WHY PRESIDENT PUTIN VISITED CHECHNYA

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On the eve of Easter March 14 President Vladimir Putin visited Chechnya. Although his visit was brief and unexpected, he had to solve a number of important economic and military problems in the republic. Meanwhile, it seems that during the visit to Chechnya military issues dominated. This is confirmed at least by the fact that Putin took only Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, and Media Minister Mikhail Lesin (the latter is responsible for information countermeasures) with him. Putin also connected all discussed economic problems with solving of security problems and troops operations.

Returning from the visit the night of April 15, Putin announced that the main reasons for his working visit to Chechnya on Saturday were the need to meet with authorities of the republic and to pay the tribute to the memory of the paratroopers from the Pskov Division killed a year ago.

Although such answer can be considered incomplete, because in a previous meeting with journalists in Khankala the president announced that he went to Chechnya to solve the problems of financing of the federal forces group in Chechnya. He said that he was going to summarize the financial and material needs for restoring the Chechen economy and provision of security on site, and to make the relevant decisions proceeding from his observations.

Judging by Putin’s statements it is possible to say that he is concerned with relations between the security agencies represented in Chechnya and republic’s authorities. He did not gather all of them together by chance. It is interesting that the meeting took place in the headquarters of the federal forces group, and not in Gudermes, where the residence of the administration of Akhmad Kadyrov is located. However, this does not mean that Putin trusts the military more than the civilian authorities of Chechnya. Khankala was evidently chosen for security reasons: the headquarters in Khankala is better guarded than the residence of civilian officials in Gudermes.

Commenting on the meeting in Khankala Putin emphasized that he intentionally held the meeting in the format that he did, inviting both the military and civil officials. He added, “They spoke with interest, and sometimes with emotion, but with awareness of the situation.” He pointed out that one of the main tasks in the region was establishment of productive interaction between officers of security agencies and local authorities. “We will not be able to complete the tasks of restoring Chechnya without relying on local population,” stressed the president, adding, “it is high time to restore order and the economy by relying on the local population.”

Such a policy has been proclaimed before. For this purpose Kadyrov was appointed the head of Chechen Administration instead of General Nikolai Koshman. Garrisons were stationed almost in every locality in Chechnya. The garrisons included the Army, federal Interior Ministry units, and local police. However the garrisons are not efficient enough yet. Hence the security of economic activities is threatened. The decreasing effectiveness of the federal troops aggravates this factor. Federal forces are still needed in Chechnya. Speaking in Khankala the President confirmed that Russia would keep as many troops in Chechnya as necessary, depending on the situation.

Meanwhile, the situation is alarming because contract servicemen who are unhappy with their wages are terminating their contracts and leaving units deployed in Chechnya. Experts comment that over the last six months after transition from the military to the special phase of the antiterrorist operation the motivation of officers and warrant officers has weakened. Among them there are also people who refuse to go to this “hot spot,” like during the first Chechen campaign. This is especially characteristic for those who have to serve in the Army and Interior Forces units permanently stationed in Chechnya.

The problem is that when the military enlistment and registration officer recruit people to go to Chechnya they promise them payment of so-called “combat pay” of 850 to 950 rubles a day, but in reality the situation is different. April 16 Colonel-General Vladislav Putilin, director of the Main Mobilization Department of the General Staff, reports that a very limited circle of servicemen participating in special operations receive “combat pay.” At present it is not the Defense Minister who decides how much to pay (as had been the case), but rather Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev, who is in charge of the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya now.

However, even the money really due to servicemen does not come to them. Speaking in Khankala, Putin focused the attention of the press on his indignation regarding delay of payments to soldiers and officers fulfilling their Constitutional duty in the North Caucasus. “People are risking their lives to restore the Constitutional order, but aren’t getting their money on time,” stated Putin.

After his visit to Chechnya the President held a meeting with the government in the Kremlin April 16, demanding that the government solve the problem of financing Chechnya. “The Finance Minister says that there are no problems on the part of his ministry, and what has been planned is being assigned on time,” said Putin. He presumed that the problem was in the Federal Security Service and in the Defense Ministry.

This assumption is evidently true. After replacement of command of the group of federal forces in Chechnya with the Federal Securities Service, irregularities in troops financing began. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin explained that the delay in transfering the so-called “combat pay” to Russian servicemen in Chechnya was caused by “technical difficulties.” In his interview with ORT he confirmed that no money was being transferred to Chechnya for this purpose. “However, the problem is not the absence of money, because the money was fully assigned every month. The money was not transferred because orders were not issued for payment of these sums,” said Kudrin. He reiterated that “a new phase of the operation in Chechnya began in March, and the Federal Security Service has commanded the operation since then.”

Meanwhile, President Putin visited Chechnya not only to “accelerate” payment of “combat pay.” Some sources reported that he visited Chechnya to evaluate the opportunities for financing the troops in Chechnya according to the old scheme (that is, to broaden the circle of servicemen that will receive “combat pay” to include the soldiers and officers serving at checkpoints and in especially dangerous zones, members of commandant’s companies participating in mop-up operations, and so on). This measure would make the military service in Chechnya more attractive.

According to the web site Strana.Ru. President Putin spoke about this problem during his meeting April 12 with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin, when the military officials reported to the President about the death of a Russian peacekeeper in Kosovo. In addition to other problems Putin focused attention of the military officials on the fact that the risk to which the servicemen were exposed is much higher than in Kosovo, but the wages in Chechnya are several times lower than the wages of Russian servicemen within KFOR. Military officials consider this difference unjust. To study the situation on site the President went to Chechnya.

Putin was prime minister in August 1999, and compared the wages of Russian servicemen in Kosovo and in the North Caucasus. It was at his initiative that participants in the anti-terrorist operation started receiving “combat pay” for the first time in the post-Soviet history.

Officers of the Defense Ministry hope that the President will also decide to increase compensations for the servicemen operating in Chechnya. At least, the President already instructed the relevant agencies to consider this issue a long time ago.

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