Russian Federation: Humanitarian aid for the victims of the Chechnya conflict

Amount of decision: 10,000,000 euro
Decision reference number: ECHO/RUS/BUD/2004/02000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population:

1.1. - Rationale:

The present decision follows a first €16,5M decision which was adopted on 13 May 2004, and intends to answer the needs identified by the latest headquarters mission to Chechnya, in early August.

Five years after the beginning of the second conflict in Chechnya, in autumn 1999, the situation has not normalised, in spite of what is officially claimed. On the contrary, insecurity is increasingly spreading to the entire Northern Caucasus, where the situation runs the risk of getting out of control. The situation in Chechnya has been extremely volatile and tense for the last weeks, especially since the 21 June attack in Ingushetia. At the time of ECHO's latest mission in early August, substantial fighting was going on in a number of areas of Chechnya and the rebel side had significantly increased its operations against the federal and Chechen pro-Moscow forces in the run-up to the presidential elections of 29 August. A series of large-scale attacks have taken place in Grozny and other villages during the month of August. The major development of the recent months is the increase in terrorist attacks in Russia and the confirmation of the spillover of the conflict to Ingushetia and North Ossetia, with the raid of 21 June against law-enforcement structures in Ingushetia, which left 90 people dead, and the hostage-taking in a school in Beslan in September, which ended up with several hundreds of people dead. The operation in Ingushetia, which came as a surprise in a republic which so far had remained relatively quiet (although the recent trend showed similar patterns of disappearances, extra-judicial killings by FSB and other forces as in Chechnya), had a very strong impact on the population. It also led to an increased tension between Ingushetians and Chechens, until it became clear that the operation had been organised to a large extent internally by Ingush people, albeit with the support of Chechen rebels, under the coordination of Shamil Bassaiev. The fact that 40 people from within the Ministry of Interior participated in the raid against their own colleagues is particularly worrying, as it points to a real fragility of the structures in place.

If the hostage-taking in Ossetia proves to have been organised by the Ingush commander who had also planned the 21 June raid in Ingushetia, it risks exacerbating the already fragile ethnic relationship between Ingush and Ossets. The latter were engulfed in a short conflict in 1992 over the disputed territory of Prigorodny which borders Ingushetia and was populated by many Ingushetians. Most of them had to leave their homes and find refuge in Ingushetia, where some 20,000 of them are still displaced. Despite recent talks between the two governments, there has not been any durable settlement so far and the return of Ingushetians to their homes of origin is still a burning issue. The tension is such after the hostage crisis that a re-igniting of the conflict is not to be excluded. This would destabilize North Ossetia, which was considered by Moscow until now as their bridgehead in the Northern Caucasus and a solid ally on their Southern flank. If, in addition, the situation in South Ossetia was to deteriorate again, there would be a potential for a significant destabilisation of the Caucasus.

The operations in Ingushetia and North Ossetia, as well as other recent terrorist attacks in Russia outside the region (explosion of two planes on 24 August, bombing near a Moscow metro station on 31 August), show that the Northern Caucasus and the rest of the country are not immune from the spillover of the unresolved Chechnya conflict, in the context of a multiplication of militant groups which seem to be acting in an autonomous way and where the radical Islamic component appears to be gaining ground.

In Chechnya, the conditions of living for the population continue to be dire, particularly in Grozny, where the only few signs of reconstruction concern public buildings. Shelter conditions are abysmal, with the majority of people accommodated in makeshift apartments in bullet-ridden and half-bombed buildings, with no running water and irregular electricity. A number of private houses have undergone minor rehabilitation thanks to international organisations, but none of the numerous apartment buildings has been reconstructed. As for the daily life, people continue to depend on State allowances, humanitarian aid and indebtedness, in a context where job opportunities are scarce. Many families are hoping to receive the promised federal compensations for lost housing, which were supposed to be paid last and this year, but so far very few have materialized.

In spite of the difficult environment, people continue to return to Chechnya, partly due to the deterioration of the security and protection situation in Ingushetia. IDPs there are under pressure to leave, especially after the 21 June raid which was initially blamed on Chechens until it became clear that it had been organized with a large participation of Ingush elements. However, apart from insecurity, which is their first concern, the problem currently facing IDPs who return to Chechnya is the lack of accommodation. While local authorities had been eager to open Temporary Accommodation Centres (TACs) in order to accommodate IDPs coming back from closing tented camps in Ingushetia, there is currently no place to go back to for IDPs whose house was destroyed. TACs are overcrowded and there is no plan for commissioning new buildings. IDPs who return can either stay with relatives, which most of them do, or rent a room in the private sector.

Some 40,000 IDPs are still hosted in Ingushetia, in the private sector and in spontaneous settlements, as well as 10,000 in Daghestan, which the international community strives to protect and assist.