published by the
Institute for Democracy
in Eastern Europe
Dispatches from
No. 33, May  2004

Little Hope For Positive Change

Grozny: May 2004

In May, there were an increased number of assassination attempts on republic officials who work for police, army, and civic administration. The most spectacular was, of course, the terrorist attack against Akhmad Kadyrov at the “Dynamo” stadium in Grozny, on May 9, 2004. The identities of the assassins, and those who hired them, are still unknown. Aslan Maskhadov publicly denounced the assassination. It appears that this crime will go unpunished, as have hundreds of other murders that take place monthly throughout Chechnya. The death of the member of the Chechen Assembly, Hussein Isaev, went unnoticed in the furor that was created by the mass media over the death of Kadyrov. Isaev, responsible for ideology, was considered the second most important person in the republic after Kadyrov.

 For a time, there was talk in Moscow about a serious conflict between Akhmad Kadyrov and some Russian Federal officials over control over Chechen oil. Upon becoming president, Kadyrov began insisting on transferring the controlling shares of the company “Rosneft,” which extracts Chechen oil, to the administration of the Chechen Republic. For the past few years, oil has been taken out of Chechnya without any controls. No one in Chechnya, not even the republic’s administration, knows the actual amount of the exported product. The president of “Rosneft” announced during a press conference in Grozny, that, according to a report, “in the year 2003, his company had extracted 9 billion rubles ($300,000,000) worth of oil in Chechnya.” The funds allocated by the federal government for Chechnya’s reconstruction during the budget year do not make up even half of this sum.

 Thus, the government of Russia, while exporting hundreds of billions worth of oil from the Chechen Republic that lies in ruins, does not repay the republic’s budget even a fraction of that sum. At the same time, a large part of the sum that is allocated for the reconstruction of the Chechnya’s social and economic infrastructure remains in Moscow in the personal accounts of federal officials.

In addition, Akhmad Kadyrov demanded that the Kremlin withdraw federal military units from Chechnya, since its territory is not a site of permanent bases or deployment, and requested transfer of police functions from the Russians to the Chechen police and army.

 It is doubtful that either demand would be well accepted in Moscow by those whose political influence and economic power are based on the Chechen war. During the past few years, most of Russia’s internal reforms and the priorities of its foreign policy have been predicated on the war.

 Notwithstanding the terrorist acts that took place, the military situation within the Chechen republic during May remained nearly the same. The mine war continues. Land mines explode periodically, killing Russian soldiers, Chechen police and even peaceful residents-women, children and elderly. The total number of crippled and disabled children has grown from five to fifteen thousand, according to various data. Most are not helped in any way by the government. Their fate and lives are in their own hands, or in the hands of their poor parents. Many of these children are in need of prosthetic limbs, surgical operations and regular medical aid. Even the healthy children are not in good condition in Chechnya where the war continues in spite of surrounding it silence. Mine explosions, periodic fire exchanges, night-time shootings and permanent sense of danger have a negative effect on both the physical and psychological health of children. Given all this, Chechen children practically are deprived of their childhood. There are more than a hundred thousand children in Grozny (not to mention other regions), and there isn’t a single park.

Explosions are heard practically every day on the streets of Grozny. The hunt for Chechen police and federal forces has increased by rebel fighters. Fighters set up ambushes for small units of federal forces and Chechen policemen and also attack small groups of Russian soldiers. Nearly every week, run-ins take place between individual groups of fighters and federal forces.

 Every explosion, every attack, is an excuse for punitive operations by federal forces against peaceful residents of Grozny and other residential areas of Chechnya. As before, night-time arrests and disappearances continue in Chechnya. Any activity, whether social or political, can cost a person his or her life, regardless of political convictions or types of activities.

 Since March 2002, Russian checkpoints in Grozny were supposed to be reduced but in fact were only moved and even increased. The terrorist attack against Akhmad Kadyrov became a new excuse for increasing the number of checkpoints. Both the local population and the representatives of federal forces understand very well the inefficiency of the entire system of checkpoints, since for money one can carry anything through them. However, the use of checkpoints to extort money from drivers is one of the key sources of income for Russian soldiers in Chechnya. Therefore, it’s unlikely that they will agree to a significant reduction of the number of checkpoints from the republic’s territory until the full withdrawal of federal forces.

