Oct 19, 2006

Ingushetia: Practice of Extortion Returns to “Kavkaz” Checkpoint

According to Prague Watchdog Russian police are collecting tribute from drivers and their passengers on the border between the Chechen Republic and Ingushetia.

CHECHNYA – At the "Kavkaz" pass control checkpoint (KPP) located on the administrative border between the Chechen Republic and Ingushetia, Russian police are again collecting tribute from drivers and their passengers.

The “Kavkaz” checkpoint (or “block-post” as local residents call it) has not enjoyed a favourable reputation in the last few years. The Russian Interior Ministry police officials on duty here are posted from different regions of Russia. They used to collect tribute – with and without pretext - from residents of both republics travelling in both directions. They even developed a unique "pricelist".

Thus, each minibus driver had to pay the officials 20-30 rubles. And almost every young male who passed through this checkpoint usually put a folded 10-ruble note into his passport, which was to be checked by the officials. This was done "just in case", to avoid unwanted excesses.

The absence of a military registration stamp in a passport "cost" 50 rubles. There were numerous other "violations" for which ordinary citizens had to pay tribute. If they refused to pay there could be serious trouble, ranging from an increase in the sum of the "fine" all the way to detention.

Local residents repeatedly filed complaints about the arbitrariness of the law enforcement officials who staffed the "Kavkaz" post. And then a few months ago it seemed that the situation had been resolved. A new contingent of Russian police arrived at the post, and they didn’t take bribes. On principle. They simply carried out their work – inspecting motor vehicles, checking passengers’ documents and all the rest of it. The ten, twenty and fifty ruble “fees” were no more.

"We were so relieved. We thought, well, thank God, at long last order is being established. All the extortion, even of a minor kind, ceased, and there were no further problems at all. Everyone – us , the passengers, even the police officers themselves seemed contented," says Nurdi, a 45-year-old Grozny minibus driver. But it turns out that we rejoiced too soon."

"On October 4 a new lot of police arrived at the post. They were the same guys who had worked here right at the beginning of the war. Naturally, in those days they were involved in open extortion. And they started the old practices again. They openly said: "Everything here is going to be like it was before. You have to pay fees." Naturally, everyone got angry. Then they quite simply blocked off the road, creating a  traffic jam many kilometres long. With the special purpose of making people more willing to obey," Nurdi claims. “You had to wait two or three hours in the queue. That’s the kind of establishment of order there is here.”

"I don’t know what the Russian Interior Ministry, their direct superiors, are thinking of," he says. “I mean, these officers will disgrace the entire Russian police force. Are their wages really not enough for them, with all their perks, per diem and combat bonuses? Why do they have to treat people in such a brutish manner? Hundreds if not thousands of cars pass through this checkpoint every day. Can you imagine what the local people’s attitude to this bribe-takers in police uniform is going to be?”

Representatives of human rights organizations consider that the whole affair is being caused by widespread ignorance of the law on the part of the local population.   "In the years of the so-called ‘counter-terrorist operation’ the populace was subjected to mass terror. People were actually made to believe that they don’t have any rights, and that the law enforcers can so anything they like. Detaining people without any reason, searching them, beating them and even killing them. All attempts at protest were cut short in a most merciless and often brutal manner," says a member of one of the human rights organizations operating in the republic.

"People are forced to put up with this arbitrary treatment, because they have no alternative. They are simply afraid, and one can understand why. But this extortion must be fought, nevertheless. It would be a good thing if citizens were to make written statements to the public prosecutor’s office, or perhaps present them to human rights organizations, so that later on they could later make representations based on those statements to the official government agencies  and attain a resolution of this problem," the respondent believes.

But it transpires that there is another way out of this situation. Nurdi says that since bribes are being demanded at the “Kavkaz” checkpoint again, he doesn’t drive along this highway. "There’s an alternate route through the village of Sernovodsk. There’s also a Russian checkpoint on the border there, but the guys work normally. There’s no picking on people, and no one demands money. If there’s a violation, they’ll explain, and advise you not to do it again. Now I only ever take that route."

A few weeks ago, Dmitry Kozak, President Putin’s plenipotentiary representative to the Southern Federal Region, said in one of his interviews that passage through the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia must be made easier for the residents of the two republics. And he announced that a concrete package of measures aimed at the solution of this problem is already being worked out.

Kozak made his public statement shortly after an armed clash between members of the Chechen OMON and the Ingush police which took place on the “Kavkaz” federal highway in the region of the Chechen-Ingush border on September 13. There were more than twenty casualties, involving deaths and injuries on both sides. However, an impression is growing that the Russian police officers working at the “Kavkaz” checkpoint don’t entirely agree with the high-ranking government official’s opinion, and don’t intend to make life easier for the citizens of Chechnya and Ingushetia.