Chechen Government Sues the Army Over Use of Land

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 3

Nezavisimaya Gazeta military analyst Vladimir Mukhin wrote in the newspaper’s January 22 edition that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has been consistently “limiting the federal center’s possibilities in the republic.” Having taken control of the republic’s Interior Ministry units and the redistribution of federal financial flowing into Chechnya, Kadyrov has now “set about squeezing federal troops out of the republic,” Mukhin wrote.

According to Mukhin, the Chechen government, with Kadyrov’s backing, recently proposed revoking the Defense Ministry’s right to register property and use parcels of land in Chechnya’s Vedeno and Shatoi districts, where military firing ranges covering 22 million square meters are located. Mukhin noted that Kadyrov originally gave approval for the firing range in Vedeno to be opened back when he was still Chechnya’s prime minister, and that the equipping of the installation, which belongs to the Defense Ministry’s 33rd motorized infantry mountain brigade based in Botlikh, Dagestan, is under the control of President Vladimir Putin. The Shatoi district facility, which consists of a firing range and tank training area, belongs to a regiment of the 42nd motorized rifle division that is permanently based in Chechnya.

Mukhin quoted a Defense Ministry source as saying that “colossal funds” had been invested in the construction of the two facilities, but that Chechnya’s Arbitration Court, “on incomprehensible grounds,” had recently begun hearing a suit brought by the Chechen government against the Defense Ministry’s apartment maintenance structures and federal bodies that are responsible for the Vedeno and Shatoi firing ranges.

The source said that the military has the legal right to use the land on which the firing ranges are located in perpetuity. Chechen Prime Minister Odes Baisultanov, however, contends that the land was allotted to the military by mistake. “The land in question belongs to the category of protected [land], on which has been discovered and is located unique architectural and other monuments of ancient and medieval culture,” Baisultanov said in a statement filed as part of the Chechen government’s suit before the republic’s Arbitration Court.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kadyrov signed an order on December 29, 2006 permitting Defense Ministry structures to open the firing ranges but rescinded that permission after becoming Chechen president in February 2007, despite the fact that Defense Ministry structures had already registered their right to use the land as firing ranges with the appropriate federal authorities. The newspaper quoted the head of the North Caucasus Military District’s press office, Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Bobrun, as saying that the military possesses all the legal documents required for the land it is using in Chechnya, including the two firing ranges, which are currently being actively used. He neither confirmed nor denied that there are items of cultural heritage requiring protection on the land plots in question, adding that independent experts must make that determination.

“One way or another, contradictions between the Chechen authorities and the military are evident,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. “Along with the ‘illegal’ operation of the firing ranges, the Chechen government is also claiming that Defense Ministry units are illegally occupying agricultural land in the republic—specifically, 11,758 hectares of land in Shali, Borzoe, Vedeno, Kalinovskaya and Khankala, among other places.” Prime Minister Baisultanov has set up a commission that is looking into the army’s use and rental of land in the republic.

Meanwhile, the next Arbitration Court session in the Chechen government’s lawsuit against the military over the firing ranges is scheduled for January 29. Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted a Defense Ministry source as saying that the lawsuit is simply aimed at “beating money out of the army,” as was the case when the military built a large cantonment in Botlikh, Dagestan, after which local residents received large financial compensations for land taken over by the military. The source noted that the firing ranges in Chechnya’s mountains are located in deserted areas, adding that the lack of people to file claims may be why the Chechen government lawsuit is claiming that historical artifacts are under threat.