Still in Ruins
The Situation in Chechnya: 2005
GROZNY - The situation in the Republic of Chechnya after four years of war remains unstable. Despite the official claim that peace has come to Chechnya, exchanges between the republic’s fighters and Russian federal forces continue to occur regularly. Land mines continue to explode, killing many people, including innocents, in the various regions of the republic. In December - January alone, there were several cases of rebel attacks on convoys of federal forces. During one clash in the Shatoi region of Chechnya at the beginning of January, several Russian soldiers were killed.
As previously, people are disappearing and extra-judicial executions take place. Although there was an announced end to “mop-up operations” on Chechnya’s territory, these actions continue under the guise of “passport checks” carried out under the protection of federal forces by the so-called self-defense forces of the Republic of Chechnya. After such passport checks in villages, peaceful inhabitants are found dead near their homes. Harassment of local administration also continues. Leaders of local and regional (raion) authorities are targets not just of the rebels but also of the so-called “self-defense forces.”
Several months after Ali Alkhanov’s election as president [through a Russian-imposed “election” in August 2004], a dual system of power has emerged. Razman Kadyrov, the son of the former president Akhmad Kadyrov killed in a rebel attack in May 2004, continues to control “the self-defense forces of Chechnya,” a well-armed and well-trained force of one thousand fighters who are devoted to their commander. After the death of his father, Razman received the position of Vice Prime Minister but, having the support both of Russia’s President and its military commanders, appears to be the republic’s most influential figure.
Alkhanov is hardly content with a situation of “dual governance.” But even after installing his brother, Ruslan Alkhanov, as minister of internal affairs, he has gained no advantage over Ramzan Kadyrov. The situation can only worsen. The Russian military command in Chechnya can use the situation to its advantage, choosing to support both sides and thus prevent any stabilization or peaceful life from emerging in the country. The Russian military is interested in keeping the situation in Chechnya in a state of slow and continuous warfare because this brings money, rewards, military promotions, and influence in the Russian society. The Russian military does not want effective civilian control over its actions.
This problem is connected to the repeated postponement of parliamentary elections. Alhanov, Kadyrov, and the Russian military are not interested in a representative body in Chechnya that might actively interfere in the struggle for power and influence and try to control expenditures related to social and economic revitalization reconstruction following the last 12 years’ destruction of Chechnya’s infrastructure. Prior to the first war, before 1994, Chechnya was one of the most industrially developed republics of the Northern Caucasus. The oil-extracting and oil-refining industries were well developed. In the two wars, all industry has been destroyed; some factories had all machinery moved out even before the beginning of the first war. Today, even though four years have passed since the active military actions were supposedly ended and federal money was promissed to rebuild Chechnya’s infrastructure, all industry remains in ruins. Only some minor projects have been undertaken.
Where federal forces were in control, however, an active effort to exploit oil resources and facilities in regions took place from the first days of the war. This oil has been transported from Chechnya for several years without any local control. Nobody in Chechnya, including the government, knows the how much oil is being transported from Chechnya. According to different estimates, it amounts to $500-700 million dollars worth of oil illegally transported from Chechnya annually. The money that the federal center has provided for the rebuilding of Chechnya is not even a third of this amount. Consequently, the federal center returns only a small percent of money that it steals from a Chechnya in ruins. The situation is worse than that since a large percentage of the money that is given for the rebuilding of social and economic infrastructure in Chechnya just stays in the Moscow’s bank accounts of federal government officials.
The cities and villages of Chechnya remain in ruins. Despite the long period of commitment to rebuild the capital, there is very little that has been done. During the last four years, several schools, hospitals administrative buildings, and apartment blocks were rebuilt. But in general, the city has the look of apocalypse: everywhere there are ruins, dirt, trash, broken roads, and unlit streets.
