Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 17

Roman Shleinov of Novaya gazeta recounted in that newspaper’s May 12 issue an anonymous conversation with two officers of the Moscow OMON special police about their service in Chechnya. One of the officers said that true casualty figures among Russian servicemen “are as different from the official TV announcements as the heaven is from the earth.” The officers’ unit was ordered to burn casualty reports, but hospital workers told them that deaths included 100 to 150 servicemen per month from the Ministry of Interior forces alone, without including soldiers of the regular army.

The officers’ unit had recently been rented out to serve, in effect, as part of a “private army” guarding Chechnya’s black market oil business. They provided security for illegal oil wells and for tank trucks filled with oil stolen from a long distance pipeline, and shared the proceeds with the pro-Moscow Chechen police. In return the oil magnates provided hefty pay supplements, plus money for arms and such equipment as mint-condition machine guns and body armor. These supplies were incomparably superior to those of their earlier, “non-commercial” tours of duty. At that time, having arrived in Chechnya with only their own police pistols, they had resorted to theft and bribery to obtain assault rifles.