, the situation on the ground is constantly deteriorating.

        At one point, there were rumors that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held in the republic soon. But Russian state officials directly responsible for the internal affairs of Chechnya vehemently denied the rumors and announced that elections in Chechnya would not be planned even for at least a year or two. There is, however, a possibility that municipal elections will be held; this question is not yet finalized.

        Indeed, the conditions for free and fair elections are non-existent in the Chechen Republic: not only does half the population currently reside outside Chechnya, but also a horrendous war is still being waged on its territory.

        Military actions in Chechnya still continue, despite all the optimistic announcements of Russia’s military leadership that the war is over. Clashes between Chechen fighters and federal troops take place in a number of different regions of Chechnya. Hardly a day passes by without Russian planes and helicopters roaring over the republic’s territory. The mountainous regions are frequently subject to rocket and bomber attacks. In addition, Russian soldiers and militiamen are often victims of mines planted throughout Grozny. When the night falls upon the city, firing does not stop. From 3 a.m. on, artillery cannonade wakes up Grozny while Russian soldiers shoot at the abandoned lots of land on the outskirts of the city as well the mountainous regions.

         In March 2002, there was widespread news about a significant decrease in the large number of Russian check points, which were set up by the Russian army to extract money from travelers. Yet, the real number of the check points has remained the same. Only cosmetic changes were made by relocating the posts from the center of the road to the side. Russian soldiers on duty continue to extract money from drivers, finding any possible pretext for harassment or threats of arrest and detention.
 Mop-up operations of the Russian army have become a regular occurrence in Grozny. Moreover, they have reached heightened levels. In the past, such emergencies as an explosion in the city or firing at Russian soldiers entailed mop-up operations. Now they are callously carried out regardless of the circumstances.

         Since early June, mop-up operations have taken place in the Leninsky, Oktyabrsky, and Zavodsly districts of Grozny and the Grozny rural district. According to the testimony of witnesses from the Leninsky district, ten people were detained; many of whom were released the next day. Another mop-up operation took the inhabitants of the village of Proletarsky by surprise at 1 a.m. Men between the ages of 18 and 45 were detained, beaten, and finally released.

         Until recently, schools remained untouched by the Russian army. Yet, there is a growing number of cases where Russian soldiers have broken into school buildings, insulted teachers, and beaten up and detained high school students. The higher educational establishments also have become subject to systematic mop-up operations, especially in the Leninsky district of Grozny.

         The Russian armed forces kick off the day with raids of multi-story buildings and a passport inspection of every apartment. Suspects, mainly men between the ages of 16 and 45, are detained and brought to the police office. Among the detainees, there are a number who are not registered, as well as some who do not reside nearby the area of their registration.
 Russian troops regularly mastermind so-called ambushes that block the roads and target suspicious-looking individuals, mainly men.
        At night, Russian soldiers sometimes shoot civilians walking in the streets of Grozny without any warning. By the same token, snipers, lurking atop high buildings, are also quite unpredictable. Life in the city remains fraught with danger.
         Here is an excerpt from an interview with a 67-year old resident of Grozny A. Aslanova:

During the previous war, I was not afraid of Russian soldiers. Now the mere sight of them sends shivers down my spine. I do not have any clue what to expect from them. Wherever they go, shooting and explosions are heard. Russian soldiers are often drunk and shoot at random in all directions. It is impossible to fall asleep at night because the shooting never stops. The question is who is shooting and at whom. It is said that Russian army has a mission to accomplish and plans to fire until it uses up its resources. Gas is regularly turned off, leaving people hungry. My daily ration consists of bread and tea. I do not know how the youngsters can survive on such a diet.
I am tired of all that. And I have endured a lot in my life. As a small girl, I was [exiled] to Kazakhstan, I was on the verge of starvation there in 1944. The elderly say that it was much easier to live at that time. I used to have an apartment, my son used to have a house. Now everything is bombed and leveled. I have to live in a stranger’s house. It seems to me that it would be better if the Russian army would gather all of us and kill us on the spot instead of torturing us like this. . . .
 R. Mutsaev, a 47-year old teacher, spoke about life in Chechnya:

Life in Grozny reminds me of a snapshot from an old Soviet movie: whenever the White Army comes, it beats us; whenever the Red Army comes, it beats us. On one hand, the federal troops kill and torture us because we are Chechens. On the other hand, the Wahhabis sow the seeds of war because we want to maintain Chechen customs and traditions. When the war broke out, I have to admit that I sincerely hoped that the Russian army would bring law and order to the region. However, they turned out to be worse bandits than the Wahhabis. There was a ray of hope that the international community would interfere, but this hope is gone. While US troops strengthen their position in the Republic of Georgia, the Russian army, along with the Wahhabis, continues to destroy the Chechens as an ethnic group.

