What changes await Chechnya? (weekly review)
By Vadim Borshchev, special to Prague Watchdog
Nothing will change. Well, of course some things will change a little. For example, there will be an increase in Chechnya’s budget allocations for imported goods. This may have the effect of reducing the cost of these products, but one somehow doesn’t have much faith that this will happen. Common sense suggests that even if prices do fall, they will do so only slightly, and not noticeably.
It’s more likely that the additional revenues from customs and international flights will be used to patch up the holes in the budget that have already appeared since the decision for federal funding for Chechnya to be cut by 30 percent. And that is only for starters. Yet the requirements will not change – they will actually grow. The image of the great builder such as mankind has never known before must be constantly reinforced by hundreds and thousands of foundation pits for new construction that have been dug across the whole republic. Next year there are plans to put a hundred fountains into service in Grozny. That is only one example.
Extra money will also be needed to supply expensive cars for the big-name guest artistes from Russia who are being brought to the republic in their droves. And the Chechens themselves will need some gifts. Here, however, the presents are more simple – the cars are mostly Russian-made. A popular attraction is the distribution of cash. It’s very common for a nice girl or handsome boy to be given a couple of thousand dollars for putting in a well-phrased word about the leader’s great accomplishments. Many are the diversions of youth: the priciest cars, million-dollar Arab racehorses, a private zoo....
So one should not count on the likelihood that a new customs house and international flights will increase the citizens’ welfare. Everything is already in good shape, and soon it will be even better.
The withdrawal of a large contingent of the Russian troops (there is talk of 25,000 men – half of the total federal grouping) somehow also does not give occasion for rejoicing. Of late these troops have been almost invisible. And inaudible. Well, there are some pops and bangs up in the mountains somewhere, helicopters fly about now and then, or a lonely armoured column sits squeezed in at the side of the road. So it will all remain. The other 25,000 – the Ministry of Defence’s 46th Brigade and 4nd Regiment, which are deployed on a permanent basis and will not be withdrawn – have artillery and aircraft. It’s possible that now they will now only move about and engage in fire by agreement with the Chechen authorities. Or when those authorities allow them to do so, or ask them to.
As for the struggle against the internal foe, that has long been the task of the whole of the army that is under the aegis of the Chechen interior ministry. The exact size of the official armed forces is unknown, but it’s said that the Chechen law enforcers number no less than 25,000. But even a smaller force would be sufficient to keep the republic under control. As before, the supporters, the sympathizers, and those who are simply considered to be untrustworthy will disappear without a trace. Formerly, the only people one could complain to about the federals were the human rights workers – if one was lucky enough to make a note of the number of the armoured personnel carrier, one could try to find out where someone had been taken and make an attempt to secure their freedom. But these Chechen troops won’t listen to any complaints, and if anyone falls into their hands they will not release them again.
There is another possibility, though it is less likely. As in neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan, the federal security services will retain a high degree of autonomy. After all, Medvedev has said that the FSB must keep the situation in Chechnya under its control. In that case, counter-terrorist operations will be launched on a place-by-place basis – throughout the territory of a district or a village. And in the process the methods of conducting special operations will not change one iota.
For some reason human rights workers seem to hope that after the special restrictions are lifted they will be able to monitor the actions of the law enforcers more closely and require them to comply with the law. Why do they suppose this? Do they really think that Chechnya is about to have independent courts of law, freedom of the media, freedom of speech that is not of the kind that’s ferried to official demonstrations in chartered buses? On the subject of the prosecutor's office I had better say nothing..
Indeed, the situation in Russia as a whole is not very inspiring. The organs of government are in a rage. The authorities bear down on every front. But here in Chechnya there is a particular sort of regime where any word uttered in anger and addressed to the wrong place or person may very easily have a lethal outcome. While one expects that in other parts of the world the formal lifting of legal restrictions would gradually lead to the restoration of the institutions of law and civil control, in Chechnya the trend is very different. Here, year by year, although there are parliaments and law courts, and virtually all the constitutional organs of power, the usurper’s power will only grow stronger and become less bashful. So there is not much to hope for.
One thing has really changed. Previously there was a hope that at least Moscow (also not the best option, but an option, at any rate) might restrain the ruler’s luxuriant imagination, but now there is no one in whom one might place such a hope. The people are now left alone with a ruler who is out of control. By his decision to lift the restrictions of the counter-terrorist operations, and by other deeds no less glorious, he has shown that he is capable of crushing any decision in the Kremlin. They forgive him any mischief, and mournfully put visas in any passport.
What will come next? One may assume that it is now time for two of the favourite ideas of the late Akhmat Kadyrov to be dusted down. Just before his death, he had agreed with Putin that most of the proceeds from Chechen oil would remain in the republic. Since one of the parties to the agreement was assassinated, this project was put on hold. But that by no means signified that Grozny had given up hope of one day bringing it to fruition. The second item is the parliamentary bill on special economic conditions, which would grant Chechnya the status of an offshore zone. The bill was safely "killed” by Moscow, but now it looks as though the time has come for this topic, too, to be discussed. Not because the Kremlin is particularly inclined to support these ideas. Simply because it is ready to give everything away, and to stop asking for things from that meagre distance which remains before Chechnya acquires complete de facto independence.
Previous weekly reviews can be read at http://www.watchdog.cz/weekly.
(Translation by DM)