Custody of police stations is key to balance of power

Chechnya's future: Rival factions vie for upper hand before elections

STEVE CRAWSHAW

Achkhoi-Martan, Chechnya

Lyoma Masayev, police commander in the little Chechen town of Achkhoi- Martan, seems confident enough. Sitting under a portrait of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police ("Dzerzhinsky represents everything that's good", says Mr Masayev, proudly), he insists that his police have everything under control. "We are the authority, here. We answer to the MVD, the [Russian] ministry of internal affairs."

It seems logical that Mr Masayev, the supporter of the rule of Moscow, is now in charge in this unexceptional little town, 30 miles west of the Chechen capital, Grozny. Moscow is keen to emphasise that it has finally won the war in Chechnya (after inflicting such enormous casualties, how could it not have done?). There's just one problem with this version: it is not true.

One only needs to visit another building, just a mile up the road from Mr Masayev's police station, to find out just how wrong the triumphalist Kremlin version of events can be.

This second building used to be the conscription centre for Soviet recruits. It is still full of slogans about the need to defend the motherland. The sign outside the building, however, shows that it is now the "Military Office of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria." Ichkeria is how the supporters of the ousted president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, want the breakaway republic of Chechnya to be known. In short, this is the local headquarters of the rebels, the official losers of the war. Vakha Merzhoyev, the local pro-Dudayev commander, seems confident that he and his fighters - not Mr Masayev and his men - are the kings here.

When his visitors mention that they are about to go back down the road to the police station, he even offers an armed escort, because the trip "might be dangerous". In reality, the trip could hardly be safer, by Chechen standards. It is a two-minute drive, through a town where shooting is rarely heard - at least, during the day. Mr Merzhoyev, a former builder, is less keen to ensure our safety, than to show off his own clout, by driving us to the enemy's front door. Who's afraid of Mr Yeltsin's police? Not me, says Mr Merzhoyev.

The simultaneous claims to power of the pro-Moscow and the pro-Dudayev factions - not to mention a whole clutch of other would-be leaders - mean that all power is, in effect, paralysed. Chechnya is locked into a stalemate, which may or may not be resolved by elections, due in December.

Occasionally, this unnatural equilibrium breaks down. Last week, pro- Dudayev rebels occupied the police station in Argun, just east of Grozny. Eventually, the Chechen fighters abandoned the police station. The Russian military, meanwhile, bombed the surrounding area, killing civilians and destroying people's homes.

Yesterday, there were signs that a re-run of the bloody events of Argun might be on the way. Pro-Dudayev rebels seized the police station in Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest town - in effect, defying the Russian army to do its worst. The Interior Ministry in Moscow sought to deny that the building had been seized, and yesterday evening it was still unclear whether the Russians would again launch a bloody assault on the police station - with civilian casualties, as in Argun - or whether some negotiated settlement could be reached.

As the example of Achkhoi-Martan shows, it may not make very much day- to-day difference who occupies the police station. But there is a symbolic significance. The status of the police stations is at the heart of a military deal agreed last month, which is supposed to pave the way for a lasting peace.

The agreement says, in effect: "The Chechens shall disarm. The Russian troops shall withdraw. And there shall be peace." Which sounds good. In practice, it has meant endless new arguments. How much must the Chechens disarm? How much must the Russians withdraw? Police are allowed to have weapons - which is one reason why Dudayev's men are so keen on being the sitting tenants, inside police stations across Chechnya, when the accord is implemented. Everybody else must give their weapons up - with the exception of small self-defence militias (again, the Dudayevites want these to be pro-Dudayev), which may be formed in some areas. Result: nobody in Chechnya really knows where authority lies.

As part of the peace process, the Chechens are supposed to voluntarily give up their own weapons. In the "military office of Ichkeria" in Achkhoi- Martan, some guns are piled up on the floor, in what is supposed to be a dramatic expression of the Chechens' goodwill in this regard. But most of the weapons are old hunting rifles. There are a mere six Kalashnikovs (the fighters' standard weapon) and four lonely mortar bombs. Even the Chechens do not bother to conceal the fact that this is little more than window-dressing. In the words of the Chechen local commander, Mr Merzhoyev, "We're not stupid. We've got a mountain [of weapons]. We can keep what we need.''

n Grozny - Clashes raged in Chechnya yesterday between Russian border guards and a group of Chechen rebels who were trying to leave the separatist republic for a neighbouring area, AP reports.

Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star