At a October 22 meeting of the pro-Moscow Chechen government in Djohar (Grozny), Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, the newly named commander of the Combined Group of Russian Forces in Chechnya, reported that over sixty checkpoints manned by Russian military and police personnel had recently been visited, most of them located in the mountainous area of the republic. It was determined, he said, that for the most part the service at the checkpoints was organized inadequately. “Cases of extortion, as well as of disrespectful behavior exhibited toward citizens were uncovered.” Moltenskoi revealed that he had suspended several senior officers, including those in the rank of colonel and lieutenant colonel. Officers guilty of infractions are to face disciplinary punishment. Moltenskoi also announced that he was immediately abolishing the special pass system which permitted those who had earlier cooperated with the Russian defense and interior ministries to pass through Russian checkpoints unhindered. “Citizens have a right to travel, producing only their [internal] passports,” he affirmed (Gazeta.ru, October 24; Reuters, October 23).
In its discussion of Moltenskoi’s remarks, the online daily Gazeta.ru noted that currently Chechens who pass through checkpoints in the lowlands must pay a bribe of ten rubles at each point. “In the mountainous districts,” by contrast, “the standard bribe to pass through checkpoints is 100 rubles.” In addition, in the lowlands, during a period when “mopping up operations” are being conducted, drivers are also required to pay a bribe of 100 rubles (Gazeta.ru, October 24). Moltenskoi’s reformist activities appear to be aimed at two constituencies: Chechens living in the republic or contemplating a return to it, and Western organizations, such as the Council of Europe, which have made the arbitrary treatment of Chechen civilians a persistent complaint.