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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tough Task Awaits Chechen Victor

GROZNY -- Chechnya's new president, Aslan Maskhadov, has just 10 days before he is inaugurated and his real work begins. Apart from independence from Russia, his top priorities are cracking down on crime and rebuilding the economy, he told Itar-Tass on Thursday.


Yet the career soldier faces a daunting task. Nearly every big enterprise is out of action, from Chechnya's five oil refineries to bread and milk factories. Some, like the Chiri-Yurt cement factory, once the largest in the Caucasus, is bombed beyond repair. Others, like the transport company in northern Grozny that was turned into a military base by the Russians, remain off-limits, completely ransacked and mined.


Fresh bread, sold straight out of vans in Grozny's market, still arrives daily from the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. Nearby in the labor market, men stand hunched against the cold, trying to pick up casual labor. There are some construction projects, but nothing like the level needed to lift the city and its workers out of poverty.


The one place where men are busy is in the weapons bazaar. Back in its old place on the far edge of the open-air market beside the billiard tables, the bazaar is thronged with young men selling pistols, silencers, and curved magazine clips for Kalashnikov assault rifles.


The postwar proliferation of weapons, together with unemployment, is largely responsible for the spiralling crime rate, particularly armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom.


Maskhadov has general political support for his policy of avoiding outright conflict with Russia. The only exception is rebel commander Salman Raduyev, who led the hostage raid on Dagestan a year ago. But Raduyev has few followers, and most Chechens discount his fiery rhetoric as empty posturing.


Shamil Basayev, who finished second in the presidential race, has said he would join the new government because he did not want to hinder Maskhadov's plans. He also said he would help stop any armed groups operating outside the law.


A major problem facing Maskhadov is how to pay his army and police, and indeed his own government, enough to keep them from abusing their power.


He is unlikely to receive much money from Moscow. Foreign investment is also likely to be small and centered on specific deals. Many in Chechnya, and even in Moscow, suggest the republic can live on proceeds from oil. But a closer look shows that Chechnya is not sitting on any great riches of black gold.


Newly discovered Caspian Sea reserves provide the greatest hopes for Chechnya's oil industry.


A proposed oil pipeline to carry Caspian Sea oil from Baku through Chechnya to Novorossiisk would bring Chechnya transport revenues.


Hussein Khamidov, minister of civil aviation in Chechnya's interim coalition government, has been trying for the past few months to resurrect Chechnya's state air company.


But the Russian army dismantled the control tower and utilities at the civilian airport when it withdrew, leaving little intact. With no funds except for proceeds from a small levy on tickets on the recently resumed twice-daily flights to Moscow, Khamidov is slowly getting his airport running.


He has hit no end of obstacles with the Russians. He reckons it would take him months of applications, commission reports and, in the end, money to return things to what they were. "Russia is very interested in not allowing us to build any sort of aviation base," he said.