Contrary to the impression fostered by Kremlin spokesmen, Chechnya’s highways still have an extensive network of military checkpoints that are used by federal soldiers to extort bribes from civilians. In a recent article for the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung, Chechen journalist Mainat Abdulaeva reported that an ordinary driver of an ordinary automobile could expect to pay from 20 to 50 rubles to be allowed through a checkpoint. (Though this is the equivalent of only about 60 cents to US$1.60 U.S at the market exchange rate, it is a substantial sum for today’s impoverished Chechens.) A bus driver pays from 50 to 100 rubles. If one is willing to pay a large enough bribe, one can slip any dubious cargo through the checkpoints—including, of course, weapons. Grozny is only about 60 kilometers from the border of Ingushetia; along that relatively short stretch of highway, wrote Abdulaeva, stand some 18 checkpoints.
The journalist interviewed a “kontraktnik”—i.e. a “professional” soldier who has volunteered to serve for extra combat pay, as distinct from a draftee—who had himself paid a bribe of US$500 to his superiors in order to be assigned to an especially lucrative checkpoint. This 30-year-old mercenary from Kursk in central Russia obviously considered such investments worthwhile; he had chosen to return to Chechnya after three previous tours of duty there.