“Russian policemen lose their qualifications and professional skills during their duty tours in Chechnya,” said Tatyana Lokshina, head of the Demos human rights center, during a press conference held in Moscow on June 28. The press conference was called to present the results of the project “Veterans of the Chechen War in Modern Russia” conducted by Demos and the Memorial human rights organizations. Kavkazky Uzel reported on June 29 that, based on the results of the project, the human rights activists concluded that Russian policemen who return home from Chechnya “become social pariahs who are unable to continue to properly serve in law-enforcement bodies.”
With the help of Vladimir Lukin, the Russian government’s human rights ombudsman, Demos and Memorial managed to get 1,500 questionnaires completed by policemen who had one or more long tours of duty in Chechnya. The responses to the questionnaires demonstrated above all that tours of duty in Chechnya ruin the officers’ family relationships and affect their performance at home.
Research conducted in Tver, Nizhny Novgorod, Komi and other Russian regions found that the main problem for policemen who have served in Chechnya is that it is very difficult for them to resume working in normal conditions after spending a long period in a war zone. The project states that “the participation of the police in the conflict in the North Caucasus has erased the difference between the police and the military. The combat situations in the North Caucasus require the same actions by police as by army units, and even the official mission of the policemen—to maintain law and order—is carried out in the region using battle equipment.”
“The militarization of the policemen [who are] veterans of Chechnya affects their ability to function at home,” said Igor Sazhin, a Memorial activist. “Unlike conscripts or the professional military, members of the law-enforcement agencies return from Chechnya ‘feeling all-powerful.’” Sazhin believes that this is one of the main reasons for the spread of lawlessness and crime among Russian policemen.
Russian police units consisting of both investigators and fighters from special-task squads have been sent to Chechnya regularly since the very beginning of the war. The idea was to help the local pro-Russian cadres in the region build an efficient law-enforcement structure. Six years have passed, however, and policemen from almost all of Russia’s regions are still being sent to Chechnya. Moreover, the number of Russian police units operating in the republic is increasing all the time, and the tour of duty for Russian policemen in Chechnya has been extended from three to six months. Now, policemen are sent not only to Chechnya but to other Caucasian regions as well. The geography is impressive. One can find police officers in the North Caucasus from almost all Russian regions, from Siberia to the Baltic Sea.
Human rights experts also say that Russian policemen hardly ever cooperate with their Chechen colleagues. They either defend themselves from rebel attacks or help the army and FSB units conduct security sweeps and special operations. Tatyana Lokshina said in an interview with Kavkazky Uzel that Russian policemen do not do any paperwork in Chechnya and have no interest in making careers there. “Unlike in the past, when policemen could earn enough money in Chechnya to buy an apartment, now they cannot even dream of it,” Lokshina said.
In addition to financial issues, long tours of duty in Chechnya very often cause divorces and psychological problems that many policemen are unable to resolve because no real psychological rehabilitation is provided to them. The policemen also feel isolated at home because no one, neither their relatives nor colleagues, are interested in their stories about a war that has been officially declared as finished.
Human rights activists say that one of the aims of the project is to draw the attention of the Russian public to the continuing war in Chechnya. Their report will be discussed at the Research Institute of the Russian Interior Ministry. It seems as if some top police officials may also be worried about their subordinates’ endless Caucasian tours of duty and may try to persuade the Commander-in-Chief, Vladimir Putin, to order an end to this practice.