Despite the claims of the government that the electric power system is restored, the majority of the districts in the capital of Chechnya do not have regular electricity and the power supply system is not restored. At the same time, the partially state owned energy company Nurenergo spends a lot of money on building its offices and hotels in Grozny. The roads are not reconstructed. Many people in Grozny are forced to use gas heaters in their half destroyed apartments, leading often to fires. Many buildings in danger of collapse are inhabited by people who have lost hope.
There is a lot of trash on the streets and a large number of street dogs. The heads of municipalities justify their inaction by the lack of money in the budget for trash removal. When the weather is warm the trash produces a poisonous vapor and noxious smell. At any time, and especially during summer, it can become a source of epidemics. Water supply is also not restored in the capital. According to the local authorities, all components of the water supply system have to be completely changed and there is no money in the federal budget for that. In many districts of the city, people use water from far-off wells. Usually, people have to carry buckets of water for hundreds of meters and then climb up to ten flights. The water from the wells sometimes contains petroleum condensates and sewage spill-off system. It is a great health risk to use such water, however the possibility of using clean, non-poisonous water is non-existent. In the northern parts of the Chechen republic, water is supplied in buckets that people have to buy, but its quality is also unsanitary.
The health and ecological situation in Grozny and in the entire republic remains severe due to weapons used by federal forces during active military actions in 1999-2001 and also the effort to extract and refine Chechnya’s oil. In recent years, there was an increase in the number of cancer-related diseases, especially among young people. There is also an increase in leukemia, anemia, and cardiovascular, allergic, and skin-related illnesses. There is also an increase in the chronic diseases, including tuberculosis, which physicians call a “social” illness due to its spread and exacerbation as a result of malnutrition, hard life conditions, and social apathy.
According to psychiatrists almost 70 percent of the people living in Grozny suffer from psychological problems and need help; almost all of the population in Chechnya is in need of post-trauma rehabilitation help.
Despite such health conditions, the restoration of health care is going on at a small pace: there are not enough clinics, doctors, or pharmacies. The patient, already exhausted from war, must spend hours in the dirty halls of surviving health clinics to be seen by a doctor. A majority of the medicine that is received as humanitarian aid is being sold on the black markets and in private drug stores. There is a huge problem of providing medical help for the poorest citizens of the republic because doctors refuse to perform surgeries or provide more a less serious medical help without advance payment.
According to different statistics there are about 450,000 to 600,000 people currently living in Grozny. About 10 percent of the able-bodied population works in the state sphere: education, culture, healthcare, administration. Part of the 20- to 45-year-old male population works in the local police. About 5 percent of the population of Grozny works in small business, sells things in the markets, or works in the service sector. Two percent are employed in the industrial sector and construction work. Almost 70 to 80 percent of the able-bodied population is unemployed and has no source of income. These numbers indicate not only the slow pace of social and economic infrastructure restoration but also Chechen society’s apathy after so many years of war. Such a society is not able to solve any civic problem much less oppose the physical and psychological violence carried out by both insurgents and federal and local forces.
There is a separate form of income for people living in Chechnya called “compensations.” They are paid by the Russian government to people who lost their property during the war. However, these amounts of money are given to the people who can afford $500 in bribes necessary to give members of the compensation commission before getting such compensation. There is a huge turnover among commission members because of the corruption, but this does not change their poor quality of work. Those who come to Grozny notice big lines of angry and poorly dressed people who are waiting in front of the bank to receive compensations. They have started calling this place the “square of grief.” This is a place where once again Chechens are humiliated and where they allow themselves to be humiliated.
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Dispatches from Chechnya is written by correspondents in Chechnya. It is prepared and distributed in Russian by the Chechen NGO Latta and in English by the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE). In addition to distributing information on the situation in Chechnya, Latta supports Chechen civil society, democracy initiatives, and resolutions to the conflict. IDEE, a non-profit organization founded in 1985, is 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 web page at www.idee.org. To receive Dispatches by email, contact Eric Chenoweth or Irena Lasota, co-Directors, at [email protected].