Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Road Checkpoints to Remain in Place in North Caucasus, Russian Internal Affairs Minister Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 11 – Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Russia’s minister for internal affairs, says that “circumstances do not allow” him to eliminate the system of road checkpoints in the North Caucasus, as the leaders of almost all the republics in that region have asked at the insistence of their populations.

            Many North Caucasians are angry about the checkpoints, journalist Svetlana Bolotnikova writes in an article posted online yesterday, because they feel such roadblocks interfere with their rights, allow Russian forces to corruptly extract resources from the population, and do little to promote security (www.bigcaucasus.com/events/actual/10-12-2012/81782-blockpost-0/).

            Throughout the region, travelers must pay through not only the checkpoints maintained by the federal authorities at republic borders or around “hot spots” but also “hundreds of control points within republics.”  And as far as residents are concerned, these institutions “are not coping with the task that has been laid on them.”

                “Whatever checkpoint you consider,” Bolotnikova says, “all work according to the principle of bribery: pay and go without being checked or don’t pay and wait your turn.” And that in turn means that “the checkpoints complicate the lives of law-abiding citizens” while doing nothing to limit the actions of the militants.

            Even some Russian MVD officials doubt the effectiveness of these institutions. Sergey Chenchik, the head of his ministry’s chief administration for the North Caucasus Federal District, said that the seven federal checkpoints in that area are often staffed by outsiders without the necessary training and skills and should be replaced by locals.

            But attacks on such checkpoints by militants and the lack of local people who might take over have led Chenchik’s superiors to insist that the checkpoints be maintained. Indeed, the only republic where they even have been reduced in number at least so far is Chechnya, a reflection of Grozny’s special relationship with Moscow.

            Moscow has closed down 28 checkpoints in Chechnya, something that as Bolotnikova notes has “somewhat reduced” the income of those who staffed them, but of that number, 17 have now been re-located to Daghestan, where Abdurashid Magomedov, the republic internal affairs minister, welcomed their arrival.

            He announced that Daghestan is suffering from a shortage of policemen and therefore additional checkpoints along with the OMON soldiers who staff them are “extremely needed.” According to Magomedov, Daghestan until recently had only 54 police officer per 10,000 population, a very low number especially for a republic with so much violence.

            Despite that encomium, it seems likely that the checkpoints will continue to be an irritant to the local population, especially if there is no evidence that they are effective.  As Bolotnikova notes, “for the first nine months of 2012,” the number of terrorist incidents in the North Caucasus Federal District as a whole fell by ten percent.

            But the number of such incidents in Daghestan rose from 167 for the same period a year earlier to 225. “Given that kind of effectiveness,” the journalist concludes, “circumstances in the region will never allow” Moscow to close them.

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