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“Anti-Terrorist Operations” in Chechnya Over

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Yesterday, President Dmitry Medvedev declared the Chechen War to be officially over, bringing end to the ten year Second Chechen War. As many point out open conflict has all but ceased since 2007, as Moscow’s Chechenization policy placed the republic in the hands of its proxy Ramzan Kadyrov, who gradually replaced Russian security operations with his own forces.

Still a lot of questions remain.  Many wonder what the ending of the so-called “zone of counter terrorist operations” will exactly mean on the ground.  Will it mean an end to the all the pretexts of the operations: restricted civilian movement, the limitations on journalists and human rights workers, the restrictions on Internet and cell phone use by the secret services, and most importantly the arbitrary “anti-terrorist” raids of households?  One wonders if Russia’s final relinquishing of “anti-terror” operations to Kadyrov means exchanging one form of state terror for another.  As Dmitry Babich notes,

Kadyrov’s police force, made up exclusively of Chechens, took upon itself the full responsibility for law and order in the republic. And this police force defacto has all the powers provided by the status of the counter-terrorist operation. However, these powers are given to it not by Russian laws, but by the unwritten laws of Chechen customs and traditions. Consisting mostly of former separatist fighters who switched to the Kadyrovs’ side lured by security guarantees and high salaries, provided personally by Akhmat and later Ramzan, these police became the dominant force in the republic, gradually sidelining the Russian forces and the separatist underground.

True, Kadyrov has effectively consolidated his power by incorporating former separatists into his government.  But Babich’s statement that these forces are governed by “unwritten laws of Chechen customs and traditions” certainly means that state terror will surely not end–only that Russia’s role will be further mediated by its proxy in Grozny.  After all, yesterday’s announcement was preempted by the cleansing of Kadyrov’s external enemies beginning in Fall last year.  The list includes: Gaji Edilsultanov, Ruslan Yamadayev, Islam Zhanibekov, Umar Ismailov, Musa Atayev, and Sulim Yamadayev.

To get an insight into what kind of customs and traditions that drive Kadyrov’s forces, consider the following.

In  a recent interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Kadyrov explained the Chechen tradition of polygamy:

“We have, in Chechnya, more women than men. But all of them must be settled in life. Polygamy is allowed by our customs, our religion. On the other hand, if a young woman or a divorced woman goes out with someone, then her brother kills both her and the man. We have very stern customs. Better for a woman to be a second or third wife than to be killed. So that I’m convinced [that] today we need polygamy. There is no such law, but I tell everyone: if someone has the desire and opportunity, take a second wife.”

Or when a journalist asked Kadyrov about Yamadayev’s murder, he viewed it as unfortunate, a kind of missed opportunity.  “We needed Ya­ma­­dayev alive, so that he could stand trial, and then… punish him according to our traditions, according to Chechen traditions.” The journalist asked if he was referring to a blood feud. “I mean blood feud. I officially state this,” Kadyrov said.

The question is, a blood feud with who? Given Kadyrov’s supporters have been in a low level gang war with Yamadayev’s clan, the “who” is most likely Kadyrov himself. A further indication that the killing was connected to  a Kadyrov-Yamadayev blood feud is that Dubai’s authorities suspect that Adam Delimkhanov, Kadyrov’s cousin, Chechen deputy prime minister, and Russian Duma deputy, to be the mastermind behind Yamadayev’s murder.

Kadyrov is now a power of one–in name and authority.  His internal rivals are subordinated. His external ones eliminated.  And now the Russians are extending his leash, perhaps even beyond their control. “The end of the operations leaves Chechnya totally under Ramzan’s control,” said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center told the Moscow Times. “There will be nobody left to control him there.” Stanislav Belkovsky said the same thing to on April 7.

“All serious competitors in the fight for power” in Chechnya have now been eliminated, “not only with the connivance, but sometimes with the assistance of the federal authorities,” Belkovsky said, adding: “Therefore we can speak of the actual legalization of the region’s independence.”

Interestingly, there is a certain irony to the end of the Second Chechen War, if it is indeed the end.  By kowtowing to Moscow rather than opposing it, Razman Kadyrov has secured a defacto Chechen independence not unlike that desired by Chechen leaders in the 1990s. True, full sovereignty is still an illusion but Moscow will certainly allow Kadyrov to run things as long as his loyalty remains.

The real question, however, is not just what Kadyrov will do now.  It’s also whether Moscow’s Caucasian woes haven’t simply shifted to neighboring Dagestan. In this sense, the end of “anti-terrorist operations” in one border region might just signal its intensification in another.