Russia today (16/4/09) agreed to end its counterterrorist operations in Chechnya, in a move that signals the formal end of the Kremlin's war in the republic and enhances the power of Chechnya's president, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Russia's national anti-terrorist committee said military restrictions in force in Chechnya would be abolished from today. Moscow has maintained a strict security regime for a decade in Chechnya, the scene of two wars against separatist rebels.
Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, sent troops into Chechnya in 1999. His aim was to win back the region, which had enjoyed de-facto independence since the first Chechen war in 1994-1996. The security regime included arbitrary arrests, roadblocks, curfews and restrictions on journalists.
This morning Kadyrov, a close ally of Putin, welcomed the decision to end anti-terrorist operations. "We are extremely satisfied. The modern Chechen republic is a peaceful and budding territory. The end of the counterterrorist operation will spur on economic growth in the republic," he told the Russian news agency Interfax.
However, the decision raises troubling questions about the growing autonomy enjoyed by Kadyrov, who inherited the job after his father, Akhmad, then Chechnya's president, was killed in 2004. After winning the second Chechen war in 2000, Putin entrusted the republic to Akhmad Kadyrov, a moderate former separatist.
In return for abandoning their struggle for independence, Akhmad Kadyrov and other ex-separatists were granted sweeping powers and autonomy denied to other Russian republics. Moscow also agreed to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. The policy appeared to work. Chechnya's shell-ridden capital, Grozny, was transformed.
But some inside the Kremlin have questioned whether Putin's policy of entrusting power to Chechens - known as "Chechenisation" - has gone too far. Kadyrov has been repeatedly accused of murdering his enemies, including the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a critic who described him as a "coward armed to the teeth". He denies involvement in her death.
In January, a Chechen exile, Umar Israilov, who had accused Kadryov of torturing him was shot dead in a street in Vienna. And last month, Sulim Yamadayev, a former Chechen rebel commander who fell out with Kadyrov, was shot dead in Dubai. Police in the United Arab Emirates accused Kadyrov's cousin and heir apparent, Adam Delimkhanov, of ordering the assassination.
Russian newspapers today suggested that some inside the Russian government now believe Kadyrov has grown far too powerful, but have little idea how to keep control of him. One analyst said Chechnya now enjoys the kind of autonomy that its separatist leaders in the 1990s had failed to achieve, while remaining a part of the Russian Federation.
Picture taken on December 15, 1994 shows Chechen women during an anti-Russia rally in front of the Chechen parliament building in Grozny. Russia on April 16, 2009 ended an anti-terror operation in Chechnya that has been in place for a decade, amid growing stability in the territory torn by two wars since the collapse of Communism.
"It would be difficult to describe Chechnya as peaceful. But Kadyrov has achieved 'stability' in the Russian and Chechen definition of the word," Sergei Markedonov, of Moscow's Institute for Political and Military Studies, wrote in theMoscow Times.
"Nonetheless this stability has come at a very high price. The flip side is that Chechnya's internal political issues are largely resolved without Russia and with minimal adherence to federal laws," he added. "In this sense, a new type of separatism has won out in Chechnya."
Russia's national anti-terrorist committee today said the end of the counterterrorism operation was a chance for Chechnya to return to normal. "This decision aims to create conditions to further normalise the situation in the region, to restore and develop its economic and social infrastructure," it declared.
1. Jihad in Chechnya - http://www.jihadwatch.org
2. Chechnya:The Forgotten Muslims - http://www.missionislam.com