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Special Issue No. 7. April 2002. The situation in Chechnya

Introducing the issue

In January 2001, President Putin announced a major change in Russia's strategy in Chechnya. This special issue of the RAS on the situation in Chechnya begins with an analysis I prepared shortly after Putin made this announcement. Now, over a year later, it is time to ask to what extent Russia's strategy has really changed. A colleague who (unfortunately) must remain anonymous tackles this question in item 2. His conclusion is that there has been very little change.

However, Patrick Armstrong points out in item 3 that an important change has occurred in the nature of the war on the insurgent side: the incorporation of a local war of secession into the international Islamist jihad.

There has been a great deal of discussion, much of it unavoidably speculative, of connections which may exist between the outbreak of the current war and Russian domestic politics, in particular the rise of Putin. Drawing mainly on a recent book by prominent Russian scholar Valery Tishkov, items 4 and 5 explore a different aspect of the origins of the war, pertaining to developments in Chechen society and politics between the first and second wars, with special emphasis on the role played by the kidnapping business.

The next set of items (6-8) concerns the conditions of survival in Chechnya today. I present some findings from a survey of living conditions (item 6) and reproduce a report on the ecological situation (item 7).

I do not try to cover the human rights situation in a systematic fashion because excellent reports are available elsewhere. I recommend in particular the excellent report by Human Rights Watch at: But I do want to draw attention to one specific problem: that of the access of inhabitants of Chechnya to official documents establishing their personal identity (item 8). I have also interspersed throughout the issue, under the heading THIS IS CHECHNYA, selected excerpts from press reports of the North Caucasus Bureau of the Information Center of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, taken from the site of this organization at:

Item 9 summarizes the findings of a recent survey of Russian public opinion concerning Chechnya policy. Unfortunately I have not been able to find comparable data on Chechen public opinion. Conditions in Chechnya are indeed hardly conducive to the gathering of reliable information on public opinion.

Despite all the horrors of the situation, there are many people, including both Chechens and Russians, who have not given up hope and continue to work for peace and recovery. The last group of items are devoted to the work and ideas of some of these people.

Item 10 presents the basic ideas of a plan for political resolution of the conflict put forward by the eminent Chechen scholar Jabrail Gakayev. Item 11 deals with the restoration of the healthcare and education systems in Chechnya.

In the final piece, Valery Tishkov, director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, describes the origin and work of a non-governmental organization which he founded, the Fund for Humanitarian Assistance to the Chechen Republic. Perhaps among our readers there are some who will be able to help realize his plans for the future work of this organization. His e-mail address is:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Professor Tishkov has also sent me the following two documents which I decided not to summarize but which I shall be glad to forward to anyone interested:

-- Peace Reconstruction Plan prepared by the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Peace Mission to the Caucasus, and Non-Violence International.

-- Valery Tishkov with the assistance of Larisa Sotieva and Musa Yusupov, The Role of NGOs in Building Civil Society in Chechnya (including an appendix containing information on NGOs in Chechnya and Ingushetia)

Stephen D. Shenfield, editor of the RAS

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1. Stephen D. Shenfield. Chechnya at a turning point

On January 22, 2001, President Vladimir Putin signaled a turning point in the Russo-Chechen war when he announced a major shift in Moscow's strategy, including the withdrawal of most of the federal troops currently in Chechnya.

The meaning of the shift has been interpreted in widely divergent ways. Putin says that the war has basically been won: only a few isolated groups of "terrorists" remain, and such a big army is not needed to finish them off. But there are observers who view the announcement in quite a different light, as a thinly camouflaged admission of failure. The war has not really been won, they argue. But Putin -- caught in a military stalemate and with public support for the war now in decline -- finds it politically convenient to pretend that it has been won. The possibility is even raised that he may be preparing public opinion for eventual defeat.

However the new policy is interpreted, it does at least imply recognition that large-scale combat operations have already served any useful purpose they may have had and are no longer effective or expedient. An impasse had been reached, and a change of tack was needed to break through it.

The likely motives behind the shift in strategy become clearer when one assesses the military situation that had developed in Chechnya in the preceding period. It is with such an assessment that I begin this article. Then I examine the change in strategy and consider its likely consequences.

The military situation before the shift

The current war in Chechnya has passed through three main stages. (1)

In the first stage, in the fall of 1999, federal forces repulsed the incursion of Chechen Islamist fighters into Dagestan and created a "security zone" in the traditionally loyalist lowlands of Chechnya which lie north of the Terek River. Some people within Russian ruling circles urged that the operation should stop right there, arguing that the security zone sufficed to contain the terrorist threat and that the rest of Chechnya could be effectively blockaded. These voices, however, were overruled. The goal was to be the "liberation" of the whole of Chechnya and the suppression of all armed opposition. And so in late November 1999, Russian troops began to cross the Terek.

During the second stage of the war, which lasted through the winter of 1999-2000 up until April 2000, federal forces occupied the whole of lowland Chechnya. Grozny was taken after a long siege. The main insurgent force chose not to put up serious resistance, but to retreat into the mountains of southern Chechnya. In fact, Russian commanders deliberately allowed them to retreat. Up in the barren and sparsely populated mountains, under constant bombardment and deprived of shelter and supplies, the insurgents suffered high casualties. They soon became both disorganized and demoralized. A number of Chechen commanders defected to the Russian side.

Thus in the spring of 2000 Moscow found itself in a strong position. The operation might at that point have been brought to a successful conclusion by withdrawing troops, handing over power to a civilian administration, and negotiating a settlement with Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov on favorable terms. The outcome might have been an autonomous Chechen Republic "united with the Russian Federation" (the formula used in the case of the Republic of Tatarstan) under a government of national reconciliation. True, the insurgents in retreating had left behind on occupied territory armed resistance cells, which would have continued to cause trouble for some time. But these cells did not yet have any effective leadership to coordinate their actions, and the security agencies and the armed police units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs could have coped with them on their own without help from the army. Violence would not have completely ceased, but it would at least have declined to the level of a relatively low-intensity policing operation. In other words, it would have made good sense to do at that point what Putin is, belatedly and only in part, doing now.

The chance was not seized, and as the months passed so the window of opportunity closed again. The insurgent command began to rethink its strategy in the light of the new conditions. Thus began the third stage of the war. Maintaining radio silence to avoid detection, most of the fighters made their way down from the mountains in small units and infiltrated behind enemy lines, where they beefed up the resistance cells and linked them into an effective network.

Guerrilla hit-and-run attacks on the occupation forces gradually became bolder, more frequent, and better coordinated. The Russian army, unable to identify insurgent fighters reliably, retaliated with extreme brutality against the peaceful population, turning many Chechens who would otherwise (more or less reluctantly) have accepted Russian rule into ardent supporters of the resistance. As a consequence, the insurgents were able to recruit into their ranks many young people who did not really sympathize with them politically but who were determined to exact blood revenge for relatives or friends who had been massacred by federal troops or savagely beaten and tortured in the notorious "filtration camps." (2)

Meanwhile, the insurgent command in the mountains, with the assistance of wealthy backers in the Moslem world, managed to establish a few well-concealed bases. The main function of these bases was not that of supporting fighting in the mountains, which was conducted only when unavoidable for defensive purposes, but that of coordinating the growing guerrilla campaign in the occupied lowlands.

While civilians suffered greatly as a result of Russian counterinsurgency operations, these operations were quite ineffective from the military point of view. Guerrilla attacks continued and grew in scale, and the Russian army had no rational plan for dealing with them. Troops that find themselves in such a plight over a long period become not only demoralized and cruel, but also undisciplined and corrupt, and over time lose all combat capability. The process of degeneration has been well described by Maskhadov himself:

"They have achieved little and the military machine has stopped, exhausted morally and physically. Once the machine stops it deteriorates: soldiers turn marauders, sell everything from weapons to food; the different structures of the invading forces -- the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the army, the Federal Security Service -- fight among themselves." (3)

Especially for Russian officers and kontraktniki (professional soldiers on contract), service in Chechnya, for all its dangers and inconveniences, has come to be valued as an opportunity for personal enrichment. Besides the sale of arms and other supplies, much of which of course ends up in the hands of the insurgents, there are several other ways in which income is extracted from the Chechen people and from what remains of the Chechen economy. In the spring of 2000, the thousand or so small "home" distilleries which were built under the separatist regime to process oil tapped (i.e., stolen) from the pipeline that passes through Chechnya came under the control of district and unit commanders of the Russian army.

Another lucrative business, similarly under the control of army or interior ministry personnel, is the collection of metal from the ruins of bombed-out industrial enterprises. The metal and the petroleum products are transported under heavy security out of Chechnya for sale in Russia proper.

