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Russia Profile
October 25, 2004
Terrorists' Not-So-Little Helpers
Official Corruption is Their Number One Weapon

By Dmitry Babich

Irina Kuksenkova does not come across as a star journalist. A skinny, pale 17-year-old from Moscow, she started working for the flashy local daily Moskovsky Komsomolets several months ago. Trying to launch her career, she traveled to Ingushetia two weeks after the Beslan massacre. The terrorists had passed through this small mountainous republic on their way to Beslan.

Kuksenkova escaped from the hotel where she was supposed to meet the local officials who planned to accompany her during her visit. At a nearby bar, she met several locals who promised to take her to a place where she could meet real boyeviki (fighters) from neighboring Chechnya. She was taken to the Chechen border and she soon met the bearded men in camouflage, who took her on a tour of their own, crossing the borders of Chechnya and North Ossetia.

"I asked them, 'How do you get around?'" recalled Kuksenkova. The borders between Ingushetia and Chechnya, as well as those between Ingushetia and North Ossetia, were supposed to be sealed after the Beslan tragedy. There was even a special order about this from President Vladimir Putin, broadcast on national television. "They said there was a special road by which the oil from Chechnya was smuggled out of the region," said Kuksenkova. "The military and police never check the trucks that use that road. I didn't believe them, so they drove me around."

Kuksenkova is not alone in here charges of corruption. In its Sept. 11 edition, the Economist reported that three foreign journalists had been able to cross the "sealed" border into North Ossetia a few hours after the crisis by paying a $50 bribe.

"The fighters kept saying their main weapon was corruption in the Russian police and army," said Kuksenkova. "They can cross any borders."

A Trail Of Corruption

If there is one point which the authorities, the terrorists, the Russian public and even rank-and-file soldiers and police officers can agree upon, it is that corruption is the terrorists' number one weapon. Even the official versions of the recent terrorist acts, widely criticized for their lack of detail, inevitably mention corrupt police and army officers, and sometimes even government officials. Here are some examples:

Sept. 1, 2004. The 32 terrorists who seized 1,200 hostages, most of them children, in Beslan arrived in two military trucks loaded with explosives and weapons. The terrorists were accompanied by Major Soltan Gurazhev, a police officer whom they reportedly forced to talk to the traffic police so he could persuade them to let the convoy pass. Only one of the trucks had a license plate, taken off a private car. The authorities have not explained how the traffic police could allow two military trucks, one with a fake civilian license plate, to pass by uninspected. Furthermore, the terrorists used weapons stolen from a police precinct in Ingushetia during an attack on June 22, 2004, which was ordered by separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov (he claimed responsibility for masterminding the attack in an interview on Radio Liberty). Two Ingush police officers were arrested on suspicion of helping the attackers on June 22.

Aug. 24, 2004. Two suicide bombers boarded two planes at Domodedovo Airport near Moscow. The airplanes later exploded in midair. Shortly before boarding the planes, they were interrogated by Mikhail Artamonov, an officer in the anti-terrorist department of the airport's police precinct. He let them go without bothering to check their belongings. The terrorists bought tickets to Volgograd and Sochi at the last minute from Armen Arutyunov, an illegal ticket trader. They boarded the planes without an identity check, thanks to Nikolai Korenkov, an official from Sibir Airlines, who took a bribe of about $30.

October 2002. One hundred and twenty-nine hostages died as a result of a protracted hostage crisis in a Moscow theater. One year after the tragedy, police officer Igor Alyamkin was found guilty of providing one of the female terrorists with a fake registration, giving her the right to live in Moscow legally for at least three months.

August 1999. A series of apartment building bombings rocked Moscow and the southern town of Volgodonsk, leaving hundreds dead. The explosives were stored in the buildings' basements by groups of terrorists. On their way to Moscow, the terrorists were helped by police officer Stanislav Lyubichev. Accepting a sack of sugar as a bribe, he got into the terrorists' truck and helped them pass a police checkpoint in Kislovodsk, in southern Russia, without a security check.

In most of the cases mentioned above, the police officers did not know that they were helping terrorists. They were just making a quick buck or neglecting their duties.

Old Habits Die Hard

"Corruption doesn't just boil down to your money loss when you bribe a state official," said Georgy Satarov, president of the Indem think tank, which has been researching corruption since 1997. "A corrupt official is a person with an inverted value system. Thinking only about personal gain, he doesn't do his job properly. Corruption is ineffectiveness."

Many analysts note, however, that corruption in police and the army is only part of a larger picture that involves all of Russian society. Transparency International ranked Russia 86th out of 133 countries covered by its worldwide corruption rating of in 2003. But if corruption in business is a Russian problem, corruption in the Russian security apparatus is becoming a problem for the whole world.

"The key word here is comfort," said Yelena Panfilova, director of Transparency International in Russia. "When a motorist gives a $3 bribe to a traffic cop instead of having his car searched, both the motorist and the policeman feel comfortable. The motorist saves time, the policeman gets money. They are both better off. The security of society as a whole is worse off, but who cares?"

In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks, the Kremlin and the Duma took steps to fix the security system, creating new regional anti-terror units and allocating more money for defense and law enforcement. Thirty percent of budget spending in 2005 will go to defense and security. The government is also making efforts to address the economic basis of terrorism. For example, after Putin's visit to Grozny in May, orders were given to keep a close watch on how money allocated for Chechnya's reconstruction is spent. Many experts suspect that part of the 30 billion rubles (about $1 billion) allocated for this purpose every year lands in the coffers of terrorists.

Dmitry Kozak, the new presidential envoy in the North Caucasus region, has promised to get tough on corruption in the area. "The North Caucasian republics get more aid from the federal budget than any other republics of Russia," Kozak was quoted as saying by the daily newspaper Kommersant in October. "Anyone channeling this money for the wrong purposes will be regarded as an accomplice of the terrorists."

Tougher registration laws and a possible reinstatement of capital punishment, as advocated by some pro-government Duma members, are also expected. However, experts are skeptical that these measures will help.

"I don't think Russia needs new laws to fight terrorism," said Panfilova. "There are more than enough laws already. It is much easier for the bureaucracy to create new regulations than to fulfill the existing ones."

Satarov agrees, pointing to the fact that most of the proposed measures are directed against people outside the security system, instead of reforming the system itself. He argues that tougher punishments for petty clerks providing fake registrations to foreigners in Moscow will not work as long as so-called "network corruption" - involving high-ranked police officers, prosecutors and even politicians - is left untouched. Satarov believes that there is a treatment for this disease, but it may be inconvenient for the authorities.

"Just as some medicine doesn't work unless a patient quits smoking and drinking, anti-corruption measures won't work unless you have a competitive political system, a real opposition and investigative media," he said. "But the Russian authorities are reluctant to have these three things. They would rather create more anti-terror groups and pass more anti-terror laws."