Russia announced an end to its military operations in Chechnya on Thursday, bringing to a close 15 years of on-and-off conflict in the republic and enhancing the power of the former separatist that the Kremlin sponsored for head of state, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.
Russia’s national anti-terrorist committee said that beginning on Thursday the military restrictions in force in Chechnya were abolished. Moscow has maintained a strict security regime for a decade in the republic, ever since Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, then newly ascended to the Russian presidency, sent troops back into Chechnya in 1999 to crush separatists who had won de facto independence during the 1994-1996 war.
Yesterday 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 counter-terrorist operation will spur on economic growth in the republic,” he told the Russian news agency Interfax.
But Moscow’s decision to draw a line under the Chechnya campaigns raised questions about what the Kremlin had actually achieved. Critics pointed out that under Kadyrov’s heavy-handed rule, Chechnya — while formally still a part of Russia — now enjoys the kind of autonomy that its separatist leaders in the 1990s could only have dreamed of.
“Most of the Chechen leadership and the heads of the local administration are ex-rebels. Chechnya is practically independent,” said former Russian army major Vyacheslav Izmailov, who fought in Chechnya. “Why was it [necessary] to start a war? Why was it necessary to kill tens of thousands of innocent people? A lot of my boys died in Chechnya. It seems they died for nothing.”
The move also raises troubling questions about the growing autonomy enjoyed by Kadyrov, who inherited the job after his president father, Akhmad, was assassinated up in 2004. Kadyrov has been granted sweeping powers and autonomy denied to other Russian republics in return for abandoning his struggle for independence. In return, Moscow also agreed to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses.
But recently some inside the Kremlin are beginning to wonder whether Putin’s policy of entrusting power to Chechens — known as “Chechenization” — has gone too far. It has been suggested that people close to Kadyrov have been linked to killings. The Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead, had described him as a “coward armed to the teeth.”
In January, Chechen exile Umar Israilov, who had accused Kadryov of torturing him, was shot dead in the street in Vienna. Last month, Sulim Yamadayev, a former Chechen rebel commander who fell out with Kadyrov, was shot dead in Dubai. Police in Dubai have accused Kadyrov’s cousin and likely successor, Adam Delimkhanov, of ordering the assassination. He has denied any involvement.
“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 on Thursday in the Moscow 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,” Markedonov wrote.