A lot of money is also made from bribes for allowing people to pass through checkpoints on the roads (the standard payment is 50 rubles), and from ransom for the release of detainees from filtration camps. Indeed, it is common practice to detain people not because they are genuinely suspected of being insurgents but with a view to extorting money from their relatives (just as in the burgeoning Chechen kidnapping business). The release of a detainee accused of carrying a gun costs $5,000, the release of someone caught out of doors during a curfew $600, and the return of a corpse $200. (4)

Putin's motives

By the beginning of 2001, it must have finally become clear to Putin that the existing strategy was not yielding the results which his generals had promised. Prolonging it would have served no useful purpose. At the same time, Putin had a number of specific reasons for doing something to change the situation.

First of all, Putin had probably received intelligence reports detailing the demoralization and degeneration of army units in Chechnya. He was presumably concerned to halt the process, to restore the combat capability of these units, and to reassert central control over them.

Putin may also have taken some account of the political costs of the presence in Chechnya of a large number of brutal and corrupt servicemen. The Mufti Akhmad Kadyrov, a former supporter of the secessionists who had come over to the Russian side and been put in charge of the Chechen civilian administration, is known to have long opposed the presence of so many troops in Chechnya, on the grounds that their corruption and brutality were undercutting the legitimacy of his administration. Kadyrov may well have exerted some influence upon Putin, with whom he met a number of times in the weeks preceding the announcement of the new strategy.

Secondly, the war had already served one of its main original purposes (critics of Putin would say its sole original purpose): it had united Russian society around Putin's leadership. With public support for the war now in sharp decline -- from a high of 70 per cent in February 2000 to 38 per cent in mid-January 2001 -- it was expedient from the point of view of domestic politics to start winding it down.

Thirdly, Putin may have wanted to reduce the economic cost of the war. According to prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, in the year 2000 the war had entailed additional military expenditure of about one billion dollars (2-3 billion rubles per month). (5) Even with the infusion of extra cash from the high world price of oil, Russia's overstretched and debt-ridden state budget could not tolerate additional expenditures of this magnitude for very long.

Finally, foreign policy considerations may also have played some part, though hardly a crucial one. It was no doubt hoped that the shift in strategy would assuage Western criticism of Russian conduct of the war and improve Russia's tarnished international image. Putin's announcement was timed to coincide with the opening of the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which had set troop withdrawals as a condition of reinstating Russia's voting rights, suspended in April 2000 on account of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The new strategy

The main components of the new strategy were set out in a series of presidential decrees issued in the days following Putin's announcement:

-- The army presence in Chechnya is to be reduced from the existing level of about 90,000 down to a permanent garrison of about 25,000 men, consisting of 16,000 army troops, up to 6,000 interior ministry troops, and specialized and support units.

-- There are to be small local garrisons deployed in about two hundred towns and villages. These are to be supported by the local Chechen militia under Kadyrov's control, the strength of which is to be increased from 5,000 to 15,000 men.

-- At the same time, in an effort to "Chechenize" the conflict and win over Chechen hearts and minds, the prerogatives of Kadyrov's administration are to be broadened. For instance, new civilian courts have started work under its control.

It needs to be borne in mind that most of these steps have yet to be taken. The troop withdrawal in particular is bound to be phased over a considerable period, perhaps several years. The departure of the first batch of 5,000 men was reported only in mid-March 2001. (6)

One might have expected the insurgents to lay low for a time in order to encourage a rapid withdrawal, with a view to resuming a high level of activity once the withdrawal is complete. In fact, guerrilla attacks have been continuing without apparent letup, which will presumably slow down, if not altogether jeopardize, the transition to the new strategy.

Overall command of operations has been transferred to the Federal Security Service (FSS), to which army and interior ministry forces in Chechnya have been re-subordinated. The FSS is assisted by a new interdepartmental group chaired by FSS head Nikolai Patrushev, an old colleague of Putin's from his days in the KGB. Other members of the group are named as interior minister Vladimir Rushailo, chief of general staff General Anatoly Kvashnin, and presidential representative in the North Caucasian Federal District General Viktor Kazantsev.

Although no further large-scale combat operations are envisaged, Putin emphasizes that the "anti-terrorist operation" is not being abandoned, but is to be "continued by other means." A prominent place among these "other means" is to be occupied by attempts to assassinate military and political leaders of the insurgents.

Likely consequences

Although Russian forces remain in formal daytime control of all centers of population in Chechnya, many reports indicate that their position is highly vulnerable. In Grozny, Russian troops move only in large detachments even during the day, usually supported by armor: going out alone means certain death or capture. At night, they barricade themselves in strong points while the insurgents move around freely. The planned dispersal of remaining forces in small town and village garrisons can only greatly heighten their vulnerability.

Increasing reliance is to be placed upon Kadyrov's Chechen militia, but the reliability of this force is doubtful. While the militiamen are willing to perform police functions, including that of dispersing protest demonstrations, they are reluctant to engage in serious battle with the insurgents. The cultural taboo against "Chechens killing Chechens" has an inhibiting effect, as do the mixed feelings toward the conflict even of nominally loyalist Chechens.

There are yet other reasons to be skeptical concerning the prospects of the new strategy. Experience suggests that army and interior ministry personnel will not willingly obey orders from officials of a rival agency, the FSS. The corruption of Russian servicemen will continue to facilitate the activity of insurgents, who will still be able to bribe their way past checkpoints, purchase arms and information, and so on.

Critics of the withdrawal within the Russian military argue that while the situation may at first be relatively calm, in two or three years' time the insurgents will have regained sufficient strength to launch an offensive that the Chechen militia and the residual Russian forces will be unable to withstand. They will then again recapture Grozny, as they did in 1996.

Such an outcome, while by no means wholly implausible, is not perhaps inevitable. The insurgents too have their weak points. In particular, funding from the Moslem world is a big financial advantage, but at the same time a big political liability. Even many Chechens who formerly supported the Dudayev regime have been increasingly alienated by the growing influence of foreign Islamists in the insurgent camp. Other things being equal, this might be expected to undermine the ability of the insurgents to attract new recruits while enhancing the recruitment potential of the Chechen militia. Kadyrov himself, after all, is a former secessionist. On the other hand, the frequent assassinations of Kadyrov's officials by the insurgents cannot but deter many who might otherwise be inclined to lend him their support.

At the same time, as the withdrawal of Russian forces proceeds, there will be fewer abuses inflicted on the civilian population. The number of Chechens driven to join the insurgents by the thirst for revenge may be expected gradually to decline. True, there are also many who join one side or the other neither for ideological reasons nor to obtain revenge, but simply for the sake of material survival, but these people are not highly motivated to fight and have minimal impact on the real correlation of forces.

Just how great a positive political effect the "Chechenization" strategy will have depends on how much real authority the FSS will allow Kadyrov to exercise. Will he, for instance, be able to guarantee full amnesty for insurgents who lay down their arms? Otherwise he will not be able to take full advantage of any disillusionment that may exist on the other side. How soon will the Chechen Republic take its place as a more or less "normal" subject of the Russian Federation, enjoying the same kind of cultural and administrative autonomy as other ethnic republics, such as Tatarstan or neighboring Dagestan? Will it ever do so?

The crucial factors, however, lie less in the sphere of politics than they do in that of economics. Living conditions in Chechnya are calamitous. Undernourishment and destitution are widespread. Most of the housing stock has been damaged or destroyed. Over 80 per cent of the able-bodied population are unemployed. The main sources of people's livelihood are money sent by relatives living outside Chechnya, humanitarian aid, the pay of those fortunate enough to be in the employ of the federal authorities, subsistence agriculture, and (last but by no means least) criminal activity. (7) No less calamitous is the situation in the field of public health. Tuberculosis and other diseases are rife, as are mental disorders.

No strategy aimed at defeating the insurgents primarily by political means and reintegrating Chechnya into the Russian Federation stands the least chance of success unless these problems are tackled urgently and on the necessary scale. Yet another task that will have to be accomplished if the insurgents are to be defeated politically is the resettlement of the 200,000 Chechen refugees currently living in atrocious conditions in camps in Ingushetia. It is these camps, even more than the population still inside Chechnya, which constitute a reservoir of support for the insurgents.

In short, the secessionist cause will lose its appeal only to the extent that Chechens get the help they need to rebuild a decent life for themselves in their devastated homeland. Those with nothing to lose feel that they might as well fight -- and fighting is something that many Chechens know how to do.

What resources will be made available, by the Russian government and the international community, to ameliorate these disastrous conditions and rebuild the republic's economy and infrastructure? (8) And what proportion of those resources will be lost down the deep well of waste and corruption?

Putin's attempt to demilitarize the Russo-Chechen conflict, however inconsistent and belated it may be, is not necessarily doomed to failure. However, the residue of bitterness is so huge, the cumulative devastation of two wars so enormous, the available resources -- both of money and of political wisdom -- so patently inadequate to the magnitude of the task at hand that it requires a great exertion of the will to feel even the least bit optimistic about the future of Chechnya.


