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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minister Reports on Chechnya Reconstruction

While politicians spoke with either cautious optimism or outright skepticism about the latest plans for talks between the Kremlin and Chechen rebels, a government commission in charge of rebuilding the war-torn republic met Thursday to hear reports by 25 federal agencies involved in the work.

Vladimir Yelagin, the Cabinet's minister for Chechnya and the deputy head of the commission, which is overseen by Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, called the reconstruction effort "satisfactory, at worst," his spokesman Alexander Arapov said Thursday.

According to the latest report issued by Yelagin's staff, more than 7.5 billion rubles of the 14.4 billion ($244 million) allocated for Chechnya's reconstruction in 2001 had been spent as of Oct. 1.

The money went toward social payments such as pensions, child support and unemployment benefits, as well as supplying gas to 70 percent of Chechnya's towns and villages, TV and radio transmission across most of the republic and rebuilding 448 schools, Arapov said. He added that construction work started moving full speed ahead in August.

However, Yelagin said after the meeting that 53 million rubles had been misappropriated, Interfax reported.

Under the existing procedure for funding reconstruction in Chechnya, the local administration -- led by Moscow appointees Akhmad Kadyrov and Stanislav Ilyasov -- selects priority projects and federal agencies carry them out using their own funds. Then, Chechen officials and a special directorate within Gosstroi, the state construction committee, must sign off on the completed work, after which the Finance Ministry reimburses the relevant agencies.

Although Chechen officials participate in the process, they do not have direct access to funds, and that has provoked discontent.

"If they'd send money to Chechnya directly instead of dispersing it in Moscow, local citizens would rebuild the republic in several months," Edi Isayev, Kadyrov's Moscow spokesman, said in a telephone interview this week. "They would do their best because they would be building for themselves."

But Arapov said that control of funding for federal programs should remain in the hands of federal agencies. "If they transfer this right to the Chechen government -- which federal bodies can do as long as they retain responsibility for the funds -- they risk ending up hostages of the Chechen government."

Embezzlement by local officials in Chechnya was widespread after the first military conflict there in 1994-96.

Arapov also questioned the local government's ability to handle the job. "They have just a handful of specialists ... while Gosstroi is a very powerful agency able to run large-scale projects."

According to the Yelagin report, as of Oct. 1, the Chechen administration had received nearly 1.9 billion rubles of 2.2 billion allocated for 2001 to cover administrative costs. The local government also collected 640 million rubles in taxes as of that date, 360 million more than planned, the report said.

"This is a good indication that the government in Chechnya has started working," said Arapov.

However, last week the republic's leadership showed signs of internal conflict when Kadyrov accused non-Chechen government staff of indifference and self-interest, and replaced the chief of staff, an Ilyasov ally, with his own man.

The spat was quickly downplayed by local officials, but it was unclear how long the truce would hold.

It was also unclear what would come of the tentative attempt at negotiations announced Wednesday by presidential envoy Viktor Kazantsev, who was to meet with a representative of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov within the next 10 days.

Some prominent political figures, such as Chechnya's deputy in the State Duma, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, expressed cautious optimism about the talks. Others, including former Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantamirov, voiced doubts that the talks would lead to a peace settlement.

One political analyst quoted by Reuters called the attempt at rapprochement a sign that President Vladimir Putin was trying to capitalize on the West's softer stance on Chechnya in light of Russia's support for the Afghanistan campaign.