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News from Chechnya: How Moscow's hard man changed the face of Grozny

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  • Zafar Khan
    How Moscow s hard man changed the face of Grozny By Mary Dejevsky in Grozny Thursday, 11 September 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1 9:57 AM
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      How Moscow's hard man changed the face of Grozny
      By Mary Dejevsky in Grozny
      Thursday, 11 September 2008


      As recently as three years ago, Chechnya was racked by a vicious, chaotic war. Just two years ago, 90 per cent of its capital, Grozny, lay in ruins. You may remember the photos of devastation, the skeletal remains of public buildings, homes seemingly turned inside out, and students heroically pursuing their studies in scorched lecture rooms.

      Now, the centre of Grozny is a completely new city. Almost every trace of war has been erased; the only evidence of the conflicts that tore the heart out of the city are fenced-off blocks razed to the ground and awaiting new development. It is almost possible to pretend that more than 10 years and two wars never happened. The new focus combines the two unifying themes of post-war Chechnya: moderate Islam and Akhmad Kadyrov, the Chechen President assassinated in 2004 and father of the current President, Ramzan Kadyrov.

      This new identity is reflected in a giant mosque, extolled as the largest in Europe. Chechnya's frenetic building programme is a welcome source of employment. And there is a third item on the Grozny tourist trail: the Russian Orthodox church of the Archangel Michael. More than 100 years old, and under a conservation order, it has been rebuilt from scratch.

      By day the streets may be quiet, but this is Ramadan. The traffic jams grow as dusk approaches. Cafes and restaurants open up and the city starts to spring into – normal – life. I saw no woman without a headscarf, an unusual site in somewhere that used to be in the secular Soviet Union, but none with her face covered either.

      With the fighting that marked much of Vladimir Putin's presidency consigned to the past, the Russian authorities felt confident enough about security yesterday to fly in a group of 30 or so Western Russia-watchers for an afternoon of sightseeing and a face-to-face meeting at his sprawling estate, with the 31-year-old – soon to be 32 – President, Mr Kadyrov.

      Oil-rich Chechnya has had an appearance of calm pretty much since the appointment of Mr Kadyrov in March 2007, on the say-so of President Putin. The region, designated a republic within the Russian Federation, was then left largely to its own devices, with Moscow's single proviso being that it retained control of the natural resources. Otherwise, Mr Kadyrov has had a free rein to run the place as his own fiefdom, which included pursuing his own vendettas, tracking down wartime enemies and, it is alleged, creaming off millions from the lucrative reconstruction contracts.

      Chechnya has independence in all but name, a solution that its war-weary people seem to find acceptable. This will be tested on 12 October, when elections will be held for the Chechen parliament. But Mr Kadyrov has been none too fussy about the methods he uses to keep order, and Moscow has pumped in money, whereas under the former president, Aslan Maskhadov, Chechnya became a lawless vortex of rival warlords.

      The recent war in Georgia, however, could foreshadow an end to this hitherto tolerable state of affairs – and Moscow knows this. Which may be why it took the trouble to show its foreign visitors how far Chechnya has left war behind. At a 90-minute audience with Mr Kadyrov at his estate outside Grozny yesterday, the President categorically rejected the idea that independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia would reignite the separatist movement in Chechnya. Speaking slowly for emphasis, he said: "For Chechnya, this is neither a valid nor a current issue."

      He made a contradictory impression: callow and impetuous, while also battle-hardened, authoritative and, at times, soft. Scion of a religious family, his grandfather was mufti of Grozny, and references to Islam punctuate his speech. But he also speaks almost in one breath of his Russian college education, his past with "an automatic in my hand", and how he sees himself today and in the future "as a loyal servant of my people".

      Chechnya may be a unique case, as Russia insists, but such issues as self-determination for ethnic minorities, national sovereignty and territorial integrity present dilemmas to any government and particular dilemmas for Russia, less than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

      Earlier this year, Russia declined to recognise Kosovo. This was partly because its ally Serbia objected so strongly, but it was also because of the precedent its approval might set for Chechnya. Russia's recent conflict with Georgia left Moscow's policy tied in knots. Its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states – which, it stressed set no precedent – sits uncomfortably with its strictures about Kosovo.

      Peace and economic recovery seem to be keeping separatist yearnings at bay. But if the improvements in daily life lag, independence could soon exercise its attraction – and this time the separatists have a precedent they can throw back in Russia's face.

      Muslim Magomaev Street to Appear in Grozny


      Quake kills at least 13 in Chechnya
      Oct 11, 2008


      MOSCOW (AFP) — A strong earthquake centred in the restive Russian region of Chechnya killed at least 13 people, injured more than 100 others and caused widespread havoc on Saturday, officials said.

      The quake, which struck at around noon (0800 GMT), reverberated through the Caucasus mountains, causing severe damage to infrastructure including roads, power supplies and communications, Russian news agencies reported.

      Chechnyan street renamed in honour of Putin
      By Shaun Walker in Moscow
      Monday, 6 October 2008


      One of the main streets in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, has been renamed in honour of the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

      The Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a former separatist rebel who now pledges allegiance to Moscow and has rebuilt Chechnya using Moscow's money, said: "Today I can say with certainty, that 99 per cent of the population of Chechnya trust Putin and support the Russian leadership," he said. "As a sign of the Chechen people's gratitude Victory Avenue will now bear the name of our national leader – Vladimir Putin."

      Mr Kadyrov has said Mr Putin is more important to him than the President Dmitry Medvedev. "It's our sign of respect to the man who has done so much for the country and for all of us," he said.
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