The May 12 issue of Novaya gazeta includes a letter from anonymous servicemen of Russia’s elite Alpha commando force to Yury Shchekochikhin. He is the newspaper’s deputy editor and is also a member of the federal Duma. The letter reinforces previous complaints about the Russian government’s granting of medals for heroism to rear area officers and support staff. It now appears that the recipients even include some who were away on vacation in October when Alpha stormed the Dubrovka theater held by Chechen hostage-takers. The fighting troops also accuse their superiors of inflating to the point of absurdity the number of noncombatant officers and personnel in the special operations center to which the Alpha force has been subordinate for the last three years. For each fighting officer, they charge, there are now five to seven staff bureaucrats.
The letter accuses the force’s commander, General Tikhonov, of always being heavily guarded while he travels continuously back and forth between Moscow and Khankala, the main Russian military base in Chechnya. Meanwhile, the letter says, the Alpha commandos remain up in the hills for months on end hunting rebel guerrillas. “He signs in, visits the sauna, gives instructions–and then goes back to Moscow on a special flight.” As a result the general is eligible for extra pay supplements for these ten to twenty “duty trips” every month, and also for more awards and medals.