(1) See Pavel Felgengauer, The Moscow Times 2/1/01.

(2) There is especially strong social pressure to avenge close relatives. The filtration camps are for the temporary detention of Chechens suspected of ties with the insurgents.

(3) Aslan Maskhadov, "Open Letter to the French Philosopher Andre Glucksman," Central Asian Survey, Vol. 19, Nos. 3-4, September-December 2000, pp. 309-314 at p. 313.

(4) These prices are mentioned by Maskhadov. For more detail on economic corruption of the federal forces in Chechnya, see the report by Ruslan Khasbulatov in Nezavisimaia gazeta 12/29/00.

(5) This figure took no account of the depletion of reserves of equipment and other supplies.

(6) Felgengauer in The Moscow Times 3/22/2001.

(7) For reports of conditions in Chechnya, see the Khasbulatov Report (note 4) and also "Dispatches from Chechnya," available by e-mail from the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(8) Putin pledged that 14.4 billion rubles ($529m) would be allocated for reconstruction in Chechnya in 2001, but it later turned out that only 4.5 billion rubles ($164m) was to be provided by the federal government, with the remainder supposedly to be contributed by the Unified Energy System (the electricity monopoly), Gazprom (the gas monopoly), and the Ministry of Railroads.

NOTE ON ORIGINS OF TEXT. I originally wrote this article for the Brown Journal of World Affairs, but as a result of misunderstanding the text that appeared there was a preliminary draft not intended for publication. So I am publishing the article here for the first time in its proper form.



[Following a zachistka in the village of XXX,] corpses with numerous signs of torture were turned over to relatives only after the latter signed receipts saying that the killed person was a participant in an "illegal armed formation." Payment of 1000 rubles was demanded for each body. Among those turned over to relatives for burial was the village mufti XXX, with cut off ears and nose, mutilated face, and fatal bullet wounds. His wife is afraid for her 17-year-old son. "How will I be able to keep him from taking revenge?" she asked. "What am I supposed to do to keep him from taking weapons in his hands?"

[Press release #163, 1/8/02]

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2. "Analyst." Russia's "new" strategy in Chechnya: an update

A little more than a year has passed since President Putin announced a major shift in the Kremlin's Chechen policy. His attempt to break the impasse by declaring victory and shifting tack appears to have failed. All of the changes that were announced in early 2001 have been compromised, while the pledged "normalization" recedes into an indefinite future.

According to Moscow's repeated assurances, the war is for all practical purposes over and done with and the situation in Chechnya is stabilizing. Meanwhile all the old problems persist:

-- official corruption

-- brutality on the part of the demoralized and mutinous Russian troops

-- recurring attacks by the supposedly defeated insurgents

-- divisions between the Chechen civil administration headed by Akhmad Kadyrov, the republic government headed by Stanislav Ilyasov, and the military authorities now headed by the Federal Security Service (FSS).

Troop withdrawals?

Russian officials began backpedaling on the announced troop withdrawal soon after Putin's original announcement. The Kremlin's chief spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said that the withdrawal would be "limited" in scale: full-scale withdrawal was "out of the question." There was widespread opposition to the planned withdrawal, some of it public, among high-ranking military officers. The plan was, however, endorsed by Kadyrov and by the FSS leadership, revealing divisions between Kadyrov and the military as well as inter-service rivalries within the military/security apparatus.

It still remains unclear just how many troops have been withdrawn. The plan called for forces to be cut back from 90,000 to a permanent garrison of 25,000. Despite reported troop withdrawals and Moscow's continued insistence that Chechnya is being "de-militarized," the number of Russian troops according to some reports remains near the level of January 2001. For example, Ian Traynor claims (The Guardian 3/28/02) that 80,000 troops, including army, FSS, and Interior Ministry (MVD) forces, are still in Chechnya.

The war goes on

Despite claims (for instance by MVD General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov) that some Chechen "field commanders" have been killed in "special operations," conventional military operations have continued, including the use of air power against the supposedly defeated and disorganized insurgents. Thus on March 26, 2002 federal "frontline Su-24 bombers" were reported as striking a group of insurgents in a "mountainous region" of Chechnya. The week of March 25 also saw 47 "rebel attacks" on federal forces in Chechnya, while Argun and its environs apparently remain a hotspot even after the heavy fighting there last May which official sources portrayed as a "mopping up" operation to secure the area. Even Grozny remains unsecured and is considered one of the most dangerous places in Chechnya.

The mounting toll among Russian servicemen demonstrates that a war -- and not a mere "anti-terrorist operation" -- is still underway. According to an AVN report dated March 26, 2002, 2,331 defense ministry personnel had been killed in Chechnya (plus 118 in Dagestan) since August 8, 1999, 5,898 had been wounded, and 26 were missing. 889 internal (MVD) troops had been killed and 3,074 wounded. However, official casualty figures are widely viewed as understated. Russian officials claim that the insurgents have lost 12,760 killed in the conflict.

"Special operations," whatever limited successes can be attributed to them, are widely viewed as the chief recruiting tool of the insurgents. In a recent interview, Kadyrov, who has pushed for the demilitarization of the conflict and more reliance on local authorities, placed the blame for the continuing recruiting successes of the insurgents squarely on the brutality of the Russian "clean-up" operations (zachistki). This is a view widely shared by media observers. (1)

The demoralization and brutality of the Russian troops is indeed common knowledge. One reason is the men's frustration with their conditions of service. Some units have mutinied against extensions of their tours of duty, while others protest the state's failure to pay combat bonuses. (2) Some Russian soldiers have gone public with their complaints. On 26 March, Komsomolskaya Pravda published an open letter from the Cherepovets MVD SOBR (a special rapid reaction detachment) to the MVD leadership, detailing the complaints of the rank-and-file servicemen. The letter blasted "clever" Moscow-based "clerks" who insisted that "there is no war in Chechnya" and complained that combat bonuses had been halted. Field units were led by incompetent and inexperienced officers. The troops were left to fend for themselves. Front-line soldiers were reduced to seeking private "sponsors" to pay for "food, water, and bedding" as well as "bullet-proof helmets and flak jackets."

At the same time, the planned "Chechenization" of the conflict has not materialized, as distrust between the Russian authorities and the local Chechen militias remains high. Russian military authorities have made it clear that the militias would remain firmly under Moscow's control.


The repeatedly promised "normalization" of the republic, which was to entail a gradual transfer of power to mostly ethnic Chechen civilian authorities, has yet to materialize. Kadyrov, nominal chief of the "interim administration," and the Moscow-approved republic government have frequently been at odds. Although Stanislav Ilyasov, the ethnic Russian who heads the government, was formally appointed by Kadyrov (under considerable pressure from the Kremlin), he has been described as a "creature" of Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential representative for the Southern Federal District.

Kadyrov has been a constant critic of the Russian military leadership, arguing that only local civilian authority can restore peace in Chechnya. In his March 21 interview with Novaya Gazeta, he claimed that corrupt military and FSS officials are enriching themselves through the gasoline trade and other illicit activities and have little interest in de-militarizing the conflict.

While "normalization" efforts have been impeded by failure to win Chechen hearts and minds and by the insurgents' assassinations of "national traitors" who cooperate with the authorities, rampant official corruption has been no less of an obstacle. Vast sums earmarked for reconstruction have disappeared, prompting one observer to state that officials have embarked on a "virtual" reconstruction program. (3)

On March 21, Sergei Stepashin, chairman of the Russian Federation Comptroller's Office, held a press conference in Grozny at which he detailed numerous cases of embezzlement. The Kadyrov administration argued that only a real transfer of power to themselves could curb the thievery and ensure the eventual reconstruction of the republic -- a somewhat strained argument in light of their own record of corruption. (4)

Given the continuing hostilities, banditry, and assassinations and the authorities' failure to rebuild the republic's infrastructure, especially housing, it is small wonder that the planned return of the hundreds of thousands of refugees to their homeland has also not happened. Moscow appears to have attempted to force refugees to return as part of its plan to declare victory and create a propaganda-supported virtual "normalization" of the republic.


Thus Moscow's latest promises to change the procedures for "special operations" to prevent the brutalities of the past (after numerous announcements that Russian troops would halt certain types of these operations), rebuild the republic's infrastructure to facilitate the return of refugees, and reorganize the military command structure in Chechnya to aid the "normalization" and pacification of the devastated territory, (5) should be taken with a grain of salt.

In short, little appears to have changed in Chechnya in the two years since the federal forces suppressed the separatist regime.


(1) See, for instance, Novaia Gazeta 3/21/02.

(2) See Ian Traynor in The Guardian 3/28/02.

(3) Grozenskii Rabochii 8/9/01. The German press has reported extensively on the corruption that is impeding the reconstruction of the war-torn republic. See articles by Floran Hassel (Frankfurter Rundschau 3/14/02) and Thomas Avenarius (Sueddeutsche Zeitung 3/14/02).

