Members of a special police rapid reaction force (SOBR) from the city of Cherepovets have sent an appeal to President Vladimir Putin and the Russian authorities, asking them to improve the conditions of service for army and police personnel in the Chechen military operation. The Cherepovets policemen said the main problem for servicemen in Chechnya was the failure of the authorities to pay salaries. During the early days of the current military campaign, which began in September 1999, Russian servicemen in Chechnya were paid on time and the salaries were relatively high, with officers receiving some US$$1,000 a month and other soldiers receiving US$500-900. Shortly after the March 2000 presidential elections, however, salaries for servicemen in Chechnya were cut significantly, with the higher salaries continuing only for members of reconnaissance and sapper units and salary payments becoming more irregular. The Cherepovets SOBR unit members called on the authorities to limit tours of duty in Chechnya to two months, to use special units in Chechnya for appropriate tasks and to pay salaries on time. The problem of financing the Chechen operation has become so acute that special police units bound for Chechnya have even been forced to seek out private sponsors for food, uniforms and even weapons. “We hope that common sense will win out and that our demands will be met,” the message from the Cherepovets SOBR unit members read. “Otherwise we see no sense in our further participation in the Chechen adventure.”
In calling the Chechen military operation “an adventure,” the Cherepovets SOBR unit members were apparently referring to financial machination by the Russian military leadership in Chechnya. There is a widespread impression that rather than trying to prevail militarily in Chechnya, the Russian military leadership there has a stake in the opposite outcome. Indeed, the longer that rebel field commanders like Shamil Basaev and Khattab and their forces continue to fight, the longer the federal government will supply the military leadership with funds for paying the salaries of Russian servicemen based in the breakaway republic. The problem, however, is that most of this money ends up in the pockets of those who are supposed to be paying the salaries, not those who are fighting in Chechnya’s woods and mountains (Radio Liberty, April 5).
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