Speaking during a government meeting in Grozny on July 19, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov demanded that the heads of power and law-enforcement organs strictly follow the law in using land and installations in Chechnya. “The Chechen Republic is a full-fledged subject of the Russian Federation; the constitution and other laws of Russia and the Chechen Republic function here,” Newsru.com quoted him as saying. “And I am firmly convinced that not only the civilian authorities, but also the military command of units and sub-units deployed in the republic are also strictly obligated to observe them.”
Kadyrov expressed unhappiness over the fact that representatives of the military command deployed in Chechnya who were invited to attend the meeting did not show up. “Units and sub-units of power structures and law-enforcement organs occupy huge territory and installations,” he said. “A majority of these are in their possession without the corresponding legal registration. When I … demand that all of this be brought into line, they write reports that Ramzan Kadyrov is against the federal center. … It is necessary to close this question once and for all. If we demand that ordinary citizens obey laws, then first and foremost all officials, including military ones, are obligated to obey them.”
Kadyrov called on the heads of all ministries, agencies and local administrations “to take all necessary measures through judicial organs, prosecutor’s offices and other instances so that large land territories and installations … occupied by the military without permission are vacated and transferred according to their intended use.” He added: “We are acting in the role of supplicants; we are asking the military every day to vacate schools and hospitals at a time when there are not enough of these establishments in the republic. … We must obey the law, whether we are civilians or in uniform.”
According to Newsru.com, participants in the Chechen government meeting cited numerous cases involving violations of laws governing land use and damage resulting from the unlawful use of land by the military, with the damage to agricultural land alone estimated at around eight billion rubles (more than $340 million). Kommersant on July 21 quoted Chechnya’s minister for property relations and land use, Supyan Lechkhadzhiev, as saying: “Damages to the republic amount to more than fifteen million rubles [more than $638,000] monthly, because a majority of the land is not used as intended.” According to a report submitted to the meeting, the Russian military currently occupies fifteen times more territory in Chechnya than it was renting during the final years of the Soviet Union. In 1992, the military units of the federal Defense Ministry and other structures were occupying 3,754 hectares of land (14.5 square miles) in Chechnya while today the land officially occupied by the military in the republic comes to 31,000 hectares (120 square miles), not including land that is being used by the military without the local authorities’ permission.
Kommersant reported that Chechnya’s deputy chief prosecutor, Nikolai Kalugin, had urged the federal Main Military Prosecutor’s Office to audit the use of funds allocated to military units deployed in Chechnya for renting land and for compensating the republic for damages to land occupied by the military. Still, Kadyrov ordered his officials not to wait for the results of such an audit and to ensure that agricultural and other civilian land illegally occupied by the military is returned as soon as possible, given that some of the installations that his administration plans to reconstruct are currently occupied by the military and other “power structures.” Kadyrov said that if the military refused to vacate such installations, then it will become necessary “to force them to do it through the courts.”
The head of the press service of the Temporary Operational Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, Nikolai Varavin, conceded in an interview with Kommersant that the problems discussed by Kadyrov and other Chechen officials during the meeting in Grozny on July 19 do exist, but said they should not create a conflict between the military and Chechen authorities. “I cannot speak for the Defense Ministry structures, but the heads of the [federal] police units are in constant contact with representatives of the local administrations; we are discussing with them and resolving issues of returning civilian establishments.” An unnamed representative of the Unified Group of Forces in the North Caucasus said, however, that the Chechen authorities’ accusations concerning the military’s use of land in the republic were far-fetched. “What’s the point of such accusations?” the official said. “We are not refusing to pay rent for the land, if the law requires it.” The official added he could not comment on the fact that senior military officials had failed to attend “Mr. Kadyrov’s meeting.”
Meanwhile, around 20 mothers of young men who were abducted in Chechnya held a demonstration in Grozny on July 18 calling for the return of their children, Gazeta reported on July 20. The demonstration was organized by the non-governmental organization Materinskaya Trevoga (Mother’s Alarm) and several officials from the office of Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman were on hand to show their support. According to the newspaper, one demonstrator, Mata Suleimanova, held a sign directed at Chechnya’s president that read, “Ramzan, Help Us Return Our Children.” She told Gazeta that in 2002, three of her sons had been taken by unidentified persons in masks who, she said, judging by their accents, were Russians.
As Gazeta, protests were recently held outside the base of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Vostok battalion in the town of Gudermes by demonstrators who accused the battalion and its leaders—including its commander, Sulim Yamadaev, and his brothers—of murders and abductions (North Caucasus Weekly, June 12). The Vostok battalion and the Yamadaev brothers have been locked in a conflict with Kadyrov and his supporters since a violent confrontation between the two sides in April. According to Gazeta, the organizers of the July 18 demonstration in Grozny said that before the conflict between Kadyrov and the Vostok battalion erupted, they had not been granted permission to hold demonstrations protesting the kidnappings.