One of the crowd-pleasing gestures made by the Russian authorities just prior to the March 23 constitutional referendum was the announcement that they would begin reducing the number of checkpoints along Chechnya’s main highways and intersections. It is widely agreed by both pro-Moscow and anti-Moscow Chechens that these time consuming checkpoints add little to security, and that they serve mainly as opportunities for Russian servicemen to exact bribes from Chechen drivers. In the April 17 issue of “Novaya gazeta,” correspondent Maidat Abdulaeva reported on their current status.
Along one twelve-mile stretch of road leading from Achkhoi-Martan to the border with Ingushetia, the Novaya gazeta reporter found that eight checkpoints are still in operation–turning what should be a fifteen-minute drive into a two-hour one. At each of these points a driver must get out of his car, open the trunk, and pay a bribe of about 20 rubles, even if the trunk is empty. If it is full–or if he is driving on a weekend–the price goes up significantly.
Yevgeny Abrashin, the military commissar for Chechnya, announced two months ago that one-fifth of the sixty checkpoints then functioning in the republic would be dismantled. But according to Abdulaeva, the true number of checkpoints was then and remains today far greater than sixty; in the Urus-Martanovsky district alone she has counted more than thirty. And after Abrashin’s announcement she found that the checkpoints were actually multiplying rather than shrinking. Two were conspicuously removed in Grozny, but within two days several new ones had been established elsewhere–for example, on the outskirts of the village of Assinovskaya.
“Many of the servicemen at the special police posts have managed to study the Chechen language rather well,” wrote Abdulaeva. “Sometimes they ask in Chechen ‘Tyuma lo!’ (‘Give me a tenner!’).” Another technique is to demand that the driver present “form number 10” or “form number 20”-meaning 10 rubles, 20 rubles and so on.