Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 16

On May 29, President Putin declared that, “The primary task at present is the creation of a [pro-Moscow Chechen] ministry of internal affairs.” This structure, he added, must assume “the basic responsibility for the situation in Chechnya.” Elections of a Chechen head of the republic, Putin said, “can take place only after the final normalization of political life in Chechnya” (RIA Novosti, May 29).

Discussing the question of the formation of a pro-Moscow Chechen MVD–an issue directly tied to the process of “Chechenization”–in the May 29 issue of Moskovskie Novosti, a leading journalist, Sanobar Shermatova, remarked that, “The arbitrariness of the [Russian] soldiers can be halted only when the republic has its own law enforcement structures. A decision concerning this was taken a long time ago, and the leadership of the [Moscow-based] MVD promised that by May [of 2002] a full-fledged ministry of internal affairs would be active in Chechnya. However, in the opinion of many, this decision has been simply sabotaged. A special commission of the State Duma for political regulation and the observance of human rights in Chechnya also came to this conclusion. At a session of that commission on May 14, serious passions were manifested. The commission’s chairman, Valentin Nikitin, addressing representatives of the [Russia-wide] MVD, asked: ‘Why don’t you tell us straight out that you don’t trust the Chechens?’ And Nikitin’s deputy, Duma member Aslambek Aslakhanov, a retired police general, added: ‘They are doing everything possible to demean the Chechen employees of the organs of internal affairs.'”

According to Shermatova, acute dissatisfaction on the part of the Duma deputies was also elicited by the fact that the Russia-wide MVD is currently “refusing to let many experienced police employees, who happen to be Chechens and who live in Moscow, to return to Chechnya and work according to their specialty within the structures of internal affairs. For this reason, the [pro-Moscow Chechen] ministry, which was to have been formed by this May, has to this day not been staffed.” Shermatova noted that it was the pro-Moscow police who were now serving as the primary target for the separatists: “Precisely they bear the basic losses in the ‘mine’ war with the rebels. Every day two-to-three [pro-Moscow] policemen die from bullets fired by unknown persons and from explosives.”

At the end of 2001, Shermatova recalled in her account, Colonel Said Peskhoev was appointed head of the pro-Moscow Chechen police. “The appointment to the post of head of the police of Chechnya of a Chechen by nationality,” she wrote, “took place after a number of nomenklatura ‘battles’ and was seen by the [pro-Moscow] civilian authorities of the republic as a major victory. In response, the opponents of the Chechen authorities have for a long time been putting the brakes on the formation of a full-fledged MVD.” Currently the staffing level of the pro-Moscow Chechen police is a mere 14 percent of what it is supposed to be.

In an interview with Kommersant Vlast (May 28 issue), Lieutenant Colonel Akhmed Dakaev, chief of staff of the pro-Moscow Chechen MVD, affirmed that, by August of this year, all functions for the preserving of legal order will be transferred to the Chechen police; by September, he insisted, Chechnya will have its own MVD. “By September,” Dakaev predicted, “the number of the Chechen militia will reach 10,000 persons. All those who have been assigned here [from elsewhere in Russia] will go home–to Vologda, Penza and Saratov, while in Chechnya there will remain [only] advisors who will aid the Chechen police–the investigators and operatives. Each district will have approximately 20-30 such advisors.”

Writing in the May 31 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, however, journalist Il’ya Maksakov offered a different interpretation of the same process discussed by Dakaev. “A permanent [pro-Moscow Chechen] ministry of internal affairs,” Maksakov wrote, “will be created in all districts of the republic, but temporary units–consisting of police sent in from the Russian regions–will continue to maintain the commanding role, not to speak of the military commandants’ offices and other [Russian] military units which will retain the real power in Chechnya.”

What kind of officer-soldiers are currently staffing the incipient pro-Moscow Chechen MVD? An article entitled “Only Blood Vengeance Can Stop the Bandits,” authored by journalist Ol’ga Allenova, appearing in the May 28 issue of Kommersant Vlast, provided useful information concerning this subject. Visiting a unit of the elite pro-Moscow OMON police commandos based in Grozny (Djohar), Allenova and a companion, news photographer Valery Mel’nikov, learned to their surprise that “with the withdrawal of [Russian] forces, the republic will return to ancient Chechen customary laws [adat], the first of which is blood vengeance.” “Why have you come here to serve?” she asked one OMON officer, Aslan. “My brother served here,” he answered. “They [the separatists] killed him. I am going to take blood for him.”

