Russian troop withdrawal does not equal peace

Earlier this year, Russia officially ended more than ten years of ‘war’ in Chechnya, when it declared it was wrapping up its military counter-terrorist operations in the federal republic. Moscow will soon withdraw 25,000 security forces from a region that fought two brutal campaigns for independence from Russia (in 1994–96 and from 1999 onwards) and was de facto outside of Moscow’s control for the periods 1991–94 and 1996–99. However, as no meaningful reconciliation has been achieved in Chechnya and violence is spreading across the North Caucasus, the outlook is grim. The formal end of hostilities is not expected to bring peace and democracy. Rather, regional instability is likely to continue for years. Moscow’s anti-terrorist operation has drawn to a conclusion with President Ramzan Kadyrov firmly in charge in Chechnya, and Russia’s withdrawal is likely to strengthen the control enjoyed by this former rebel turned loyalist. Although he has the backing of Russian Prime Minister and former president Vladimir Putin, Moscow’s leverage over him has diminished greatly in recent years. This worries parts of the Russian elite. Chechnya remains within the Russian Federation, but in some eyes it has been transformed into a Kadyrov fiefdom and again become a quasi-independent state. Both in Russia and abroad, there are concerns over Kadyrov’s authoritarian style, said by some to be a cult of personality. Although Kadyrov has denied allegations linking him to some of the murders, several of his enemies have been assassinated in the past year. Human-rights groups say thousands of other Chechens have disappeared without trace since 2004, when Kadyrov took office as deputy prime minister en route to the presidency in 2007. Worries also exist about ongoing separatist attacks. In May, a month after the Russian announcement, the first suicide bomber for many years in the Chechen capital of Grozny killed two police at a checkpoint, while trying to reach the Interior Ministry. Meanwhile, violence grows in neighbouring North Caucasian republics.

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