This story began on January 18. The prosecutor's office of Chechnya appealed to the court with a demand to write off debts for gas, consumed by the residents of the republic. The size of the debt makes 136 million USD.
Their argument is that the statute of limitation has expired, so it should have been written off. According to the Chechen prosecutor’s office, Russian Gazprom demand to pay it created “social tension” and “could provoke protests.”
Zavodsky District Court of Grozny satisfied the claim of the prosecutor’s office and ordered Gazprom to forgive the debts of the residents of Chechnya.
Naturally, the news quickly spread through the media.
This is about the residents' debt to the local Gazprom’s branch, Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Grozny company. The first reaction of Gazprom Mezhregiongaz was about the amount of the deal. They said that the court decision on “forgiving the debts” did not say about writing off exactly 136 million USD.
Moreover, Deputy Chairman of Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Rustam Amerkhanov called the sum of 136 million USD "informational bomb."
However, with an asterisk. The “informational bomb” appeared in the official message of the Chechen prosecutor’s office. More precisely in its version, published on January 16. According to RBC outlet, the message was later edited. Moreover, Gazprom Mezhregiongaz reports on appealing a court decision:
"The size of the receivables of the Chechen Republic population, in respect of which a court decision was made, is 136 million USD, period – January 1, 2007 – September 30, 2015."
What is the reaction of Chechnya itself?
It considers the decision to be fair. For example, the Chechen Minister for National Policy, External Relations, Press and Information Dzhambulat Umarov commented on a situation:
“Considering the specifics of our region, namely the past wars, when practically no one used this gas, the prosecutor’s office took such a step, which met the interests of the Chechen people.”
According to Umarov, the region simply should not pay the debt, which appeared during the hostilities.
Later, he added that the Chechen authorities consider the position of the republican prosecutor’s office to be fair regarding the cancellation of debts for gas.
Umarov also paid attention to the reaction of other regions to this situation:
"If there is a need and justification, let the other regions follow [our] example. Appeal to the court and the prosecutor's office, that is your right."
But the spokesman for the head of Chechnya, Alvi Karimov, noted:
“The court’s decision is fair and objective, because, firstly, the republic’s prosecutor’s office as a supervisor came to the conclusion that Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Grozny was acting incorrectly, bringing claims on those outdated debts. Secondly, it is doubtful that gas was consumed in such great amounts. In addition, at a certain period of time, many families were outside the Chechen Republic, not all houses had the counters, but the gas entities demand even from those places where houses were totally destroyed and no one lived there."
Ramzan Kadyrov himself did not comment on the situation at the time of publication of this text.
Reaction of the other regions
As we specified above, a kind of challenge began there: "Why are we worse than Chechnya?" A number of local MPs in numerous regions of Russia, in particular, Chuvashia, St. Petersburg, Bashkiria, Krasnoyarsk, Astrakhan, Samara, Rostov, Kursk, Sverdlovsk, and Smolensk regions, appealed to the prosecutor's office with a similar Chechen initiative.
General moods are as follows:
“Novosibirsk residents are no different from the residents of the Chechen Republic, they also have the right to start life from scratch and deserve such a chance. The rules should be the same for everyone,” said Daria Ukraintseva, deputy of the Novosibirsk region’s law enforcement committee, from the Liberal Democratic Party.
She used the "Chechen argument", stressing that the lack of uniform rules of the game might lead to "unnecessary social discontent" in society and "provoke mass protests."
Reaction of Gazprom itself
"The decision to write off the debt for gas to residents of Chechnya, made by the court of the first instance, is contrary to the current law and would be perceived by bona fide payers as unfair," Valeriy Golubev, Chairman of the Board of PJSC "Gazprom" noted.
“The court did not send any request, and the company did not submit any data allowing to call this debt uncollectable. At the same time, the current legislation established that the prosecution authorities do not interfere in the economic activities of the organizations,” he added.
The deputy head of Gazprom stressed that the period of the debt is not related to the period of military operations in Chechnya.
"Debts have arisen in connection with the low payment discipline of the population," he concluded.
What happened next?
Gazprom Mezhregiongaz has appealed the decision of the Zavodsky District Court. The company clarified the total debt of Chechnya for gas as of January 1, 2018 (244 million USD).
Russian General Prosecutor’s Office ordered the prosecutor of Chechnya to support Gazprom’s appeal.
Vladimir Yakushev, Russia’s Minister of Construction and Housing and Public Utilities, noted that he was not ready to support the writing-off of debts for gas either in Chechnya or in any other regionю
A spokesman for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, called the issue of gas debts in Chechnya "extremely difficult:"
"In this case, the goods are delivered to the final consumer by the company, and, of course, the company is counting on this money."
The principle of "Occam's razor" sounds like this: "The simplest explanation is most likely the right one."
Many Russian journalists and experts are surprised at Chechnya’s initial expectations. Here, is what Vzgliad media outlet wrote.
“It’s hard to say what the Chechen prosecutors initially hoped for, excepting that Gazprom would write-off that 136 million USD of debts without making this issue public.”
Well-known Russian journalist Sergey Dorenko assumes:
"All regions should understand that they would not repeat the example of Chechnya. When allocating money for regions inhabited by ordinary people, they count on severely curtailed needs. And when they allocate money for Chechnya, they pay attention to the fact, whether war in Chechnya is cheaper or more expensive. At the moment, subsidies and writing-off of debts are cheaper than war, so they will subsidize and forgive debts… Moscow does not even think about how much would war with the Smolensk region cost," he wrote in his Telegram-channel.