 In spite of the fact that the republic is full of Russian forces, it remains a breeding ground for crime. On a daily basis, murders, robberies, profiteering and marauding are spreading. Nightly and jointly, Russian soldiers and Chechens specialize in armed robberies. Attacks take place on the homes of businessmen in Grozny and other large regions of Chechnya. Families that receive compensation for their destroyed homes become targets. Hundreds or even more families have already suffered and many have been killed at the hands of armed robbers. That is why many people are simply afraid to receive any monetary compensation for the lost private property or any other belonging on the republic’s territory.

Chechen cities and towns still remain in ruins. President Putin, who visited Grozny after the May 9th terrorist attack, was simply shocked by the scene before him. For he past year and a half, Russian television channels have been broadcasting only the reconstruction of the Grozneft (oil company) building and the area next to it, creating an image of a full-scale city reconstruction. President Putin could see that the past couple of years of reconstruction work in the Chechen capital was nonexistent — practically nothing was done. Most of the city’s regions lack electricity and water. The roads are in ruins and are not being repaired. Oftentimes, the city’s gas supply is cut off, which is becoming a real crisis for its residents. The heating system does not work in the city and there is no hot water. Many people have to heat their half-ruined homes by using gas heaters, which often leads to fires. Many houses occupied by hopeless people are in critical condition and can collapse at any given moment.

The streets are full of high piles of trash — a breeding ground for street dogs. During warm weather, these piles produce poisonous gases and bad stench. At any moment, they can become a source of various epidemics, particularly during the summer season.

The drinking water is no less of a threat to the health of Grozny residents. Most people get their water from water wells, which are located far from their homes and then they have to carry water up five to ten flights of stairs. The water in such wells often contains traces of gasoline and often mixes in with sewer water. The consumption of such water is dangerous to people’s health, but to this day, one could hardly dream of supplying the residents with clean and uncontaminated water. The northern regions of the city get its water with special cisterns and people have to buy them. Even this type of water does not conform to sanitary norms.

The ecological situation in the city of Grozny remains critical as well as throughout the entire Chechen republic. During active combat operations, various types of weapons were used here, including bombs, artillery, etc. After these combat operations ended, no one has conducted an environmental study; therefore, no one really knows the actual consequences that these activities have had on the republic’s environment. However, the number of sick people with cancer related diseases has increased in Grozny, particularly among youth. An increase in diseases such as leukemia, anemia, heart and skin diseases, as well as psychological illnesses and allergies, has also been noted. Medical experts explain this as a result of increased radiation levels after the war, as well as that of substantial environmental deterioration.

Most houses continue to have mines in their walls and the ceilings of many apartments contain unexploded bombs, arms, and rackets that hang there. People can oftentimes be found living in half-demolished buildings, in which some apartments remain intact. The city’s streets are full of construction material leftovers, various types of trash, which all produce poisonous gases, particularly during the warmer periods.

The war has damaged and continues to take its toll on the nature. The dense forests of Chechnya are constantly subjected to destruction. As a result of the lack of fuel, particularly during the time of combat operations, a large stream of refugees has fled into mountainous regions, which, in turn, has resulted in mass deforestation. Systematic bombings, mining, artillery, forest fires and other adverse incidents have substantially exacerbated the ecological situation throughout the entire republic, particularly within mountainous regions, and have brought an end of thousands of mountainous forests, which contained a unique variety of trees, including ash and beech trees. Consequently, this leads to the disappearance of lakes, streams, springs, and various wild animals, and as a result, to various natural disasters such as landslides.

The hunt for oil continues, along with illegal oil extraction and processing, which has irreversible and damaging effects on people’s health. From the beginning of the war, the federal police began a war (at least verbally) on those, who are involved in this dangerous business of illegal oil extraction and processing. There are no measures taken against the production and selling of such oil. In fact, the Russian soldiers are patrons of this illegal business, earning their percentages or shares, while people, unaware of their actions, are slowly killing everything around themselves. To this day, gasoline in glass jars is sold on the streets of Chechnya by both adults and children. For many people this form of work is their only source of survival. However, they don’t realize the real price they’re paying when they buy a loaf of bread through such means.

The process of reconstruction is very slow in the cities and towns that are in ruins. The situation has not changed in the past few years and the conditions in Chechnya remain critical, leaving little hope for positive change in the future.