         The crime rate in Grozny is staggering despite an overbearing presence of Russian soldiers. The city is rife with murder and theft; acts of vandalism are also committed on a daily basis. Motley bands made up of both Russians and Chechens specialize in armed robbery across the city.
         Russian TV paints a rosy picture of the large-scale reconstruction in Grozny. It comes as no surprise that hardly any residential area was renovated in the course of the past two and a half years. The prime minister of the Chechen government claims that 90 percent of the city has electricity; in reality, this number is a mere 10 percent.
         The Committee of the Russia’s Chamber of Commerce, investigating the embezzlement of financial assets allocated for the reconstruction of the Chechen Republic, found numerous cases of the mismanagement of state funds by the government and the administration of Chechnya. These findings did not translate into action. No measures were taken to punish the guilty party. It is not surprising, because half the funds allocated for Chechnya never leave Moscow. Thus, not only the Russian military, but also high rank officials have an invested interest in continuing this war. Indeed, the war in Chechnya has become the most profitable business for the Russian army and civil servants.
         The Chechens have become convinced that Russia has neither the desire nor the capability to revive the demolished republic. The funds that do make it to Chechnya are divided up among local officials. Chechen high ranking officials have to bribe Russia’s miliary so that they can operate in a relatively secure environment.
         Workers involved in the city’s reconstruction projects often complain of the irregular payment of wages. Although money for paying the wages, pensions and unemployment allowances come regularly in the republic, its inhabitants receive the hard-earned cash with a two- or three-month delay and often accompanied by some “administrative” cuts.
         The construction worker S. Isaev, 32, tells his story:

I have been working on the construction site in Grozny for half a year. We were repairing a multi-story building. We were paid for the first two months, then all payments stopped. Now all the work is stopped as well. We are told that there is no money to pay back the debt or continue the construction project. How can I support a family under such conditions? If my mother had not received a pension, we would not have survived. My wife sells goods on the market. Russian soldiers do not allow salespeople to have normal working conditions, they constantly raid the market and grab whatever they see. I do not have a clue what is store for me. I live life from day to day.”

         According to various estimations, between 250,000 and 300,000 people live in Grozny. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of the able working population are unemployed and have no source of income.
         The city still stands in ruins. The overwhelming part of the city has no electricity or water. The roads are in a dilapidated condition, without any prospect of prompt repair. The frequent absence of gas is a real disaster for people.
         The streets are rife with high piles of garbage that give off poisonous fumes and an unpleasant odor. The central market is the dirtiest location in the city; yet it is the only place where Grozny inhabitants and residents of the neighboring villagers can buy food. Fruit, bread, and meat are sold in the midst of gigantic heaps of garbage swamped with stray dogs and cats. Thus, the risk of having an epidemic runs high in the city. The sanitation services in Grozny have been put in place. They have yet to fulfill their professional responsibilities.
         The shortage of drinking water poses another threat to the health of Grozny inhabitants. Many households take water from the wells, which are located, on average, 500 meters away from their houses. The water in such wells tends to contain large concentrations of gasoline and can be mixed with sewage water. The usage of such water for drinking purposes is detrimental to health. The availability of pure drinking water is still a pie in the sky for the Chechens. In northern parts of the city, water is delivered in large cisterns and people have to stand in long lines to buy it.
         The environmental situation in Grozny leaves much to be desired. The black smog from the oil wells covers many parts of the city, especially the northern one.
         The current living conditions in Grozny remain extremely challenging. Large-scale reconstruction and the stabilization of life in the city hinges upon the active involvement and financial support of Western Europe and North America. Such assistance, in turn, is possible only with the end of the military conflict in Chechnya and the finalization of its status and relationship with Russia.

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Written by correspondents in Chechnya, Dispatches from Chechnya is distributed in English by the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE), a non-profit organization founded in 1986, dedicated to the promotion of democracy and pluralism in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. For more information about IDEE, its programs, and the situation in Chechnya, visit the IDEE webpage at To receive Dispatches by email, please contact IDEE at [email protected]

Eric Chenoweth and Irena Lasota
Co-Directors, IDEE