(4) Kommersant 3/21/02.

(5) Ekho Moskvy radio reported (3/26/02) that the FSS may give up its role as "organizer and coordinator" of the Chechen operation.



[During a zachistka of the village of Bachi-Yurt,] according to Chechen militia officers, a federal serviceman who had no identifying insignia declared: "We're not getting fighting money or presidential payments, we're feeding fleas here because of you, and that's why we're going to rob, kill and rape and no one is going to stop us."

[Press release #172, 1/17/02]

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3. Patrick Armstrong. How to turn a local war into part of the international jihad

Chechens have been fighting Russians for their independence for a long time. In 1996 they won that independence, de facto if not de jure. But the present war is something else. As one Chechen mujahaddin put it on their website: "In the first war, we fought under the banner of 'freedom or death.' In this war we are fighting under the banner of 'Islam.'" The "freedom" war has been turned into an "Islamic" war.

Chechnya, in fact, may have been the first war to be turned into part of the Wahhabi Islamist jihad that we see in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Kashmir. The way in which this transformation was effected is worth describing because it reveals the "playbook" of the international jihadists. An understanding of how the Arab Khattab took over the war in Chechnya shows that the "root causes argument" is not sufficient to explain jihadism. The miserable conditions of life in Chechnya (and Afghanistan and Kashmir) provided the soil in which the plant of jihadism took root, but Khattab brought the seed from elsewhere.

Khattab arrived in Chechnya during the first war. Influenced by Osama bin Laden among others, and adhering to the extremist version of Wahhabism that calls for everlasting war against "false Islam" and the "enemies of Islam," he had fought in Afghanistan and Tajikistan and moved to Chechnya in 1995. He soon made his mark as a fighter by ambushing a Russian column in October. He set up a number of training camps from which he launched an attack on the Russian brigade in Dagestan in December 1997. He attracted to his cause the Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev, whom he may have met when Basayev was in Afghanistan at one of bin Laden's training camps.

To Basayev and Khattab independence was not the end of the struggle: as Basayev has said: "Jihad will continue until Muslims liberate their land and re-establish the Khilafah (Caliphate Islamic state)" -- something that goes far beyond Chechnya or the Caucasus. They tried to overthrow President Maskhadov's government by taking over the city of Gudermes in July 1998 but the government forces drove them out. Maskhadov was emboldened to ban Wahhabism and expel Khattab but backed off after several assassination attempts. Khattab's fighters then attacked Dagestan in August 1999 and this led to the present war.

It appears that Chechen independence fighters did most of the fighting until their defeat in Grozny in January 2000. The foreign mujahaddin were assigned the job of securing the mountains for fallback positions, but many Chechen fighters bitterly complain that once they had fought their way out of the nightmare of Grozny (taking tremendous casualties) the "Arabs" betrayed them: they had prepared nothing for them and given them no equipment. It appears that since then most of the fighting has been done by the Khattab/Basayev Wahhabi jihadists while many of the principal Chechen fighters, such as Ruslan Gilayev, have been sitting out the war.

Whether it is bin Laden in Afghanistan, Namangani in Central Asia or Khattab in Chechnya, there are four ways in which local wars are transformed into a component of the international jihad that "will continue until Moslems liberate their land and re-establish the Khilafah." The foreign jihadists provide money, leadership, and an ideology that both justifies "martyrdom" and promises a better life.

MONEY. The Chechens financed the 1994-96 war with the proceeds of rackets and illicit oil wells. But Khattab has access to a reliable supply of millions of dollars from donors. In a place as destitute as Chechnya, money has been an indispensable weapon in his arsenal. Attracting the money requires continual propaganda: the making and distribution of videos (Khattab's first ambush was filmed and used to be available on the Internet) is an important element of the money-raising effort.

LEADERSHIP. Khattab is an exceptionally charismatic fighter who leads from the front. He has been fighting the international jihad for ten years and he is a good organiser as well. Basayev, another leader from the front, is one of the great heroes of the first war.

RELIGIOUS IDEOLOGY. We see in Khattab's rhetoric exactly the same restriction of the meaning of "jihad" to "war" and death as the gateway to paradise that bin Laden has made us familiar with. This is something new in Chechnya: in the first war, the Chechens fought bravely but they weren't suicide fighters. The video now being publicized by "Newsday" shows one of these suicide attacks.

CIVIL IDEOLOGY. The jihadists in Chechnya promise that after victory they know exactly what sort of state to erect. They present a clear objective and methodology of life and religion that gives purpose and justification to desperate people. In areas where everything has broken down, the confident Wahhabi version of the rule of Islamic law is very attractive.

The war in Chechnya is a case study of the way in which the Wahhabi jihadist network infiltrates an existing struggle and twists it to its purpose using the four pillars of money, leadership and religious and civil ideology. Similar techniques have been used by bin Laden in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The jihadists are quite uninterested in local aims, subordinating everything to their eternal war -- a war that they believe is against the rest of the world.

If this analysis is accurate, what can we conclude? It shows the absolute importance of money: even the most charismatic leader with the most appealing ideology needs money to hire fighters and to acquire the publicity to attract more money. Cutting off the flow of money is therefore one of the most effective means of weakening the jihadists.

The analysis also suggests that ideology is very important. In the discussion of "root causes," it is easy to forget that there must be an organizing idea to direct all the anger and desperation. Peasants overwhelmed by misery can produce a desperate jacquerie but not an organized campaign. Finally, this analysis suggests that the jihadists can only succeed in a condition of war because only under wartime conditions can their provision of money, leadership, and ideology become so necessary and attractive that they take over the whole struggle.

This analysis therefore suggests that one of the most important weapons in the present "war on terrorism" is blocking the money flows, that ideology cannot be ignored, and that the jihadists need a pre-existing war.



On December 13, 2001 during the course of a "special operation" one of the units of the federal forces entered the grounds of the Argun sugar factory. The servicemen kicked out the caretakers and took from the factory 1,276 sacks of sugar weighing a total of 64 tons which had just arrived from Krasnodar in exchange for sugar beet grown on the fields of the Chechen Republic. The stolen sugar was then sold by servicemen and private individuals for 50-100 rubles per sack.

[Press release #164, 1/8/02]

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4. Chechnya between the wars (1996-1999)

MAIN SOURCE. V.A. Tishkov, Obshchestvo v vooruzhennom konflikte: Etnografiia chechenskoi voiny [Society in Armed Conflict: Ethnography of the Chechen War]. Moscow: Nauka, 2001, chapters 14 and 15. (An English-language version of this book is to be published by the University of California Press.)


More than half of Chechnya's pre-1991 population, including many Chechens as well as members of other ethnic groups, had left. Most qualified specialists had left. 5-600,000 people remained. About a quarter of them were old age pensioners.

The state of health of the population was extremely poor. With few physicians remaining, some hospitals closed, and most people unable to afford medicines, conditions were conducive to the spread of epidemics. Malnutrition was widespread. Chechnya had the highest infant mortality in the FSU.


The war of 1994-96 inflicted enormous damage on Chechnya and its economy. A large part of Grozny was destroyed, as were some 20 villages, many roads and bridges, and wooded areas. Water sources were polluted. About a third of the arable land was mined or otherwise rendered unusable. The numbers of cattle and sheep remaining in the whole republic roughly equaled the numbers on a single big collective farm before 1991.

44 industrial enterprises of various sizes were left standing, but only 17 of these were able to operate, providing employment to only 15,000 people. Factories which formerly produced high-tech output for the whole USSR (e.g. electrical instruments, equipment for the oil industry) had switched to simple products for local use (e.g. kettles, pots and pans, iron gates). Industrial output in 1999 was between 5 and 8 per cent of the pre-1991 level.

How did people survive under these conditions, especially in the towns? Lecturers at Grozny State University interviewed by Vakhit Akayev in summer 1999, who were receiving no salaries, mention the following sources of subsistence:

-- relatives working outside Chechnya who bring money when they come to visit

-- relatives in the countryside who bring gifts of food

-- sideline occupations (coaching children, repairing household appliances)

-- extraction and sale of oil from underground deposits (but this had to be done clandestinely, as the government sought to monopolize the oil trade)

-- petty trade at the bazaar

Virtually everything obtained by these means went on food. There was no money to buy medicine, clothes, etc.

Several other sources of income were available to certain groups of the population:

-- The federal government continued to transfer funds to Chechnya for pensions, grants to invalids, and other social benefits as well as to pay physicians, school teachers, and state employees (though payments were received with the same long delays usual elsewhere). By agreement between Moscow and Grozny, grain was shipped to Chechnya. Chechen leaders accepted this assistance as "reparations" for war damage. In fact, it showed that Moscow still regarded Chechnya as part of Russia.

-- People living near the oil pipeline which ran through Chechnya (from Baku) could tap oil from it. Extracted and stolen oil was processed at thousands of makeshift mini-refineries.

