Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 10

Perhaps the most significant reason why the policy of “Chechenization” – aptly described in the February 23 issue of Chechnya Weekly by Andrei Smirnov as a policy intended “to make Chechens fight Chechens in order to save the lives of Russian soldiers and to transfer the burden of war on to the local authorities” – is likely to fail has to do with the conditions under which Chechens are forced to live today. How do we know what present-day Chechens think about the conditions under which they must live? The Institute of Social Marketing, a public opinion research firm headed by the well-known sociologist Sergei Khaikin, has employed 75 interviewers to do polling in 75 Chechen population points since the fall of 2002. These polls, while perhaps shaded somewhat in a pro-Moscow direction, generally reflect the views of the Chechen populace.

The first feature that strikes one in perusing a summary of the most recent poll conducted by Khaikin’s organization – its findings were posted in the December 16 kavkaz-forum.ru – is the desperate poverty afflicting many Chechens today. Fourteen percent of respondents reported that they did not have sufficient money to buy food, while 33 percent said that they had enough money for food but not for clothing. Thus, according to this poll, 47 percent of residents of the Chechen Republic are experiencing major difficulty in obtaining food or clothing. In the southern part of the republic, almost two-thirds, 63 percent, reported that they were unable to buy either food or clothing. Notably, 46 percent of those who support the independence of Chechnya from Russia also experience difficulty in purchasing food or clothing.

Another significant factor is that of housing. Today, 12 percent of Chechen respondents report that their house or apartment remains in a completely destroyed condition; an additional 28 percent state that their dwellings have suffered major damage. Only in the region north of the Terek River is the situation notably better: there, 72 percent report that their homes are in a normal condition.

And what about other basic necessities of life? There is, it seems, some positive news to report: 97 percent of respondents state that they have electricity in their residences and 83 percent say that they have gas (though only 37 percent report having gas in the southern districts). By contrast, only 12 percent of the populace report that they have cold running water in their homes, and only four percent have hot water. A mere 12 percent of the populace are served by a sewer system, most of them living in Grozny. The remainder must make do with primitive outhouses that are an obvious challenge to use during cold Caucasian winters.

The Chechen populace, Khaikin’s organization discovered, is being paid some benefits and some pensions, but the amounts on offer are apparently so low that they do not significantly improve the position of the populace. Forty-four percent of young people (48 percent in the south) state that they are presently unemployed and that they receive some minimal unemployment compensation. Highly significantly, 46 percent of those who are unemployed also maintain that they support the independence of Chechnya from Russia. Thus there is a clear, visible connection between unemployment and support for the separatist cause.

Asked to assess the effectiveness of the federal authorities in restoring the economy and the social sphere of the republic, 47 percent of respondents evaluate this activity as unsatisfactory while 40 percent say that it is satisfactory. Only ten percent rate it as successful. In the city of Grozny, 55 percent of respondents assess the activity of the authorities as unsatisfactory.

Given the hard, almost unbearable, conditions existing in Chechnya, it is not surprising that a number of Chechens now want to leave the republic. Thirty-nine percent of the populace as a whole would like to leave Chechnya, while a striking 33 percent would like to move abroad. Eighty-six percent of the older generation and 73 percent of people entirely lacking any education want to remain in the republic, but 51 percent of Chechen youth and 38 percent of those with a higher education want to go abroad. Only six percent of the populace would like to move to a different region of Russia, a sentiment presumably reflecting a fear of widespread and growing ethnic Russian xenophobia.

Another key dimension of the crisis in Chechnya is the ecological devastation of the republic. The newspaper Novye izvestiya reported on December 17 that there exists an “oncological epidemic” in the republic. Two hundred seventeen out of every 1,000 residents are said to be suffering from lung cancer; this figure is five to seven times the rate in neighboring regions. The burning of crude oil and coal are reported to be largely behind this cancer epidemic. The water supply of the republic has also been seriously contaminated. Only 30 percent of the water in Chechnya is considered safe to drink; oil and other contaminants have seeped widely into the ground water.

It seems clear that a massive infusion of funds, accompanied by a system of financial transparency, is necessary to resurrect the republic and to rehabilitate the rapidly failing policy of Chechenization. But such a reform is exceedingly unlikely to be implemented. On February 26, Dmitry Kozak, the plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern Federal District, confided that over the past four years 62 billion rubles ($2 billion) have been invested by Russia in the restoration of Chechnya. “Up until now,” he then added pointedly, “the coefficient of useful activity from these investments has been very low.” This was presumably an understated way of noting that most of the funds earmarked for restoration had been embezzled. If the $2 billion Kozak mentioned had in fact been spent on Chechen restoration, then the polling results discussed above might have been markedly different.

Last November, the pro-Moscow president of Chechnya, Alu Alkhanov, complained to Ekho Moskvy radio that, “Chechnya’s 70 percent jobless rate drives young men desperate to earn money into the arms of rebels fighting Russia.” Alkhanov underscored that “70 percent of the 620,000 working-age Chechens are out of work.” As can be seen, Alkhanov’s figures on Chechen unemployment seem to be even higher than those revealed by Khaikin’s polling.

One well-known younger Russian economist, Mikhail Delyagin, a member of the brain trust of the Rodina party, underscored in kavkaz-forum.ru on February 2 that without transparency and financial control, the funds sent to Chechnya must necessarily serve to stimulate corruption. Following Akhmad Kadyrov’s assassination last year, Delyagin recalled, Russian economics minister German Gref had traveled to Chechnya and warned, appropriately, that the federal center would cease financing the republic since the funds being allocated were being poured down the drain. This was, Delyagin believes, a correct position for Gref to take, but the very next day Gref was forced to retreat from his principled position and to advocate that funds continue to be allocated to the republic.

“The fact that Grozny looks the way we sometimes see it on television and the fact that there is no running water in many cities,” Delyagin warned, “is very serious.” Delyagin also emphasized his conviction that the key issue of unemployment in Chechnya “is to a significant degree connected with restoring the [republic’s] infrastructure.” In Delyagin’s view, the solution to Chechnya’s immense problems appears to be quite simple: put the republic’s unemployed populace to work restoring Chechnya’s infrastructure. The Kremlin, Delyagin noted, would be happy to receive funds for such a project from the West but would not want “those funds to be under Western control.”

The war in Chechnya, therefore, is highly likely to continue through the entirety to Putin’s second term – that is, until 2008 – due to the all-pervasive corruption and bespredel (anarchy) obtaining in Russia. A state that lacks rule of law and financial transparency will predictably prove incapable of restoring Chechnya or of providing jobs to an impoverished and disaffected populace. The Chechen conflict will continue.

John B. Dunlop is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an expert on Russia’s two wars in Chechnya, nationalism in the former Soviet Union, Russian cultural politics, and the politics of religion in Russia.