GROZNY RESTORED AS CHECHEN CAPITAL.
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 17
On April 18, the city of Grozny (Djohar) was officially declared to be once again the capital of the Chechen Republic (Kommersant, April 19). Five days later, on April 23, a ceremony was held marking the official opening of the new main administration building (called “the White House”) of the city. An armored vehicle brought in a military band from the base at Khankala for the occasion. Heavily armed Russian spetznaz troops kept watch from nearby rooftops. While waiting for the featured speakers to arrive, local Chechens performed their traditional Sufi dance, the zikr. Finally, three military helicopters arrived with the principal speakers: pro-Moscow chief of administration Akhmad Kadyrov, General Valery Baranov, commander of the Combined Group of Russian Forces in Chechnya, and Viktor Anpilogov, a deputy presidential representative to the Southern Federal District. The mufti of Chechnya gave a brief invocation in Chechen; the other speakers, including Kadyrov, spoke in Russian (Izvestia, April 24). Six days later, on April 29, Chechen separatist fighters fired at the new (and still unfinished) administration building from automatic weapons and grenade-launchers. Two building employees were wounded and had to be hospitalized (Russian agencies, April 30). Presidential plenipotentiary representative Viktor Kazantsev has stated that “over the course of May” the Chechen administration will be fully moved from the city of Gudermes to Grozny (Strana.ru, April 25). Viktor Il’yasov, prime minister of the pro-Moscow administration, estimates that there are currently “about 500” ethnic Russians living in the city, out of a total population of approximately 100,000 (Izvestia, April 19).
Journalist Yevgenia Borisova, writing in the April 23 Moscow Times, described what life is like today in the old-new capital: “Some people still live in bomb shelters. Many have moved into any vacant apartment with a roof…. Tanks have destroyed city streets, and cars almost sink into huge pits filled with water and dirt–the work of artillery shells and bombs. On some streets, unexploded missiles still stick out of the ground…. Chechen Deputy Labor Minister Magomed Vakhayev estimated unemployment at more than 90 percent, but no unemployment benefits are being paid in the republic.” The republic’s chief health inspector is quoted as saying: “I am afraid of an outbreak of hepatitis A when the heat comes in June. This disease is caused by unsanitary conditions, and here they are. The water supplies are not restored. Neither is the sewage system.”
After a two-year hiatus, train service between Chechnya and Moscow resumed on April 23. Train no. 87 departed from the Gudermes main station (and not from Grozny). While on Chechen territory, the train was subject to “unprecedented security measures,” including the use of security specialists who checked the train with dogs for explosives. The train was also meticulously examined at each station stop (Kommersant, April 23; Novye Izvestia, April 25).
On April 25, a powerful bomb rocked the pro-Moscow Chechen criminal police headquarters in the city of Gudermes, killing six employees and wounding five more. The explosion came close to destroying the two-story building of the anticrime unit (Russian agencies, April 25).