-- Many people stole metal and other materials from the ruins of bombed-out factories and from infrastructure (telephone and electricity lines, water pipes, etc.).

-- In the remaining forested areas, people could cut and sell wood.

-- In the mountains, poppies could be cultivated for the drug trade.

-- A lot of money was made in the kidnapping business. (See next item.)

The government never had official policies to regulate privatization of property or the division of land. These processes occurred spontaneously, with armed force often playing a decisive role.


Chechen society was dominated by veterans of the first war who kept hold of their weapons, and especially by the veteran commanders, who controlled the most military force. War veterans enjoyed many official privileges: priority access to government employment and educational institutions, free use of public transportation, and periodic special distributions of products. As the "fighters" [boeviki] had weapons and other people did not, they could rob, kidnap, and kill with impunity, deterred (in the absence of policing) only by the risk of blood revenge. The veterans also effectively monopolized political activity.

There were, however, many divisions among the veterans. The number of lucrative government positions was much smaller than the number of "fighters" seeking them. This fueled rivalries and conflicts which often took on ideological or religious expression and occasionally led to armed clashes.


The Chechen newspapers (many of which had to be printed outside Chechnya) were filled with patriotic poetry, war memoirs, and fantastic speculations about the origins of the Chechens, alleged to be the world's greatest and most ancient people. Ethnic megalomania went alongside paranoia about the Chechens' numerous "enemies." Discussion of the real problems facing Chechnya took second place.

The best-known ideological divide in inter-war Chechnya was that between Maskhadov and his supporters, who wanted to build an orderly secular state and establish normal relations with Russia, and the commanders who wanted an Islamic state and believed that the Chechens had the mission of leading the "liberation" of the whole Caucasus. In 1999 Maskhadov reached a compromise with his Islamist rivals which amounted in many ways to a capitulation, leading to the introduction of Shariat.

The ideological spectrum was, however, more complex than a simple confrontation between Islamists and secular nationalists. Some advocated a form of democracy based on customary law [adat] and the traditional clan structure (teip democracy). There was also a fascist party which rejected democracy in favor of the rule of "heroes" -- a reflection both of "Kalashnikov culture" and of the influence of classical Nazi thought. The fascists claimed that the Chechens were the original founders of the white Aryan race, and greatly resented the fact that Russians call Chechens "blacks."


Chechnya pursued a dual foreign policy, corresponding to the split within the ruling stratum. Maskhadov's attempts to build normal relations with Russia and the international community were successfully undermined by his rivals (see next item). The anti-Maskhadov camp counted on the further disintegration of Russia into regional states with which Chechnya could do business. Eventually Chechnya would play the leading role in a new Caucasian (con)federation.

With the federal government at this time lacking any effective strategy for dealing with Chechnya, the Chechen warlords were indeed able to intimidate neighboring regions of the Russian Federation. In summer 1997, for example, five Chechens were arrested in North Ossetia, probably with a view to exchanging them for Ossets held captive in Chechnya. Following a Chechen campaign of public threats against the Osset people, North Ossetia's president Galazov ordered the release of the five Chechens.



Residents of the district center of Achkhoi-Martan asked our correspondent to express thanks to the patrol-guard regiment which has come from Nizhny Novgorod. This unit mans the checkpoint on the road leading toward the village of Katyr-Yurt and participates in passport inspections in the town. Residents declare that the soldiers of this unit conduct themselves politely and benevolently, and have not been seen engaging in the extortion customary for federal units. They do not rob or seize people... Residents especially single out Ensign A.S. Nedelko, Sergeant-Major A.N. Budrik, and Ensign A.N. Kazakov, with whom they have developed the warmest relations.

[Press release #175, 1/23/02]

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5. Kidnapping and the origins of the second war

MAIN SOURCE. Tishkov 2001 (see item 4), chapter 13.

New information uncovered during the present war gives us a fuller picture of the Chechen kidnapping business.

The first well-known case of a person being kidnapped by Chechen fighters occurred in 1991 (E.L. Gel'man, former minister of education of Checheno-Ingushetia). However, it was in the period between the wars (1997-99) that kidnapping became a large-scale business. The names of almost 6,000 kidnapped individuals have now been established. Over half of them (3,400) remain missing. The total income generated by the business is estimated at about $200m.

Most kidnappings were carried out in Chechnya and other parts of the Northern Caucasus, although some occurred in other Russian regions (the Volga, the Urals, Moscow). Victims were held in prisons called zindans. A zindan could be a garage, a mountain dugout, or just a deep hole in the ground, but big operators had specially installed prisons in the basements of their homes or under the buildings where they held high-ranking government positions. There were dozens of such subterranean jails in Grozny. For instance, Tukhan Dudayev, a nephew of Chechen leader Jokhar Dudayev, had a four-room zindan in his house: up to 30 captives were held in three rooms, while the fourth served as a torture chamber.

The trade in captives was controlled by a small number of warlords, each of whom had his own sphere of influence. Thus Barayev and later Raduyev was boss in Gudermes, Movsayev in Shatoi, and the Akhmadov brothers in Urus-Martan (one of whom was the local police chief).

The biggest kidnapper seems to have been Arbi Barayev, who was known for his cruelty. Baudi Bakuyev, on the other hand, was reputed never to mistreat his captives. He was famed also for his generosity. When he got the ransom for Valentin Vlasov, President Yeltsin's representative in Chechnya, he gave every family in three local villages a gift of $100. As the ransom was (according to different sources) $3m or even $7m, he still had a little left over for himself.

Vlasov's ransom was apparently the largest ever paid. Gusinsky's Media-Most paid $2m to free a group of their television journalists. A pair of agents of the Federal Security Service (Ingushetia office) fetched $800,000.

A small-time kidnapper might seek permission to use the "trademark" of a big operator with a fearsome reputation like Barayev. In exchange for a suitable fee, he would acquire the right to put it about that the big operator was involved in his kidnappings. He could then exploit the rumor to extract larger ransoms.

Anyone with the money could buy a captive. You just had to go to the market on the central square in Urus-Martan or on the Square of Friendship of Peoples in Grozny, make an advance payment, and tell the trader what kind of captive you wanted (a businessman, an officer, etc.). Lists of people up for sale were also circulated.

Not only Russians and foreigners (including children) were kidnapped. Quite a few victims were Chechens, including four deputies of the Chechen parliament, although kidnapping a Chechen usually entailed a risk of revenge from his kinsmen.

The kidnappers employed Russian collaborators known as "liberators." Their job was to approach the victim's relatives and offer help in negotiating the ransom and getting the victim released. Many "liberators" claimed to be acting out of humanitarian motives; some even posed as activists in the fight against kidnapping. There were, however, intermediaries who really did have humanitarian motives, such as the military journalist Major V. Izmailov and the staff of General Alexander Lebed's Peacemaking Mission to the North Caucasus.

President Aslan Maskhadov was not himself involved in kidnapping, but many if not all of his top associates were, including vice-president Vakha Arsanov. (So was Dudayev's former vice-president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev.) In September 1998 Maskhadov initiated operations to free captives, resulting in an armed clash between his forces and Barayev's men over control of Gudermes. In the spring of 1999, Maskhadov created a new ministry "for struggle against banditry and crime." A Committee of Relatives of Kidnap Victims was also set up. A few dozen captives were freed and a few dozen arrests made, but Maskhadov made no further attempts to go after the big fry.

While most kidnappings were carried out for the sake of the ransom, there could be other motives. A captive might be acquired with a view to exchanging him for a relative in prison in Russia. Some captives were used as slave labor, especially in building work. And the fact that victims who turned out not to be ethnic Russians (or Jews) got better treatment suggests that some captive-holders valued the opportunity to give vent to their feelings of hatred against Russians. This is not to deny that torture also served practical purposes: videos were taken of torture scenes, both for sale and to encourage the victims' relatives to cough up the ransom money.

In addition, some kidnappings served political purposes. In particular, Maskhadov's opponents in the Chechen power elite made repeated use of kidnapping to torpedo his efforts to normalize relations with Russia and avert a new war:

-- In July 1997, two British teachers were kidnapped in Grozny to thwart a deal with a British Petroleum consortium which would have entailed agreement with Russia and Azerbaijan to transport oil through Chechnya.

-- In April 1998, new negotiations on oil with Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan were prevented by an attack on a General Staff convoy on the Russian-Chechen border and the kidnapping of Russian presidential representative Valentin Vlasov as he arrived in Grozny.

-- In October 1998, a meeting in Vladikavkaz between Maskhadov and Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov was undermined by the kidnapping that same day of six Russians in Chechnya.

-- In March 1999, General Shpigun, a representative of the Russian ministry of internal affairs, was kidnapped as he arrived at Grozny airport for consultations with Maskhadov's government.