The commander of the pro-Moscow OMON unit based in the Chechen capital is Musa Gazimagomadov. “After the defeat in the first war,” Allenova wrote, “Gazimagomadov, who at that time, too, had been a commander of the OMON, left for Moscow, where, together with his deputy, Buladi, he engaged in business.” The two produced fizzy bottled water and made quite a profit in this enterprise. “When the second war began, Musa and Buladi returned to Chechnya. Musa was called the right hand of Bislan Gantamirov, because, together, they liberated Urus-Martan district from the rebels.” It is said, Allenova continued her account, “that Gazimagomadov is feared even by the [separatist] field commanders. After the death in April of sixteen OMON, Musa declared blood vengeance against the rebels of Zelimkhan Akhmadov and personally against Akhmadov. Several days later, Akhmadov himself sent the OMON commander a note saying: ‘Don’t make me your blood enemy. My people did not touch your people.'”

Gazimagomadov vigorously defended the need to take blood vengeance: “I speak,” he told Allenova, “that which can defend my people. It was a big mistake when they began to forget about blood vengeance in Chechnya. They [the separatists] think that if we wear a [Russian] uniform, then we can’t take revenge against them for our friends or our relatives. But they are mistaken.” And Buladi, Gazimagomadov’s deputy, underlined: “A civil war is currently taking place here. Chechens are fighting Chechens.”

(In a subsequent conversation with the pro-Moscow first deputy mayor of Grozny, Ibragim Yasuev, Allenova asked: “Tell us about blood vengeance.” “That’s good adat,” Yasuev replied. “Earlier, before the 1990s, it was rarely applied. Now to kill someone is no different than drinking a cup of coffee. Previously people lived in peace and felt fear. They knew that if someone killed someone, there would be no peace for his relations from the relatives of the person killed. It’s an ancient law…In Chechnya you will not introduce order by normal methods! Things have gone too far. No one fears the law. They fear lawlessness. If you elevate our adats to the rank of law, then no other laws will be necessary.”)

Going out on patrol with Gazimagomadov’s OMON unit, Allenova observed the unit’s vendetta philosophy in action. Three armed young men were arrested and handcuffed after a sweep of a local marketplace. “To each of them, the OMON went up and began to beat them about the legs,” while making threatening statements. “What did you say to them,” Allenova asked one of the OMON men, Ali. “The words interest you?” Ali responded. “I said: ‘If you, you wretch, blew up our lads, then we’ll tear you to pieces in front of your comrade. If you didn’t do it, then tell us who did.'”

In addition to an expected animus held against the separatists, the OMON personnel also had a low opinion of the Russian soldiers based in the republic. “Putin,” one of them remarked to Allenova, “blurted out that the war has ended. Then why are there so many of them [Russian soldiers] here? There are checkpoints all about and cleansing operations, while the people suffer. And for that reason there is a different attitude toward us. You, they say, are helping the Russians, while the Russians are killing and torturing us. Do you think that it is easy to work when your neighbor, with whom you have grown up, looks at you with eyes full of hatred?”

Going to a Russian military unit based in Grozny to spend the night, Allenova and her colleague discovered that the Chechen OMON’s dislike of the Russians was being more than reciprocated. Two Russian officers came up to them and offered to share a bottle of vodka. One of them, a major, asked provocatively: “Why are you having dealings with the black-asses? Haven’t they robbed and killed enough people?” “What are you saying?” Allenova and Mel’nikov responded indignantly, “They’re fighting with the bandits.” “I myself am in intelligence,” the other officer, a captain, replied, “Whatever they tell you about their operations has been sewn together with white thread. These savages don’t recognize any laws. All they know is how to slit throats. You mentioned blood vengeance. What [Russian] law is that compatible with?… Do you think that they can do anything serious?”

To sum up, the contentious formation of a pro-Moscow Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs–a key element in the Kremlin-sponsored program of Chechenization–represents a complex process, replete with pitfalls and numerous difficulties. Many of the Russian soldiers and police based in the republic exhibit a quasi-racial repugnance for the pro-Moscow Chechens, who themselves are scarcely enamored of the Russians. In addition, the current strategy of the pro-Moscow police appears to revolve around the ancient Chechen practice of “blood vengeance.” None of this would seem to provide any grounds for optimism concerning the republic’s future.