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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Europe > North Caucasus > Chechnya: The Inner Abroad

Chechnya: The Inner Abroad

Europe Report N°236 30 Jun 2015

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov walks before a meeting of the state council at the Kremlin in Moscow, 18 September 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

This report is also available in: Russian


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.

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.

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.


To promote long-term political stability and sustainable transformation of the Chechen conflict

To the governments of the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic:

1.  Seek a more sustainable political solution for Chechnya by:

a) improving political pluralism, including by encouraging political dialogue with a broad spectrum of moderate Chechen political actors;

b) increasing freedoms of expression and assembly and ensuring the ability of independent activists, intellectuals and journalists to operate safely in Chechnya, while discouraging a personality cult around its leader;

c) facilitating authentic reconciliation within society and launching a reconciliation process between Chechens and Russians; and

d) establishing an independent truth and reconciliation commission to recognise the suffering of victims on all sides of the Chechen conflict.

2.  Ensure freedom of religion and separation of religion and state in Chechnya, including by stopping intimidation campaigns against legal religious dissent and ending forced Islamisation.

3.  Discourage official actions aimed at stirring up the territorial dispute between Chechnya and Ingushetia.

To support economic recovery and fight corruption

To the governments of the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic:

4.  Authorise an independent comprehensive inspection of federal funding in the republic and an independent expert evaluation of the feasibility of large investment projects.

5.  Investigate alleged extortion and withholding of moneys due to public employees, as well as reported informal double taxation of businesses and practices of hiring “dead souls”, double accounting and inflation of staff numbers and public spending costs; and bring suspected perpetrators to justice, while considering amnesty for economic crimes committed by lower-level officials.

To strengthen the rule of law

To the governments of the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic and the Investigative Committee and Office of the Prosecutor General of the Federation:

6.  Improve adherence by law enforcement and security agencies in Chechnya to the Russian constitution and laws, including by ensuring the Chechen interior ministry is under effective federal control; and by better integrating their personnel, purging them of criminal elements and improving professionalism by rule-of-law training and recruitment on the basis of qualifications.

7.  Halt collective punishment immediately, transparently investigate such cases, bring suspected perpetrators to justice and rehabilitate victims.

8.  Monitor Chechen-language media and prosecute public statements inciting hatred, threatening extrajudicial punishment or limiting rights of certain social groups, including activists and women; and ensure that women in Chechnya enjoy at least the same rights as in the rest of Russia.

9.  Investigate cases of enforced disappearance, torture, summary execution and other crimes allegedly committed by security services in Chechnya; and protect judicial independence and respect for judgments by promptly investigating all cases of alleged intimidation or other interference with judges, juries, defence lawyers or investigators.

10.  Implement European Court of Human Rights rulings on Chechnya cases fully, including follow-up investigations and steps to prevent future similar violations.

To the Council of Europe:

11.  The Parliamentary Assembly should engage in dialogue with the Russian government on ways to improve rule of law and advance a sustainable political solution in the republic.

12.  The Committee of Ministers should closely monitor and engage the Russian government in dialogue over implementation of European Court of Human Rights rulings on Chechnya cases.

To support counter-insurgency efforts

To the National Anti-terrorist Committee:

13.  Ensure that only units specifically responsible for such efforts, including counter-terrorism, perform such operations and that command is not exercised by civilian authorities.

14.  Encourage use of soft counter-insurgency measures in Chechnya, including a commission for rehabilitation of fighters.

Brussels, 30 June 2015
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 Varvara Pakhomenko

“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 re-emerge, particularly if power were to change hands”.

Varvara Pakhomenko, Europe & Central Asia analyst

 Ekaterina Sokirianskaia

“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, Europe and Central Asia Project Director


“Chechnya is no model of conflict resolution and the status quo is only storing up problems down the road for Moscow. To safeguard against new deadly conflict, Russian and Chechen leaders must improve governance in the republic and ensure more freedom for its population”.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President & CEO