Chechnya Through the Eyes of a Russian Journalist
Anastasya Krilenko, a journalist from Radio Svoboda, has recently visited the Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and shared what she saw there.
Skyscrapers, a mosque, expensive restaurants, and ambitious tourism ideas… Am I forgetting anything about Chechnya? After a two and a half hour flight from Moscow to Grozny, I managed to find many interesting things. For example, Grozny is ready for “dry law”. “Kadyrov has forbidden alcohol,” said a young Chechen named Aslan. He also talks about his life, how he continued his schooling during war time, stopped lessons, and his days in a tent with his parents. “Everybody hopes for a generation which will not remember the war. But to be honest, two years ago, the situation was more or less calm,” says Aslan.
In the “Hotel Terek” where I stayed, I was met by a huge soccer ball mounted on the ceiling, and portraits of Haji Akhmed Kadyrov and Ramzan Kadyrov. Diego Maradona and other soccer stars had stayed in this hotel during their visits. There were only two guests at the time though, me and my colleague in this huge hotel which has a pool and a snooker, also. The hotel had been built two years ago specifically for the “Terek” football team. Normally the players stay and train in Kislovodsk, a Russian spa town which is 250 kms from the Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, but when they have their games in Grozny, the players stay in this hotel. “Now the team isn’t here, but even if they were here, we don’t allow locals to see them, only special guests,” said the hotel clerk. “And why aren’t the locals allowed?” I am puzzled. “Yes, here the orgies are organized. Even the [pro-Russian] head of the republic is the way,” says the clerk. Well, if the [pro-Russian] head of the republic advocated, the action can be taken, there is no doubt about it.
“If he goes in his motorcade and sees a girl in a short skirt on the roadside, then he can open the window and start yelling right out the car,” said a local resident in Grozny named Madina. However, in Grozny, a girl in a short skirt or a girl without a headscarf is seen rarely.
The [pro-Russian] police present their moral values in the form of public service announcements on “Putin Avenue” (former Victory Avenue) with a huge banner in the Chechen language: “Scarf-Pride of Chechen Women”. The author of these words is Ramzan Kadyrov, the letters “R.K.”, “RK”, “KRA”, “RAK” are his signature all around the country.
If you see black cars with the plate numbers “KRA”, it is better not to take photos, say locals. This abbreviation stands for “Kadyrov Ramzan Akhmadovich”.
We are moving towards the center of Grozny, and suddenly the driver begins to swear: “once again a motorcade…”. All the roads are blocked and we sit in a traffic jam. Finally after 20 minutes, the road is swept by three black jeeps. “It’s his security service. And Kadyrov was in one of the 25-30 cars in the motorcade,” said the driver.
I also took photos of “Grozny City”. A skyscraper with 30-40 floors causes an unreal feeling: “Are we in Grozny or Dubai?”
The new rain fills the streets of Grozny with ankle-deep water, making accidents common. On June 30, all the day passed for repairing the accidents. It is no surprise, restaurants for example, they didn’t stop the work, proposed improvisational hand washing. “Houses were built, but drains are forgotten. And they built the roads quickly, but how long will they last?” say the locals. Indeed, during recent heavy rains blotted out the highway into the villages.
But the main problem of the reconstructed Chechnya is unemployment. The residents of Chechnya say that in today’s Chechnya the best paid job is working for the [pro-Russian] government. During Soviet times, there were refineries and chemical industries in Grozny, and today, there is nothing. “Why, they constructed a lot of things, but didn’t even restore at least one factory?”, this simple question comes to the minds of many local people.
According to a businessman and politician Shamil Beno who was former Foreign Minister of Dudaev’s Ichkeria government, Ramzan Kadyrov is still young and didn’t think of it yet. But these so-called advisers don’t dare offer these ideas to the head of the [pro-Russian] Chechen government.
“I ask myself, perhaps they don’t want the reconstruction of industry, because they want to keep Chechnya dependant on Russian federal subsidies?” said a local journalist. Her job is only reporting the positive news, thus it’s impossible to put her real name in this report.
The company “Rosneft” has begun to build a small refinery in the Zavodsky district of Grozny. According to them, today Chechnya produces about 2 million tons of petrol per year, and 90% of it preserved.
Salambek Khadzhiev, former Minister of Oil Industry of the USSR and corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences said in one of his interviews: “In Grozny, there were three refineries and a chemical branch. During the Soviet period, 20 million tons of petrol was processed in Grozny. And it was same from the 1970’s until the 1990’s”.
