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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Looting, Neglect Suck Chechnya Dry

Oil, metals and other valuables are being spirited out of Chechnya in enormous quantities by thieves — many in federal military uniform — while a trickle of Russian government funding headed back into the region seems mostly to have gone astray.

Officials of Akhmed Kadyrov’s Chechen administration and officers of the Russian Interior Ministry agree that the looting of Chechnya, which has been underway for years, today is raging anew.

"The stealing of the republic is in full swing," said a report written by Vasily Boriskin, who heads the energy department of the Kadyrov administration, for federal authorities. Shamil Beno, head of Kadyrov’s office in Moscow, agreed. "Looting is going on on a daily basis," he said.

Boriskin’s September report said shipments of metals and oil leave the republic on military transport, often under guard by federal troops. The report put the damages this year to the energy sector of Chechnya alone at around $2 billion.

"Things have not gotten any worse since September [when the report was issued], but they haven’t gotten any better either," Boriskin said Monday in a telephone interview from Gudermes.

Boriskin’s account was partially backed up last week by General Yevgeny Timlev, a top Interior Ministry official, who told Vremya Novostei that "several interesting cases involving massive theft of Chechnya’s oil-drilling equipment are now under way." Timlev told the newspaper that among those under investigation was an unnamed top military official.

Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry has allocated only 2.268 billion rubles ($82 million) this year to keep Chechnya afloat — a third of what Chechnya was supposed to get, according to a plan for reviving the region approved Aug. 29 by the Cabinet. In a statement, the Finance Ministry said that the remaining 5.7 billion rubles ($206 million) "will be allocated fully by the end of the year."

Meanwhile, teachers, doctors and police in Chechnya have gone unpaid for months. Most hospitals are without medicines and most buildings without heat or light, as gas pipes and power lines are taken down and stolen as fast as they are put up. Not a single apartment block has been reconstructed.

"Our families are hungry, there is nowhere to live and for many months we have not been getting our wages," said a teacher at a protest last week in Chechnya broadcast by NTV television.

Teachers last week went on strike indefinitely. Khizir Gerziliyev, head of the Chechen Teachers Union, told Interfax that some had not been paid since March.

A Finance Ministry official, who asked not to be named, said there had been a delay in sending federal funding because of bureaucratic glitches created when the Kadyrov administration replaced the previous one of Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Koshman.

But while the Finance Ministry said that 25.8 million rubles ($930,000) had been transferred to the Kadyrov administration to cover its expenses, Beno said it had not yet arrived.

"We are waiting for it. We know that the order to transfer the money was at last given on Oct. 27," he said. "But we also know that it does not take two days for money [wires] to go through. Maybe the money goes to Siberia first? In a big suitcase? And by foot?

"Even when they do arrive, these allocations are just laughable," Beno continued. "Look at the funds allocated for refugees of 50 million rubles. Let’s say there are only 100,000 displaced people within Chechnya. That equals 500 rubles per person. That sum must cover food, tents, infrastructure and medical care."

Beno said with such funding each refugee within Chechnya would be able to receive a mere 50 grams of bread a day. "Even in besieged Leningrad [during World War II], people were eating better," he said. "It’s idiocy, just idiocy."

As a result, many refugees now outside the borders of Chechnya have no plans to return home, preferring instead to shiver in their thin tents in Ingushetia.

Another result of such poverty is that anyone with arms — including the police themselves — is a potential looter.

"Several months ago … I wrote to the defense minister … about the irresponsible attitude toward the people who fought in this war," said Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantamirov in an interview earlier this month with Versia newspaper. "These people are systematically involved in criminal activity.

"Imagine 3,500 people with weapons are thrown out onto the streets. They are not paid wages, they are not being fed. Thank God they just stole a piece of energy equipment and sold it," he said, adding with a laugh, "It is even good!"

Good or not, it is certainly happening on a daunting scale.

Consider Grozneft, an oil company of obscure origin and status, that was recently managing the entire republic’s oil complex. According to Boriskin’s survey of looting in Chechnya, "Ten thousand tons of pipe worth about $150,000 were stolen [from Grozneft] by local criminals accompanied by the [federal] military."

Or consider the oil extraction in Pravoberezhnoye, where employees tried to stop thieves from siphoning oil off of one of their wells. "Firing by the military prevented them from getting close to the thieves who, once they finished their work, left without any problems in the direction of Argun," Boriskin’s report said.

"Restored power lines are getting stolen," the report continues. "Thus one power line … was restored by energy workers three times, and three times was stolen. Overall more than 45 kilometers of power lines built anew have been stolen."

Beno said thieves drive cranes up to ruined factories and enterprises, lift all sorts of metals onto trucks and then drive the trucks away.