CHECHNYA DUTY HARDENS RUSSIAN POLICE
Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post, 11/28/03
Coming home from Chechnya to the placid streets of this provincial
capital, Sergei Myasnikov and the other men in his elite Russian
police unit thought only of losing themselves in alcohol. They were
quick to anger, bitter over money they believed they were entitled to
and never received, and resentful about having to fight a war that
few of them supported.
"We were gorging ourselves on vodka like pigs when we came home,"
Myasnikov recalled. He observes law enforcement from the sidelines
now, because his skull was blown apart in a Chechen ambush and
patched back together with a plastic plate. And what he notices is a
police force far different from the one he joined a decade ago. "I
see how they change in Chechnya," he said. "When they come back,
they're like zombies."
Myasnikov was a cop, not a warrior, but in Russia today, after nearly
a decade of on-again, off-again combat in Chechnya, there is less and
less difference between the two. Police units from every region of
Russia have been dragged into the conflict, lured and often coerced
into what the officers call "business trips" with the promise of
extra money. Using police as well as army troops is part of a Russian
government strategy to depict the war, to its public and the world,
as a limited anti-terrorist operation.
Assigned to maintain law and order in Russia's fragile emerging
democracy, the country's traffic cops and riot squads and foot
patrolmen have instead spent years being schooled in the lawlessness
and disorder of one of the world's most brutal civil wars. Like
Myasnikov, they come back to civilian Russia changed, a new breed of
angry, disillusioned police officers who moonlight as mercenaries.
To human rights activists, this constitutes a menace that may become
one of the lasting legacies of the Chechen war throughout the rest of
Russia. They fear the consequence for creation of democratic
institutions when the guarantors of the law have themselves been
accused of serious war-zone abuses by human rights groups and, very
"For eight years, almost the entire militia of Russia have been to
Chechnya. They are used to killing and to illegal violations, and they
bring that back with them," said Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the group
For Human Rights.
In a gritty suburb of Moscow, Chechen drama students were attacked in
their dorm, in 2001 and again in 2002, by a squad of organized-crime
police who said they had returned a week earlier from Chechnya
and "wanted revenge for their friend who died there," recounted
Rustam Milkeyev, one of the students.
In the Russian industrial city of Perm, 1,000 miles northeast of the
war, ordinary traffic cops ask for bribes in halting Chechen when
they stop someone from Chechnya, said Chechen businessman Aslanbek
Dinayev. "The only way out is just to pay," he said.
In Nizhny Novgorod, an officer, just back from Chechnya, recently
opened fire on a crowd of civilians in the Volga River city; his
bosses said he did it because he thought he heard a Muslim man
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