Economist: And they call it peace
- Chechnya and the north Caucasus
And they call it peace
Feb 28th 2008 | GROZNY
From The Economist
Vladimir Putin's presidency began in Chechnya; the region is restive
as it ends
ON DECEMBER 31st 1999 Vladimir Putin flew to Chechnya, which had been
under Russian bombardment for months. It was a suitable first trip for
the new president, whose rise to power was intimately linked to the
war in Chechnya. He vowed to pursue terrorists everywhere, famously
adding âwe'll wipe them out in the shithouse.â
As Mr Putin hands over to Dmitry Medvedev, he can claim that a war
that cost 100,000 lives is over. Grozny has been transformed: ruins
cleared away, bullet-ridden facades covered with plastic, fortified
checkpoints gone. There are new schools, apartment blocks, roads,
shops. You can fly into Grozny, take a taxi and go to a restaurant.
To achieve this Mr Putin simply sided with a former rebel, Akhmad
Kadyrov, whom he pronounced president. When Mr Kadyrov was blown up in
2004, the mantle passed to his son, Ramzan, who has used money and
brutality to bring the rebels on side. Others vanished. Sporadic
fighting continues, but the idea of resistance is largely broken.
âPeople can't fight any more. They are physically and morally
exhausted. Call it preservation instinct,â says one man.
Besides, much of the cause is gone. Chechnya has de facto autonomy and
money from Moscow. Mr Kadyrov pledges loyalty to Russia, particularly
to âthe one and only Mr Putinâ. But he runs his own affairs. At
elections, Chechnya gives the Kremlin a 99% vote, but Mr Kadyrov does
not press people to turn out. He has his own army and control of the
oilfields. As for 40,000 Russian troops, âthey should stay to protect
Russian international borders,â he says. Mr Kadyrov levies a tax for
reconstruction, and makes women wear headscarves. His former image of
brutal thug has turned into builder. He has reduced the kidnapping and
torture of ordinary Chechens. He is no champion of human rights, but
he is effective in his way, says Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya of Memorial,
Russia's leading human-rights group.
Huge problems remain. Almost the only work is in security. Corruption
and unemployment (maybe 80%) are so endemic that people pay bribes to
get state jobs. Chechnya used to provide seasonal labour across the
Soviet Union. Russian xenophobia has made that impossible. But the
stress of war that wrecked people's health is gone. âAll these years
that we had been bombed I dreamt that I would fall asleep and that
there would be no shooting. I don't care who the president of Chechnya
is: I can now sleep,â says a Grozny resident.
The true legacy of Russia's war on Chechnya is that its violence has
spread to other Muslim republics, notably Dagestan and Ingushetia.
Each has its own problems, but the common thread is Russia's brutal
and lawless methods. Ingushetia never asked for independence and did
not even support the Chechen cause. Ms Sokiryanskaya says that, when
insurgents seized its capital in 2004, locals were shocked to find
that some were Ingush. Ingushetia now has a network of guerrilla
fighters who destabilise the region by targeting non-Ingush people and
police. Last year they killed several Russian-speaking people.
The Russian army has resorted to brutal mop-up operations involving
methods little different from those of the terrorists. The result: a
republic that was mostly peaceful at the beginning of Mr Putin's
presidency now resembles a war zone. The local leader, Murat Zyazikov,
a former KGB officer appointed by Mr Putin, can neither protect people
nor give them work. Yet since Mr Putin scrapped regional elections,
voters have no way of replacing Mr Zyazikov. When people staged a
protest against the killing of a six-year old Ingush boy by Russian
soldiers, they were met with violence. Journalists who came to cover
the story were kidnapped and beaten up. Days later, Ingushetia
reported 98.7% backing for the ruling party in a parliamentary election.
Predictably, the next protest was even more violent. The Kremlin
blames foreigners. âInstead of solving problems, they suppress them,â
says Ms Sokiryanskaya. Inevitably, they re-emerge.