Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov walks before a meeting of the state council at the Kremlin in Moscow, on 18 September 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Report / Europe & Central Asia 4 minutes

Chechnya: The Inner Abroad

A powerful propaganda machine promotes the “success story” of today’s Chechnya. But its peace is fragile; government repression is used to keep the people at bay while economic inequality, poor social infrastructure, lack of genuine reconciliation and almost full impunity for past abuses reflect the republic’s daily reality.

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Executive Summary

Chechnya has made great progress in suppressing insurgency, reconstructing cities and improving its image and official economic indicators. Moscow sees it as a successful model for regions afflicted by deadly violence associated with Islamist insurgency. But stability is deceptive. The leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has used special ties with President Vladimir Putin, more autonomy than other regional leaders and Moscow’s near unconditional support to make the republic a virtually independent polity, with its own ideology, religious policy, security structures, economy and laws. Its peace is fragile, a result not only of highly personalised governance reliant on repression and arbitrariness that Moscow tolerates and covers up, but also economic inequality, poor social infrastructure, lack of genuine reconciliation and almost full impunity for abuses. To safeguard Russia and Chechnya against new violent conflict, Putin should rein in Kadyrov by insisting on the republic’s better integration with the national state and its laws, more freedom and security for its citizens and accountability for its government.

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30 June 2015
Faced with violent repression and no process of reconciliation, what keeps the population obedient is fear. But for peace to become real, collective punishment and intimidation must make way for the rule of law and accountability.

Ekaterina Sokirianskaia

Former Project Director, Russia & North Caucasus

There has been no authentic political solution to the Chechen conflict, which broke out in 1994, followed by de facto independence (1996-1999), then a second war in 1999 and ongoing insurgency. The political process begun in 2003 installed the formerly separatist Kadyrov family. Many rivals or opponents fled or were killed; local strongmen loyal to the regime took control of federal institutions. Armed separatists were captured and disarmed in mop-up operations, while demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants was achieved by force or by encouraging them to join pro-federal groups that were later merged into the interior ministry and whose largely preserved command chains contribute to local security agencies’ extensive autonomy. Reforming these institutions and dismantling such parallel elite structures is essential for any sustainable resolution to the conflict in the long term.

The significant reduction in insurgent activity owes much to widely applied collective responsibility, whereby relatives of rebels have been harassed, threatened, held hostage or had their property destroyed. In recent years, counter-insurgency has been very heavy-handed; soft measures successfully tested in neighbouring Ingushetia are rejected. Chechen nationalism has been gradually superseded among fighters by the ideology of transnational jihadism. Ideological schisms, the drain of fighters to Syria and appeal of Islamic State (IS) ideology have also contributed to the insurgency’s defeat. In mid-June 2015, the “amir” of Chechen jihadis swore allegiance to IS, thus completing abandonment of the Chechen cause. However, Chechen-Russian reconciliation has not started, and the wars’ root causes remain unaddressed.

30 June 2015
Despite superficial appearances, Russia’s arrangement in Chechnya has not resolved the conflict. The insurgency continues to recruit, and stability is illusive and overly personalised. Violence could easily reemerge, particularly if power were to change hands”

Varvara Pakhomenko

Former Europe & Central Asia analyst

A powerful propaganda machine promotes the “success story” of today’s Chechnya. Kadyrov, frequently referred to simply as Ramzan, is portrayed as a popular, virtuous leader, with an aura of omnipresent control and invincibility. The official ideology combines Chechen nationalism, devotion to President Putin, Russian patriotism and Sufi Islamism. Nationalism and traditionalism are relied on to create an illusion that the republic offers its people a high degree of self-determination. While trying to eradicate memories of his separatist predecessors, Ramzan provokes tensions by taking over some of their slogans, including territorial claims on neighbouring Ingushetia.

Displaying strong loyalty to Presdent Putin and bringing thousands into the streets for public events, Ramzan has repeatedly said the Russian leader should be in office for life and that he is ready to fight for him wherever asked. In turn, he appears to receive full support and impunity from the federal centre. Ramzan seems to have convinced the Kremlin that only he can control Chechnya, with the result that Moscow is as dependent on him as he is on Putin. The Chechen leader’s powerful enemies within the Russian military and security services resent that their government has little leverage over its erstwhile breakaway republic and appear to await an opportunity to bring him down, but little can be expected to come from this unless he displeases the Russian president.

The republic’s religious life is the most regulated in Russia. Sufi Islam is part of official ideology, and forced Islamisation has eroded principles of the secular state. At the same time, Chechen authorities are militantly hostile to any form of religious dissent, openly call for the killing of “Wahhabis” and regularly use violence against individuals displaying Salafi symbols.

Chechnya has its own economic regime. Between 2002 and 2012, it was funded directly through two special federal programs that supported reconstruction but were unable to revive production. Now it has its own ambitious plans for economic recovery. Official statistics show steady growth and solutions of social problems. However, locals say the figures are misleading, unemployment remains high, and they suffer from egregious corruption and a parallel system of economic relations reportedly based on extortion and informal taxes and dues.

Though its judicial system mostly complies with the formal criteria, the republic largely functions outside the framework of Russian law. Violence by state agents has reportedly become more targeted, but allegations of grave human rights violations continue. Federal prosecuting agencies are ineffective in dealing with such crimes, due in part to intimidation. Judges are subjected to open, sometimes brutal pressure from Chechen authorities. The European Court of Human Rights has issued almost 300 judgments on Chechnya. Russia implements the portions that deal with compensation, but not their requirements to conduct proper investigations. Security officials instrumentalise application of Chechen traditional law (adat). With honour killings, underage marriages and violence against them on the rise, women suffer most from revived traditionalism.

Chechens have no mechanisms available to hold the regime to account. The system functions due to a climate of fear. Collective punishment muffles protest. Not only political rivals, but also intellectuals, journalists and NGO leaders can be subjected to intimidation, humiliation and violence. As the republic drifts further away from Moscow, Russia’s own democratic deficit and the related lack of positive political dynamics in Chechnya alienate those Chechens who sincerely want to be part of a modern, secular Russian state.

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