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Volume XII, Number 1 (September - October 2001)

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At roughly 9 in the morning a small column of seven armored cars enters Alkhan-Kala, a southern suburb of Grozny. It travels at high speed to the local "white house," a structure yellowing with age and badly damaged by bomb fragments.


The head of the village administration, who has been warned by the armed forces in advance, awaits the column's arrival as do the other elders who have gathered in the building. The soldiers announce: "Tomorrow we will hold a cleansing."


The elders hold an "extraordinary consultation" during which they discuss to which group the soldiers belong, who is their boss, and what further steps should be taken.


"These are from Khankala [main military base] and consequently there will be a complete free-for-all (bezpredel). No way around paying," a Chechen colleague explains to the elders.


One of the elders, Bailast-hadji, is furious: "This has become a weekly occurrence! A new fashion. We should go see Troshev, hold a demonstration "


The Chechen OMON officer cuts him off: "They are not under Troshev. They are MVD."


Then the chief elder gently reminds the others that it's time to take up the real question at hand. "For now we don't have an option besides accepting their conditions. Each has a family. In the end, if during a cleansing they take even a minimum number of guys, still, to free them we'll have to pay a higher sum than to resolve this problem in a more peaceful way," he says.


Most old men nod their heads. Only a few take a principled position, not to pay. The others move on to the technical question: Which families should pay how much into the pot? This is resolved with reference to two criteria, the wealth of the family and whether it has close relatives among the fighters (regardless of whether they are still fighting.) Those on the list will pay in accordance with how much a family stands to benefit from a "mild" cleansing.


By morning, the common pot is equivalent to $10,000. In addition, fresh meat, vodka and tobacco are prepared for the "guests." The Spetsnaz blockade the village early in the morning. In the beginning the atmosphere is tense. The armed services personnel don't trust the Chechens, even the ones working with them. The Chechens don't trust the Russians. Both sides expect something to go wrong. In the center of the village there is a meeting of the village administrator, the commander of the unit and the elders. The commander, the administrator and one of the elders sit in a car where the money changes hands, from the elders to the commander. Meanwhile the soldiers load the meat and the vodka into military vehicles. Over a loudspeaker, the commander gives the command for the cleansing to start. The intonation in his voice tells the Spetsnaz that he means an imitation of a cleansing: He has the bribe, now it's time to leave quickly.


The "tip" to the commander satisfies the ordinary armed forces personnel, but not the proud Spetsnaz, who show individual initiative -- stealing property, obtaining bribes by taking away passports and returning them only in return for a certain sum, etc


Alkhan-Kala residents describe a cleansing that occured a few months ago. "Two days after a joint MOD/FSB cleansing, the MVD internal troops decided to hold one of their own. When the villagers became outraged, the OMON grabbed 40 guys, most of them roughly 35, but also including a 12-year-old, Adam Madaev." They were abused and beaten ferociously. According to the families and witnesses, most of them were released only in return for a bribe


Here are some impressions: "The OMON shot farm animals and loaded them up on military trucks and shot rounds at our feet."


"They grabbed everything. We've never seen such hunger."


"They appeared suddenly and all of them drunk or on drugs (obkolotye). Immediately I thought of Samashki (1) and our complete vulnerability."


When the former "protectors" (krysha) found out about the activities of their competitors, the MVD, on their "turf," there was a serious squabble between the two groups.


In Alkhan-Kala the administration and the elders formed a reserve fund to save money for paying off the armed forces and for softening the cleansings.


Depending on its reputation, a village pays $5,000 to $15,000, and the village administration hands in a certain number of weapons, which are purchased from the military on the spot, at higher than market price. If the conditions of the cleansing are fulfilled -- the bribe paid, the weapons bought and surrendered -- there is a "mild cleansing." This means that instead of taking away 20-50 men who are then ransomed back in a half-dead state, fewer than 10 persons are taken away and then returned to their families, relatively unharmed, for a modest fee.





1 In April 1995, Spetsnaz troops (many on drugs) reportedly went on a rampage in Samashki killing well over 100 villagers.

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