Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kadyrov has Made Chechnya a Totalitarian State, Human Rights Group Says

Paul Goble

Baku, January 16 –In order to project an image of stability and apparently with the full backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has created “a totalitarian regime” in his still troubled north Caucasus republic, according to the Memorial Human Rights Center.
Yesterday at a Moscow press conference, Oleg Orlov reported on his organization’s monitoring of human and civil rights in Chechnya between August 2006 and October 2007. Memorial’s report will be published, but its basic conclusions have already been reported (
A kind of “’peace’” has begun in Chechnya after long years of war, Orlov said. Its capital, Grozniy, is being rebuilt, and kidnappings and torture have become less common. But this progress, which Moscow has trumpeted and the West welcomed, he said, has been chiefly the work of Russian and international human rights groups.
Moreover, behind these welcome developments has been a frightening if less commented upon development -- Kadyrov’s use of the force structures he controls to instill fear in the Chechen people and to erect an ever more nasty state with aspirations to totalitarianism.
The Chechen president so dominates the media scene there that no one on the ground has the chance to challenge his positions by means of public commentary. And his police and military units increasingly act in a lawless fashion to seek out and punish anyone suspected of harboring anti-Kadyrov sentiments.
Svetlana Gannuushkina, another human rights activist, provided some additional details to the Sobkorr correspondent. She noted that at present, the militia routinely throws people out of their residences with its only explanation being that “we are fulfilling the orders of Ramzan Kadyrov.”
In addition to that, she said, Kadyrov’s agents frequently pursue Chechens who have fled to other former Soviet republics. Much of the time, Kadyrov’s men simply encourage anti-Chechen attitudes among the people of these countries so that the Chechens living among them will have no option but to return to their homeland
And Kadyrov’s approach is unwittingly getting support from some Western governments that, under pressure from Moscow and domestic anti-immigrant attitudes, are less willing to grant asylum to Chechens and more willing to expel them – even though they are aware that anyone returned to Grozny is likely to suffer persecution.
Because of this and because he enjoys the backing of Vladimir Putin, who seems willing to overlook Kadyrov’s actions as long as both can point to Chechnya as an island of “stability” in the North Caucasus, Kadyrov probably believes that he has little reason to change course.
But there is a potentially fatal flaw in his logic. If like his Kremlin patron, Kadyrov has sought to make his republic stable albeit at the cost of freedom, he has not, and again like Putin, achieved his goal. Instead, he has unwittingly created the pre-conditions for a new upsurge of violence and his own removal from power.
On the one hand, Chechens caught between his increasingly authoritarian, even totalitarian regime and the indifference or hostility of Moscow and the West are likely to be more willing to listen to radicals who insist that the only real option Chechens now have is a turn to violence.
And on the other, because his actions mean that many in Moscow do not believe Chechnya is effectively part of Russia (, Kadyrov could lose see the support he enjoys there erode rapidly if he ever slips, something that could bring an end to his time in office.

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