This is a very big amount. In addition, a high depth of oil refining. At first, it had its own oil. Then there was also a pipeline from Western Siberia to Baku. Once in Grozny, its first polyethylene released. Today, of course these refineries in Grozny don’t exist anymore.
But how did it happen? All of these plants were accidentally bombed?
“I think that it was on purpose. In 1995 all the refineries and factories could be saved. However, in 2000 all these were gone. In the defeating of factories and refineries, both sides of the war were involved. And its equipment exported through Russia by the Russian government, mainly through the port of Novorossiysk to Turkey. Grozny refineries melted into metal in Turkey,” said Khadzhiev.
Is it possible to restore the industry now?
“In the broadest sense, it is the restoration of oil industry. After the reconstruction, the Grozny Oil Institute can begin to work. If it happens, it will employ a thousand people. But it has to start somehow,” said Salambek Khadzhiev.
According to local residents, the announced building of refineries on the outskirts of Grozny stopped. A confirmation or refutation of this fact couldn’t be taken by the [pro-Russian] authorities even at the official request of Radio Liberty around a half of month ago.
I met a few “Europeans” who have lived several years in Europe as asylum seekers and returned to their homeland. Some are perfect in the German language, some in English, French, or Dutch. I talked with Rustam, one of these “Europeans”, in the “Japan-Hut” restaurant. The menu serves “IPad” and you call the waiter with a special button. The prices are also close to Moscow’s. All these things are typical but kind of bizarre for Chechnya, which is undergoing a reconstruction process, and suffers from unemployment. Rustam said that when he returned to Chechnya, he started to work with the French experts who want to build a ski resort in Veduchi – the ancestral village of Chechen businessman Ruslan Baisarov. “Let’s go there, we will drive, this is what can turn into great photos,” we offer. “You know, we should wait another couple of months. While there are no buildings, nothing can be seen, there is just preliminary exploration,” replied Rustam cautiously, and we’re going nowhere.
“Is it possible to get to the construction site near Itum-Kale, even after a couple of months?” With the penetration of correspondents in the area can be difficult, even in the Shatoy region, the [so-called] counter-terrorist operation (CTO) is still de facto in force. Itum-Kale is further down the road into the mountains. According to the [pro-Russian] deputy chief of Shatoy district staff, Shadid Chabagaeva, recently some journalists were fined in Itum-Kale for lack of permission from the FSB and were deported from there. However, such permits are officially no longer needed if the formal abolition of CTO has a means, but in reality the security services have a different opinion and you have to have a special permission.
But after all, a mountain resort will work there, even if the people who surrounded Kadyrov don’t believe it. Of course, the critics ask not to be named. Why did this embed Ruslan Baysarov? Shamil Beno’s answer is not surprising, all Chechen businessmen have the social responsibility for restoring Chechnya, he said.
A journalist from the local media is more categorical: “No matter where the Chechen businessmen live, Kadyrov’s men visit and ask them to invest in Chechnya. But, can they refuse it?.. Recently, Chechen oil tycoon Ziya Bazhayev who lives in Kiev, refused to invest in Chechnya, and all his names were removed from the posts in Chechnya. This can be a rumor, maybe it’s the only reason that Kadyrov himself has recently criticized Bazhayev on television”.
On the road from Grozny to Shatoy, our car was stopped at a check point. A man in uniform, asked for the purpose of my visit while waving his gun and then let us to continue. The road is surrounded by wooded mountains, sometimes smoke is visible because of the Russian military deployed here.
In the Shatoy region, our question is whether life is the same as in Soviet times when it was a well developed agricultural area? “What farming? The grasslands are mined, we cannot raise cattle. The alpine grasslands are lost…,” said Shahid Chabagayev, [pro-Russian] administrator of Shatoy region. He also says that “only five people” died during the last year due to the detonation of land mines.
Why don’t they clear the mine fields? The Russian army refuses to extract their own mines. The versions of local population are very different. For example, one of them is “Perhaps the Russian authorities aren’t sure yet whether or not the mines will be necessary again”.
In Vedeno, we pass through many villages. Each village has a street named “A.H. Kadyrov”, my driver Sharpuddi laughs and says that “Earlier all of these were Lenin Street”. Along the way, he shows me another landmark, the house of Shamil Basayev, or rather its ruins.
*Text was translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco