Several reputable observers – specifically, New York Times correspondent C. J. Chivers and Tanya Lokshina, chair of the Demos Center for Information and Human Rights Research in Moscow – have noted the construction boom that has taken place in Chechnya under the direction of Ramzan Kadyrov (see Chechnya Weekly, May 4 and 25). Novaya gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya weighed in on that issue in a piece on Kadyrov’s first 100 days as Chechen prime minister published by the bi-weekly on June 5. She noted that while many in Chechnya credit Kadyrov with financing the construction boom out of his own pocket, evidence suggests that this is not the case.
“What you can’t take away from [Kadyrov] is a talent for being a receptive student of his older Moscow comrades, including the Russian Federation president,” Politkovskaya wrote. “What is important is not to do something, but to say that you’ve done it – that is the main lesson he has learned from them. We open the text of the ChR [Chechen Republic] government order No. 184-r of 25.04.2006, signed by R. Kadyrov, with a list of ‘objects of financing from capital investments in 2006’… And what do we see? Out of 27 planned projects, only six are counted in the list as being subject to private financing ‘from additional revenues,’ in which it is possible to presume Ramzan-the-Builder’s personal participation, with the [funding] source being the so-called A. Kadyrov Regional Foundation – that treasure chest into which flow ‘citizens’ voluntary donations’.” Thus most of Chechnya’s construction projects, according to Politkovskaya, are being financed by federal funds – that is, by the Russian taxpayer – while the rest are being financed by less-than-voluntary “donations” from Chechen officials and other well-to-do residents to a charity controlled by Ramzan Kadyrov’s mother.
Meanwhile, Tatyana Kasatkina, executive director of the Memorial human rights center, who recently visited Chechnya, suggested that there may be less to the republic’s construction boom than meets the eye. The website of Radio Liberty’s Russian-language service on June 7 quoted her as saying that “Potemkin villages” are being built in Chechnya. “I was in Gudermes recently; I arrived there around 3-4 weeks ago,” she told the radio station. “I saw that the facades of houses had been rebuilt, but behind the facades of the houses were destroyed houses. You understand, there is in fact no real economic boom in Chechnya today. In fact, [there are] very many of these Potemkin villages. And it is completely logical and rational that the leadership does not want this to be uncovered. [They want] to go and tell everyone that there is already peace there, that normal circumstances already exist there for the lives of people, for the economy; let’s have investments com e in, and so forth. In fact, this is not the case. It is putting a band-aid on the problem; the pus is going deeper into the wound. But, in the end, it will all come out.”
More broadly, Kasatkina said that the federal and Chechen authorities’ claims that the situation in the republic has been stabilized are exaggerated. “No one wants to admit – I mean our state structures and the state structures of Chechnya – that military actions are continuing,” she told Radio Liberty. “And that the militants remain, as before, militants. And southern villages are being bombarded, zachistki [security sweeps] are taking place, people are disappearing – all of this is happening.”
Indeed, Kavkazky Uzel reported on June 6 that the Russian military had the previous day carried out a heavy bombardment of the outskirts of villages and surrounding forests in Chechnya’s Vedeno and Shali districts. The website quoted Movsar, a 34-year-old inhabitant of the Shali district village of Serzhen-Yurt, as saying that women and children were “very frightened” by the bombardment, with some even hiding in their basements, but that the barrage ended “as quickly as it started” after about an hour.
Kavkazky Uzel reported on June 7 that local security forces in Grozny’s Oktyabrsky district had conducted a large-scale document check the previous day, stopping cars, checking the drivers’ and passengers’ passports, and inspecting the vehicles’ trunks. Eyewitnesses were quoted as saying that police took two young men off a jitney and drove them away. Chechnya’s Interior Ministry told the website that the operation was aimed at finding and detaining “persons involved in committing crimes, members of the band formations and their accomplices.”
Kavkazky Uzel reported on June 5 that five Chechen law-enforcement officers had been wounded over the previous 24 hours. Three policemen were wounded on the road between the villages of Nozhai-Yurt and Meskety in the Nozhai-Yurt district when a homemade bomb went off as their car passed by. In another incident, a policeman was injured when a bomb went off along the Grozny-Shatoi highway near the village of Gikalo in the Groznensky district. Bomb-disposal experts who arrived at the scene found another improvised explosive device, and a second police officer was injured when he tried to defuse it and remove it from the scene.
RIA-Novosti reported June 5 that a temporary compound of the federal Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops’ newly formed Yug battalion in Chechnya’s Kurchaloev district had come under attack from unidentified militants who fired assault rifles and grenade launchers. A Chechen Interior Ministry source said no one was injured in the attack.
Meanwhile, Chechen People’s Assembly Speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov told reporters in Moscow in June 5 that he was unhappy that rebel warlord Shamil Basaev had not yet been captured. “We are living in the 21st century,” Interfax quoted him as saying. “If the respective bodies had been provided with the necessary equipment, the question could have been settled a long time ago. As a citizen, not just as a deputy and speaker, I am dissatisfied, of course, and regard it as constant self-deception on the part of certain bodies.” Abdurakhmanov added, however, that federal troops and the Chechen Interior Ministry had conducted “several effective operations and neutralized many militant leaders in Chechnya.”