It was after the kidnapping of General Shpigun, whose fate is still unknown, that the Russian government terminated contacts with the Chechen leaders. The author suspects that this incident also convinced the Russian power structures that another military intervention in Chechnya was unavoidable.

Editor's reflections

Undoubtedly the numerous kidnappings were also a major factor fuelling the hatred of Chechens which is now so widespread in Russia. This was no marginal phenomenon: the social trauma inflicted was quite comparable in magnitude to that associated with the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. If one considers that each of the 6,000 victims had relatives, friends, and colleagues anxious about his or her fate, one realizes that a substantial part of Russian society was personally affected, especially in the areas bordering Chechnya and among the business, political, and security elite.

Unaware that Chechens too were among the victims, all these people inevitably came to associate "Chechen" with the sinister figure of the kidnapper. They would have done so even in the absence of any prior conditioning to perceive Chechens in a negative light. The kidnappers bear a large share of the responsibility for the current suffering of their people.



Since January 25, 2002 the district center of Urus-Martan has been under blockade. The Russian power structures are carrying out the latest zachistka there... Breaking down the door, the soldiers burst into the house and grabbed Imran, who had jumped out of bed half asleep. After beating him in front of his terrified wife and children, they tied his hands and pushed him into the yard. His wife asked that he at least be given a chance to get dressed, for which she was struck on the face with a rifle butt and fell to the ground. The officer in charge said: "If you make any more noise, bitch, we'll kill you and your pups." Then Imran was led barefoot toward the center of the town. None of his relatives has seen him since.

[Press release #177, 1/29/02]


On January 7, 2002, a "zachistka" took place on 8th of March Street. During the search the servicemen not only stole citizens' personal possessions, but also ruined clothes and food by pouring diesel fuel over them. In one house the terrorists in uniform took a 3-month-old baby out into the cold and threatened his mother, 20-year-old Eliza, that they would kill the baby unless she agreed to cook them lunch.

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[Part 2]


6. A survey of living conditions

SOURCE. Sh. Beno, "Problemy rossiiskogo federalizma v obshchestvennom soznanii" [Problems of Russian Federalism in Public Consciousness] in Chechnia: ot konflikta k stabil'nosti (problemy rekonstruktsii) [Chechnya: From Conflict to Stability (Problems of Reconstruction)]. Moscow: Institut etnologii i antropologii RAN. pp. 248-57.

Between September 20 and October 10, 2000, Beno conducted a survey of the living conditions of a sample of 400 inhabitants (92 per cent of them Chechens) of the towns of Grozny, Argun, Shali, and Gudermes, and of six rural districts of Chechnya. Respondents were selected at random for anonymous voluntary interview at places where people congregate (bazaars, bus stations, schools, hospitals, and government offices).

While this was no doubt the best that could be done under prevailing circumstances, such a method of selection could not ensure a fully representative sample. The occupational distribution of respondents shows 17.5 per cent working in education and 15 per cent in healthcare: such high figures must be an artifact of interviewing at schools and hospitals. We are not told what proportion of those approached agreed to be interviewed, but a high refusal rate could also entail significant bias. Nevertheless, the results can at least be regarded as suggestive of general conditions.

One third of respondents would not answer the question about family income. 14 per cent indicated that they had no income or hardly any. Most of these depended on relatives, often on a relative's old age pension; one replied that "our cow is our income." Another 35 per cent gave figures in the range of 500-2,000 rubles ($30- 120) per month. This was considered bearable, but only for a small family. 10 per cent gave figures above, and 6 per cent below, this range.

The next question concerned sources of subsistence. The most common answer (42 per cent) was wages, followed by trade (15 per cent). 8 per cent said proceeds from private plots and 6 per cent old age pension. Others gave various combinations of wages, pensions, trade, private plot proceeds, "shabashka" (seasonal work outside Chechnya), grants, and humanitarian aid (mentioned by 3 per cent). The author comments that the most predictable income comes from trade, shabashka, private plots, and old age pensions.

"Do you work?"

Yes             31 per cent
Yes, but I rarely if ever get paid 27 per cent
Intermittently 8 per cent
No  30 per cent

"Has your material situation changed since the war started?"

It has got worse 80 per cent
It has not changed 8 per cent
It has got better 1 per cent

"Do your children go to school?"

Yes 24 per cent
Yes, but not every day 15 per cent
No 40 per cent

The respondents whose children do not go to school divide up into those who lack the material means to clothe them properly or are unable to get them to school and back (26 per cent) and those who keep their children at home because they feel it is too dangerous to send them to school due to shootings, roadblocks, and so on or simply because the children are afraid to go to school (14 per cent).

"Has your family been directly affected by the problems of drug addiction or alcoholism?"

Yes 24 per cent
To some extent 12 per cent
No 61 per cent

"Have any new illnesses appeared in your family since the beginning of the war?"

Yes 49 per cent
Yes, and chronic illnesses have got worse 18 per cent
No, but chronic illnesses have got worse 19 per cent
No 8 per cent

The most frequently named illnesses were neuroses, hysteria, ischemia, heart conditions, strokes, hypertension, tuberculosis, asthma, cancer, psychiatric abnormalities, migraine, headaches, and forgetfulness.

Physicians noted the growth of respiratory diseases, cancer, ischemia, thyroid conditions, hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, neuroses, stress ulcers (with bleeding), anemia, diabetes, tuberculosis, vitamin deficiency, skin diseases, and general exhaustion of the organism.

School teachers remarked that half of the boys and a third of the girls in their classes suffered from psychiatric abnormalities and heart problems.

"Are you able to get treatment for your illnesses?"

Yes 1 per cent
Yes, to some extent 1 per cent
No, I lack the financial means 70 per cent
No, there are no physicians with the necessary qualifications in Chechnya and I cannot leave the republic 16 per cent

The author draws attention to the remarkable fact that even most physicians are unable to get their own illnesses treated.



At dawn on January 29, 2002, Russian units blockaded the villages of Starie Atagi, Novie Atagi, and Chiri-Yurt. The few witnesses who were able to get out of these villages said they heard shooting on the streets and cries for help. Soldiers burst into homes and engaged in armed extortion of money and valuables. Some officers of the Chechen militia attempted to interfere with the excesses, but were disarmed, beaten, and taken off to an unknown destination... An official of the Grozny district administration said that the commander of the group of forces, General Moltenskoi, declared to him: "I'd like to spit on the prosecutor's office, on the police and human rights activists. We'll give you a paper, you'll sign it, saying that everything was in accordance with the law. If you don't sign it, someone else will sign it for you."

[Press release #178, 2/4/02]

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7. The ecological situation

SOURCE. Russian Environmental Digest, February 18-24, 2002, Vol. 4, No. 8. From BBC, February 21, 2002

The ecological situation on the territory of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (CRI) is critical, while in some districts it has even assumed the proportions of an ecological catastrophe, says the chairman of the Green Movement of the CRI, Ramzan Goytimirov.

Despite the standstill of almost all industrial enterprises, the level of environmental pollution has not been reduced and has even increased. This is mainly the result of ongoing military actions. For example, as a result of the sustained bombardment of a chemical plant in Jokhar (Grozny), a large quantity of uranium, caesium-137 and cobalt-60 was discharged into the atmosphere.

During the war, the republic's mineral wealth has constantly been plundered or exploited "in a barbaric fashion." This applies first of all to the amateurish extraction of oil and its refining into condensate. Long Russian convoys take oil and associated products manufactured at local mini-refineries outside the republic on a daily basis.

At the present time, the level of contamination of the soil with oil products exceeds the permissible limit on more than 10 per cent of the republic's territory. The situation is particularly appalling in Grozny. For example, on the territory of the capital's Zavodskoy district there is an oil puddle 12 meters deep containing a million tonnes of oil.

According to the Russian scientific research center Zemlya (Earth), more than 900 tonnes of heavy metals a year are discharged into the atmosphere in districts densely packed with petrochemical and energy enterprises. Never in the entire history of the republic has there been such an enormous quantity of unaccounted for waste in areas of industrial production. Never have so many oil-bearing, polluting and contaminating substances been discharged into the air, water and soil.

Russian ecologists also confirm that the republic is facing an ecological catastrophe, but are reluctant to take any action to remedy the situation. According to the chairman of the State Duma Committee for Ecology, Vladimir Grachev, "as a result of the work of these facilities (mini-refineries), lakes and rivers of oil have formed around them and sometimes they reach vineyards and other arable land."

About 40 per cent of the republic's agricultural land contains pesticides in excess of permissible concentrations. This is the result of excessive use of such substances and the unsatisfactory conditions in which they are stored. To make matters worse, Russian troops have repeatedly used chemical weapons in Chechnya. The whole North Caucasus has been affected. As Chechen rivers, abounding in water and carrying all of this dirt, eventually flow into the Caspian Sea, the reserves of red fish in the Caspian are in jeopardy. 300,000 tonnes of poisonous and contaminating chemical substances are released into the Caspian every year.

