On May 6, the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website reported that the Chechen parliament resolved to address Moscow with a request to assist with clearing minefields in the republic. An estimated 24,000 hectares (59,000 acres) of land in Chechnya remain littered with landmines years after the war officially was declared over. According to pro-Moscow Chechen officials, no organization has been actively demining the republic since the start of the second Russian-Chechen war in 1999. A number of the explosive devices date back to the first Russian-Chechen war of 1994-1996. A representative of the Chechen branch of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry (MChS) said that during the past five years, 5,143 explosive devices and 21 airborne bombs were neutralized, 247 hectares of land were cleared, but that this is, in his words “a drop in the ocean” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, May 6).
At least four cases of finding explosive devices from Chechnya were reported during the period from April 20 to May 6 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, May 7). In 2008, eleven people were affected by mine explosions. In 2009, at least seven people became victims of mines (one of them a child) and two of the victims died. As stated by UNICEF, between 1994 and 2009, up to 714 civilians died as a result of mine explosions and 2,379 were wounded. Mines claimed 159 victims among children. Some specialists still consider Chechnya one of the regions of the world with the greatest risk of mines. In 2009, it was estimated that demining Chechnya would cost almost $500 million (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 15, 2009). Given Russia’s current budget deficit, it is unlikely that Moscow will allot substantial resources to resolving the problem.
The mine problem is exacerbated by the absence of mine maps. “Not only the militants, but also the [Russian] military actively laid mines during the wars,” Kavkazsky Uzel quoted MChS representatives as saying, adding: “Neither of the sides really kept track of their mining; no maps were drawn to follow up on minefields later” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, May 6).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been implementing mine awareness programs in Chechnya since 2000. The ICRC built 70 safe playgrounds to provide children with recreational activities without exposing them to possible dangers in the field. The Anglo-American non-governmental organization HALO Trust, which specializes in the removal of the hazardous materials after wars, did much work in between the two wars in Chechnya from 1997-1999, but was expelled from the country after the Russians accused it of espionage and of training rebels (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, May 6). Meanwhile, HALO successfully operated for years elsewhere in the Caucasus –in Georgia, Karabakh, Abkhazia– preparing local specialists who did the demining (www.halotrust.org).
Chechnya’s pro-Moscow government pressed the Russian government authorities to move on with demining efforts of the republic. In November 2009, a rally took place in Grozny demanding that the Russian government help Chechnya with the demining of its territory. The rally’s organizers declared: “We recall how Russia helped Serbia in demining its territory. With the same resolve [it] should act in the case of Chechen Republic, especially as it is a subject of the Russian Federation. Our republic deserves the federal center’s assistance in solving the problem, which requires federal participation without delaying … for years” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 24, 2009).
The land that cannot be used for agricultural activities because of the mines and other consequences of war comprises 2.5 percent of the total agricultural land of Chechnya. Also, 3.1 percent of Chechnya’s land is occupied by Russian military units, which makes the total amount of inaccessible land over 5 percent of the small republic’s territory (www.chechnya.gov.ru, May 9).
The Russian government announced this year that it is cutting spending, including expenditures on Chechnya’s reconstruction. In 2009, 90.5 percent of Chechnya’s $2 billion budget came from Moscow in the form of subsidies. Chechnya’s budget for 2010 is slated to be cut by $200 million or 10 percent (www.bujet.ru, February 15). Given that Moscow has cut some essential development programs in Chechnya, it is even less likely sufficient funds will be allocated to address the landmine problem.