Despite Promises, Putin Has Done Little for Ethnic Russian Refugees from Chechnya

May 5, 2014
Refugees in front of Heart of Chechnya Mosque. Photo by Svetlana Bolotnikova

Staunton, May 5 – Despite his promotion of himself as “the ingatherer of the Russian lands” and “the defender of ethnic Russians” wherever they live, Vladimir Putin has failed to live up to his frequent promises to help the 100,000 ethnic Russians who fled Chechnya during the conflict and have not been able to return, members of that community say.

During the first post-Soviet Chechen war, more than 100,000 people, mostly ethnic Russians, fled Chechnya, have not returned, have lost their status as internally-displaced persons (IDPs), and have been reduced to living in shanty towns instead of the homes and apartments they had earlier because they have not received any compensation.

In an article on, Svetlana Bolotnikova notes that four years ago – that is more than 15 years after their flight – Moscow acknowledged their plight and called for the Russian government to provide compensation. But as of now, that hasn’t happened.

What makes this situation especially unbearable, members of this community say, is that ethnic Chechens who fled Chechnya 20 years ago have been able to return to their homes at the invitation of and with the assistance of the Chechen government of Ramzan Kadyrov who lives on Russian subsidies.

Many of the ethnic Russians now living in poverty elsewhere in the North Caucasus would like to return to Chechnya but only if Moscow organizes things so that there will be enough of them – some suggest 40-50,000 – to form a community and be in a position to defend their rights. But neither Moscow nor Grozny seems ready to pay for that.

When the refugees first arrived outside of Chechnya, they were glad to have escaped with their lives, but as time has passed, the failure of the Russian authorities to deliver on promises to help has led them to be increasingly angry, no longer at the Chechens but at their own Russian government, Bolotnikova says.

That trend will only intensify now that a Moscow commission has said that only 7,000 of the more than 100,000 IDPs involved have any legal claim and that budgetary restraints mean that the central authorities may not be in a position to help even all of the former, let alone give anything to the latter.

But these ethnic Russians along with others believe, the journalist says, that Russia does have “moral obligations” to this community and must not “forget” about them. And some of the leaders of this group warn that if nothing is done, this will spark a new round of inter-ethnic tensions, especially as the children of the refugees become adults.

In the words of one activist who has worked with the Russian IDPs, “the fault for everything that happened in Chechnya lies entirely and completely on the former leadership of the Russian Federation,” and the current government must not only recognize that but act accordingly by helping the ethnic Russian victims.