Thus the natural balance is virtually undermined and the area is losing the capacity to support life. Urgent intervention by specialists is necessary. Their primary tasks will include the re-cultivation of land and restoration of the hibernation pits. But before this can be done, the military action must stop.



On January 13, 2002, at around 4 pm, a bus from Shatoi was stopped by federal servicemen on the approach to Sharo-Argun. They shot up the bus, pulled out the passengers and used knives to kill those who were still alive. Then they blew up the bus.

The soldiers guilty of this crime were caught by employees of the Chechen militia, brought to the Shatoi temporary detention facility, and admitted their guilt. Representatives of the local administration fear that after the case is handed over to the military prosecutor's office the killers may be freed, as has repeatedly happened in Chechnya.

[Press release #169, 1/15/02]

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8. Show me your ID!

SOURCE. Ander Yandarov and Galina Zaurbekova, "O nekotorykh paradoksalistskikh tendentsiiakh v separatistskom konflikte" [On Some Paradoxical Tendencies in the Separatist Conflict] in Chechnia: ot konflikta k stabil'nosti (problemy rekonstruktsii) [Chechnya: From Conflict to Stability (Problems of Reconstruction]. Moscow: Institut etnologii i antropologii RAN. pp. 169-170.

This source draws our attention to an often overlooked but extremely important factor with a direct bearing on human rights -- namely, the problem of providing the inhabitants of Chechnya with new personal identification documents.

In today's Russia as in the USSR, the internal passport is an essential document which the citizen needs in any interaction with officialdom. But the separatist regime issued its own documents, marked by the silhouette of a wolf, the state symbol of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (to remind the bearers that they were now "free and equal like wolves.")

When the federal forces reoccupied Chechnya, the "wolf documents" suddenly became worse than useless. But the issue of new Russian identity documents proceeded slowly and was soon suspended on the grounds that there was a lack of application forms (?!). Substantial fees were also required. As a result, most people were left without identity documents of any kind. People without ID are at greatest risk of getting detained and taken off to filtration camps (in many cases never to return alive) during the notorious zachistki.

Later the authorities began to issue temporary papers (spravki) for use as alternative ID. But even these papers cost several hundred rubles. Most Chechens had lost their property in the war and been unemployed for several years. They simply did not have the money.

The authors portray the fate of refugees who returned to Chechnya after the bombing ceased only to find their former homes completely wrecked. If such a person then tried to leave the republic again without documents, "they would rob him at the checkpoint, and more often than not beat him. They would all seem enemies to him: the kontraktniki, the federals, the Wahhabites, the [insurgent] fighters. He would wander about, caught in a death trap. Many in that situation went insane. They lost the ability to react adequately to their surroundings. They didn't even understand when they heard the order: 'Halt! Hands up!" And they were shot dead without delay."

Those refugees who return and then manage to escape from Chechnya a second time are refused official registration as refugees. This deprives them of the right to temporary accommodation, food, and other humanitarian aid, and their children of the right to attend school. But they still count themselves lucky to be back in the fraternal Ingush republic. There are now about 100,000 such unrecognized refugees in Ingushetia. According to Valery Kuksa, the republic's minister of emergency situations, the federal authorities have given instructions that henceforth (as of January 2002) no further refugees from Chechnya are to be registered [].



To the director of the TV-6 television company, Yevgeny Kiselyov

Dear Uncle Zhenya!

My brother XXX and I wish you a happy New Year. We wish you health and much, much happiness. And we wish that you remain so honest and good!

Uncle Zhenya! My brother and I have a big request to you, to pass on our curses to Putin, to all the military who are bombing and killing all people and children. May their children remain without schools, without holiday trees, without homes, become like us. Let their mothers cry like our mothers cry. Let their children cry as the children of T., my mother's sister, are now crying.

T. was killed with four other women and a man who had gone to the river to collect water. They all leave children behind. May all this pain, all these tears return to them who are to blame and who are killing our people and children.

[Note. The author of the letter is 10 years old. Her brother is 8 years old.]

[Press release #162, 1/3/02]

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9. Russian public opinion on Chechnya policy

SOURCE. Theodore P. Gerber and Sarah E. Mendelson, How Russians Think About Chechnya. Program on New Approaches to Russian Security (PONARS) Policy Memo No. 243. At:

The authors included a special battery of questions about human rights and Chechnya in an omnibus survey administered in September and October 2001 to a nationally representative sample of 2,405 citizens of Russia by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM).

The first question was: "In your view, what should be the government's policy toward Chechnya?" Eight options were offered, including "no opinion" (chosen by 19 per cent of respondents).

Only 6 per cent expressed agreement with current policy ("Maintain the status quo level of military action"). By far the most popular option, supported by 39 per cent, was: "Increase military action to annihilate the Chechen fighters." The two options which included full troop withdrawal were chosen by 16 per cent: 11 per cent wanted to withdraw and "seal the border," while only 5 per cent wanted to withdraw and "help Chechnya rebuild."

The remaining 21 per cent chose one of the three intermediate options, entailing cease fire, negotiations and/or limited troop withdrawal. Continued military action at one level or another is supported by a narrow majority (51 per cent).

Respondents were also presented with a list of 12 "feelings" which they may have felt on hearing "reports about the activities of federal forces in Chechnya during the last several months" and asked to select the two that they had felt most often. The percentages confessing to various feelings were as follows:

Alarm at large losses of Russian troops 68
Shame that our troops cannot cope with rebels 27
Alarm at excessive cost of military operations 23
Anger at the Chechens 15
Pride that Russia is fighting terrorism 12
Anxiety regarding lack of reliable information about Chechnya in the press 12
Pride in successes of our forces 7
Anger at the Russian government 7
Anxiety that our troops' actions hurt Russia's international reputation 5
Shame that our troops violate human rights and international norms 4

Thus a majority are unhappy about the cost of the war in Russian lives, and many are also worried about the economic cost and disappointed with the performance of Russian troops. Human rights do not figure as a major concern -- a finding which the authors link to government control over media coverage of the war.

Somewhat larger proportions are prepared to take a strong stand for human rights when answering questions focused specifically on the subject. Thus 27 per cent agree that international organizations and Russian authorities should investigate reports of illegal acts against civilians by Russian forces in Chechnya and that if such reports are confirmed the perpetrators should be punished. However, these respondents are outnumbered by those who agree either that illegal actions "are inevitable during war and thus do not merit a response" (15 per cent) or that "these allegations are greatly exaggerated rumors put forth by enemies of Russia" (18 per cent).

Thus despite widespread though diffuse dissatisfaction with the present situation public support for the war is holding up at a fairly high level. But this does not mean that the "war against terror" is at the top of Russians' concerns. Presented with a list of 20 problems facing Russian society, only 22 per cent of respondents even included terrorism among the 5-6 most serious threats. Crime, drugs, and the economy were all of much greater concern.


10. Jabrail Gakayev's peace plan

SOURCE. D. Gakaev, "Postkonfliktnaia Chechnia: analiz situatsii, problemy rekonstruktsii (politicheskii aspekt)" [Post-Conflict Chechnya: Situation Analysis, Problems of Reconstruction (Political Aspects)] in Chechnia: ot konflikta k stabil'nosti (problemy rekonstruktsii) [Chechnya: From Conflict to Stability (Problems of Reconstruction]. Moscow: Institut etnologii i antropologii RAN. pp. 73-90.

Jabrail Gakayev (Doctor of Historical Sciences) is a prominent Chechen historian and political scientist and the author of penetrating analyses of the origins of the Russo-Chechen conflict. (1) In 1991, as co-founder of the Movement for Democratic Reforms of the Chechen- Ingush Republic, he was a key figure in the opposition of the Chechen liberal democratic intelligentsia both to the communist regime and to the radical Chechen nationalists. He currently lives in Moscow.

Gakayev starts with the proposition that the problem of Chechnya cannot be solved by force alone. A political resolution is needed. By this, however, he does not mean a settlement negotiated with the insurgent leadership. "Negotiations with Maskhadov and the field commanders are possible on conditions for ending armed hostilities. The problem of the status of the Chechen Republic cannot be a subject of negotiations with the separatists. That is a prerogative of the people of Chechnya."

But if the people of Chechnya are to express their will, there must be a political process aimed at healing the internal divisions within Chechen society and building democratic institutions, culminating in elections to a new legislature. "Chechens must be assured that their sovereignty will be preserved, and that they will be governed not by appointees or military commanders but by their own freely elected representatives." Chechnya must have "full self-determination and high state status within the framework of the Russian Federation."

Thus Gakayev envisages an arrangement based on principles of confederation. "Self-determination" and "sovereignty" (but not "independence") are to be reconciled with preservation of Russia's territorial integrity. Indeed, he suggests that in order to safeguard "the Chechens' dignity" and prevent "the syndrome of the defeated people" a basic law for Chechnya might be based on the constitution of 1992, adopted under Dudayev.

