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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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Moscow has spent billions of dollars on reconstruction projects in Chechnya, all of it channelled through Mr. Kadyrov, and last summer Prime Minister Putin announced a further $4.7 billion allocation for the next four years. But some experts fear that Kadyrov is increasingly going his own way. For example, he recently defied Russian law by backing "honor killings" of Chechen women by male relatives, and openly calling for legalized polygamy. "I am saying to everyone, whoever has the desire or the opportunity, you need to take a second wife," Kadyrov said recently.

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Malik Saydullayev, a Moscow-based Chechen businessman who unsuccessfully ran for president against Kadyrov, says the Kremlin has capitulated to Kadyrov's demands for a "normalization" of the republic's status, but that nothing has been solved for the Chechen people.

"There is no real leader, elected by the Chechen people, and in this situation opposition will go on," Mr. Saydullayev says. "I think that the situation will grow even worse."

Several high-profile critics of Kadyrov have met tragic ends in recent years, including Anna Politkovskaya, a correspondent for the crusading Moscow weekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who was gunned down in the lobby of her Moscow apartment in 2006. More recently, a former bodyguard who accused Kadyrov of human rights abuses, Umar Israilov, was murdered in Austria by a Chechen assassin, and former Chechen general and Kadyrov foe Sulim Yamadayev was murdered in Dubai in March.

Will Russia's withdrawal bring more power to Kadyrov?

But even some Kremlin critics argue that Ramzan Kadyrov's harsh one-man rule in Chechnya may be a necessary evil. "It seems that Kadyrov is the worst option, except for all the others," says Yulia Latynina, a journalist with Novaya Gazeta. She says the extremist Islamic rebels, who've spread their struggle around the volatile north Caucasus, are a deadly and growing threat. (See here for more details.)

"Chechnya under Kadyrov is controlled much more effectively than [the neighboring republics of] Ingushetia and Dagestan, where things are falling apart," says Ms. Latynina. "Kadyrov today is the only working institution in Chechnya. There is no society, nothing but him."

On the other hand, some who usually back the Kremlin's tough handling of Chechnya say they have reservations about removing federal forces, because it leaves Kadyrov in sole control of the republic.

"Yes, we had to lift the emergency regime in Chechnya, but there are too many 'buts' about it," says Viktor Ilyukhin, a Communist deputy who chairs the State Duma's security commission. "All this is meant to help Kadyrov to keep Chechnya within Russia, but if financing from Moscow decreases, Kadyrov might change his position toward Russia. I don't trust Kadyrov."