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Russia: Putin Appoints Chechen Reconstruction Minister

  • Sophie Lambroschini

The appointment yesterday of a special minister for the reconstruction of war-devastated Chechnya appears to be the latest example of the Russian government's growing desperation with the republic.

Moscow, 29 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Many observers see Moscow's naming of Vladimir Yelagin as minister for what was termed "socio-economic development" as another attempt -- after a long series of failures -- to get Chechnya's reconstruction under control.

More than a year after Chechen civilians were promised a better life under Russian rule, life in the republic is worse. Chechens are still fleeing their homeland, while aid funds continue to disappear and bombs fall on village markets.

Russian officials made clear yesterday that Yelagin was chosen by President Vladimir Putin to try to put some semblance of order into the region's messy finances. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said that he hoped that Yelagin, whom he said was "known as an experienced manager and administrator," can reverse a situation where socio-economic issues "have not been resolved."

Yelagin's regional management experience includes eight years (1991 to 1999) as governor of the oil-rich Orenburg region and a short stay at Gosstroy, a state agency overseeing government-funded construction. Even so, his appointment was approved by several politicians with experience in Chechnya, including the republic's Moscow-appointed head, Akhmad Kadyrov.

Carnegie Endowment Caucasus expert Aleksei Malashenko told our correspondent that the difficulties in administering Chechnya are simply the result of a reality Moscow hates to admit -- that it does not control the republic.

"No successful model of how to administer Chechnya was ever found in a situation where there is neither war nor peace, but still a conflict. So, the person responsible for Chechnya has to compete both with the military leadership and with Chechens working in the administration. His powers have never been fully defined."

Yelagin may have the same kind of problem in his ministerial post. He will have to deal with -- and perhaps compete with -- Kadyrov, the republic's nominal head since the spring. A former rebel mufti, Kadyrov was given the job to get across the message that Moscow was entrusting Chechnya to administer itself. But Kadyrov himself informally also comes under the orders of the special presidential appointee for the North Caucasus, Viktor Kazantsev, who earlier commanded troops there.

Kadyrov also shares power with a military leadership that can decide on mass passport checks, curfews, checkpoint rules, and closing off towns. Until now, the social and economic elements of Moscow's Chechnya policy were overseen by a special government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko.

Yelagin's appointment followed growing complaints from both Moscow and Chechen officials about the disappearance of millions of rubles in reconstruction funds and social subsidies. Earlier this month, Kadyrov complained about embezzlement and of the difficulty of coordinating his actions with those of other federal agencies working in Chechnya. Russia's federal audit chamber is also investigating the republic's finances.

Some officials have already criticized the naming of Yelagin. Pavel Krashenninikov, the head of a State Duma commission investigating crime in Chechnya, called the move a "half-measure." Carnegie analyst Malashenko agrees. He says the Kremlin has actually backed off from more radical administration measures, thereby admitting what he calls its "helplessness" in resolving the problem.

"The Russian federal political establishment has avoided taking direct responsibility for what is happening. There was once the model of direct presidential rule. So why don't they do it in Chechnya? Because they can't? Yes, they can. So why? Because if a presidential representative directly took care of the issue, it would be a totally different set-up. Putin and Moscow would be responsible for everything that is going on there."

The Russian business daily "Vedomosti" pointed out today that an increase in financial resources for Chechnya is being planned for next year, making efficient and honest control of the republic even more urgent. According to the paper, which cited government sources, $500 million have been earmarked for Chechnya in 2001, twice the size of this year's budget. But so far, only one-third of this year's allocation has actually been paid out.