Chechnya: Russia declares 'mission accomplished' in strong-man state
The country is under the harsh, one-man rule of Ramzan Kadyrov, who wears a track suit, keeps a pet tiger, and urges men to take second wives.
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"Chechnya exists today as a kind of enclave, completely outside the framework of Russian or international law," says Tatiana Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Russia, who was reached by phone in Grozny. "This decision to lift the state of emergency has purely symbolic significance for the population of Chechnya. Today, the human rights abuses are committed by [pro-Moscow] Chechens rather than Russian security forces, but the atmosphere of impunity is the same," she says.Skip to next paragraph
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A tiny republic's dark history
The northern Caucasus region, of which Chechnya is part, was conquered by Imperial Russia in the 19th century and later forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. The Chechens, a warlike mountain nation, rose up repeatedly and declared independence as the USSR was collapsing in 1991.
An invasion launched by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1994 killed an estimated 100,000 people, mainly civilians, and ended in Russian defeat two years later. But a de facto independent Chechnya became a nexus for crime and subversion throughout the region. After a wave of apartment bombings, blamed on Chechen terrorists, that killed 300 Russians in 1999, the Kremlin again ordered Russian troops to invade the tiny republic.
That war, now almost a decade old, created a flood of refugees and left terror-stricken survivors living a tenuous existence amid the shattered ruins of Grozny and other Chechen cities. In 2004, the Russian human rights group Memorial estimated that the two wars had killed more than 200,000 civilians and up to 40,000 Russian troops.
In addition to thousands of civilians killed as "collateral damage" in antiterrorist military operations, human rights groups allege that Russian security forces also ran special squads that targeted potential opponents for abduction, torture, and summary execution.
"Over 5,000 people have disappeared without a trace, the vast majority at the hands of the security forces," says Ms. Lokshina. "Only one Russian officer has ever been convicted for such violations. There is no accountability for the past; thousands of loved ones have no hope to find justice, and this remains an ongoing source of deep instability."
Tough leader for a tough land
The current Chechen leader is the son of Akhmad Kadyrov, a former rebel and Muslim cleric, who was tapped by the Kremlin for leadership but later murdered by Chechen Islamists in a spectacular 2004 stadium bombing.
The younger Kadyrov, a bull-necked flamboyant figure, who wears a track suit even on visits to the Kremlin and keeps a pet tiger in his mansion, became the republic's de facto ruler and was later elected Chechnya's president in a Moscow-orchestrated political process.