Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 21

On January 29 armed groups in Chechnya seized two more oil wells in the republic. According to the state oil company “Chechentransneft,” 14,000 tons of oil have been stolen from Chechen pipelines in January alone. In Friday’s incidents, twenty people blocked the “Severnaya Dzhalka” well, located ten kilometers east of Djohar, the Chechen capital, and another group captured an oilfield in Vinogradnoe, a village in the Tersk mountains. Earlier, they had seized the “Eldarovo” oil field. Chechen pipelines are guarded by well-armed units, but are not capable of stopping bandit attacks (Russian agencies, January 29; Kommersant daily, January 20). Guarding oil installations is one of the most difficult problems for the Chechen authorities–as big a problem as stopping groups specializing in kidnappings-for-ransom. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, like his predecessor Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, has issued decrees against the theft of oil products, but his efforts remain on paper. In Chechnya, homemade gasoline is sold everywhere. It is easily made–“distilled” in a way similar to home-made alcohol. The quality is poor, but good enough for car owners who don’t particularly care about the effect on their cars. Underground oil companies operate everywhere in Chechnya, complete with workers and the necessary equipment. Companies are diversified and specialized: Some drill oil, others refine it, and still others sell it. Typically, a criminal group seizes an oil-bearing mine, hired workers drill for the oil, and armed guards protect both the installation and the small private factories where the oil is refined. Such factories are located near most towns and villages in Chechnya. The “privatization” of oil wells is not the only, and possibly not even the main, way to make money from oil. There are more primitive methods: small oil-extracting “factories”, for example, set up directly at oil pipelines.