The author acknowledges that such a settlement might not put an immediate end to violence. The Chechen Republic would still need force structures, which should be ethnically mixed, to conduct "special operations against bandits and terrorists." At the same time, insurgents willing to lay down their arms and who have not committed serious crimes should be granted amnesty. A small number of experienced federal troops might remain to defend strategic objects and guard the inter-state border, but they should be confined to an auxiliary role. They should also be properly disciplined, including a strict ban on the consumption of alcohol.

Gakayev stresses that it is not only the territory of Chechnya which must be integrated into Russia, but also the Chechens as a people. The climate of inter-ethnic relations in Russia must be changed to ensure the equality of all citizens before the law irrespective of ethnic origin. The mass media must stop portraying Chechens as "proud savages" and convey a positive image of them as a modern people. There should be a policy of recruiting more qualified Chechens into government structures both in Chechnya and at the federal level, so that Chechens will identify more closely with the Russian state.


(1) See "Put' k chechenskoi revoliutsii" [The Road to the Chechen Revolution], pp. 150-176 in Chechnia i Rossiia: obshchestva i gosudarstva [Chechnya and Russia: Societies and States], ed. D. E. Furman. Moscow: Polinform-Talburi, 1999, and also his monograph Chechenskii krizis: istoki, itogi, perspektivy (politicheskii aspekt) [The Chechen Crisis: Sources, Outcomes, Prospects (The Political Aspect)]. Moscow: Chechenskii kul'turnyi tsentr, 1999.

11. Restoring healthcare and education in Chechnya

SOURCE. Khasan Musalatov, "Sotsial'nye problemy Chechenskoi Respubliki" [Social Problems of the Chechen Republic] in Chechnia: ot konflikta k stabil'nosti (problemy rekonstruktsii) [Chechnya: From Conflict to Stability (Problems of Reconstruction]. Moscow: Institut etnologii i antropologii RAN. pp. 234-241.

The author, apparently an official in Chechnya's ministry of health, describes the fate of the republic's healthcare and education systems over the past decade and discusses the problems of restoring them.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Chechnya had about 400 medical facilities of various kinds, with 11,000 beds. In 1996, following the first war and some modest reconstruction, 197 of these facilities were functioning. Under the inter-war separatist regime of 1996-99, most of the remaining capacity was lost. Medicines, equipment, and ambulances were stolen by "fighters"; physicians abandoned Chechnya; and medical premises were put to other uses (e.g. to house offices of the Ministry of Shariat Security).

When federal forces returned to Chechnya, military physicians provided medical aid to the population. "That pregnant Chechen women were taken in armored vehicles to army tents with a red cross on the roof, and after giving birth gave their babies Russian names in honor of the army doctors -- these are also events from our shared history which we must not forget."

District hospitals and some other facilities have now been reopened, and a start has been made on immunizations. Besides shortages of material resources, the main problem is persuading qualified medical personnel to stay in, or return to, Chechnya.

The author expresses concern at the health hazards posed by the mini-refineries, and also by the radioactive waste burial site at the Rodon plant.

Chechnya began the 1990s with 450 schools and 3 higher education institutions. Most of these were destroyed by war or closed by the separatists. Most of the books, equipment, and furniture was stolen. Dudayev said that boys need only 4 years of schooling and girls need none at all. There are children aged 10-15 years in Chechnya who have never gone to school.

60 per cent of the schools are now functioning again. So are the 3 higher educational institutions, although most of their former faculty have left Chechnya and are reluctant to return under current conditions.

However, the successes of restoration were achieved mainly under the supervision of the representative office of the federal government. Since responsibility for the civil administration was turned over to Kadyrov, the work has ground to a halt.



A humanitarian shipment of second-hand clothes arrived in the village of Aldy from Germany. For several days in December a line stood from morning to night outside the gates of the Yakhyayevs' house. Inside, in the yard, women were doing a brisk trade. For sale were items intended for free distribution among the most needy and impoverished people. Those who dared express doubts about the propriety of selling humanitarian aid were immediately taken out the gates.

[Press release #169, 1/15/02]

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12. Valery Tishkov. The Fund for Humanitarian Assistance to the Chechen Republic: How It Happened and What It Is About

For a decade now Chechnya has been part of my life. It was a concern of mine as Russian minister for nationalities in 1992. Then I participated in the December 1994 negotiations with Dudayev's delegation in Vladikavkaz and in the commission on Chechnya of prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. I went on to write a book about the social and cultural dynamics of the conflict on the Chechen side. In the course of my research for the book, I collected about a hundred life stories of Chechens who went through this war. But I still wanted to do something "real" to help resolve the conflict and bring peace to Chechnya.

As the result of my initiative there was established in March 2000, under the aegis of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IEA), the Fund for Humanitarian Assistance to the Chechen Republic (FHACR). The initiative has been supported by a number of my academic colleagues, including young Chechen scholars working at the IEA.

Initial financial support for the foundation came from my long-time friends and partners in conflict prevention activities Allen Kassof and Livia Plaks, who direct the Project on Ethnic Relations (PER). A small grant has also been received from the Soros Foundation in Russia.

The FHACR is a non-commercial and non-governmental organization which in collaboration with other Russian and international governmental and non-governmental organizations strives to:

-- provide humanitarian aid to war victims, refugees, and forced migrants

-- bring about the physical, psychological, and social rehabilitation of victims of the conflict, especially of children and teenagers

-- foster peaceful dialogue aimed at establishing the rule of law and a strong civil society in Chechnya

-- support and assist in post-conflict reconstruction, and in restoring the education system, scientific, cultural, and healthcare institutions of the Chechen Republic

-- promote research into the social, economic, psychological, and ecological consequences of the armed conflict in Chechnya and publication of the findings.

The Fund has a Board co-chaired by well-known Russian historian Academician Yuri A. Polyakov and Chechen businessman Malik Saidullayev. The Executive Director of the Fund is Dr. Mara Ustinova.

In the two years since its creation, the Fund has organized several events and initiated a number of projects:

-- Four seminars have been conducted on the psychology of post-conflict trauma for secondary school teachers from the Chechen Republic. The teachers took part in training sessions led by prominent psychologists and visited Moscow schools. They also toured Moscow and visited theaters and the Tretyakov Gallery.

-- 50 complete sets of 80 books each published by the Academy of Pedagogical and Social Sciences were bought and delivered to schools in the Chechen Republic. This literature will help teachers in their daily work not only with pupils but also with their parents.

-- Another project aims to collect books from public and private libraries for restocking public libraries in Chechnya. In six months over 25,000 books were collected in Moscow alone, including scientific works, fiction, and children's literature. On September 4, 2001 they were handed over to the library of the Chechen State University in Grozny. The second shipment is planned for late May 2002. It is planned to supply books to seven other public libraries in Chechnya.

-- Several seminars, conferences, and charity events have been held. On June 19, 2001 a charity concert took place in the Central Concert Hall "Rossiya." A marvelous presentation was given by the Chechen children's dance and song ensemble "Lovzar" as well as by other artistes of Chechen, other Caucasian, and Russian origin.

-- Three books have been published, including an annotated bibliography of the Chechen conflict.

In addition to continuing with existing projects, the FHACR envisages four new projects:

-- a project to train young Chechen and other Caucasian and Russian people in conflict management skills with a view to creating an active network of peace workers in the region

-- a summer camp for the physical and psychological rehabilitation of children from Grozny orphanage

-- a project to work out a plan for the peaceful reintegration into society of Chechen fighters

-- a project to supply 10,000 portable radio receivers to the isolated mountain areas of Chechnya. We can distribute the radios through our volunteers, but we would like to find a company willing to donate the radios or sell them at a discount.

We are looking now for financial support to continue and expand our work. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Valery Tishkov (Professor)

Director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences

President of the Fund for Humanitarian Assistance to the Chechen Republic


Professor Tishkov can be contacted by ordinary mail, fax, telephone or e-mail:

Leninskii prospekt 32A, Moscow 117334, Russia
Fax: 7 095 938 06 00
Tel: 7 095 938 17 47
e-mail:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The banking information needed by those wishing to make a financial contribution to the Fund for Humanitarian Assistance to the Chechen Republic is as follows:

Intermediary bank: ABN AMRO Bank, New York, USA; SWIFT: ABNA US 33; account 574-0-731617-41

Benificiary bank: JSCB Metallinvestbank, Moscow, Russia; SWIFT: SCBM RU MM; in favor of Rosbusinessbank, Moscow, Russia, account 30109840400000000205

Beneficiary: The Fund for Humanitarian Assistance to the Chechen Republic, account: 40703840800010022031

JRL #6191, Research and Analytical Supplement #7

You are here: Home Archives Research & Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List Special Issue No. 7. April 2002. The situation in Chechnya


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