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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Chechen déjà vu
By Thomas de Waal
Institute of War and Peace Reporting

Russian soldier outside polling booth
Russia wants a phased withdrawal of its troops from Chechnya
Since the fall of the USSR 12 years ago, no part of the former union has suffered as Chechnya.

Two periods of self-declared independence have been followed by two extremely bloody conflicts launched by Moscow that have cost up to 100,000 lives.

Chechnya has also had its fill of elections and leaders and many Chechens could be forgiven for having a feeling of déjà vu as, with this Sunday's presidential election, the Russian leadership declares the conflict "over" and says that a process of "normalisation" has begun.

"The plan is simple," President Vladimir Putin told a group of American journalists on 20 September.

"Our position is that the Chechen presidential elections are a very important step because a legitimate figure will appear, in whose hands all the mechanisms of power should be concentrated, including control of the bodies of law and order."

Weary population

So what happens next? Following Akhmad Kadyrov's victory in the elections, the Kremlin will sign an agreement giving his administration broad powers and begin a phased withdrawal of most of the 80,000 or so Russian federal troops currently in the republic.

The 15,000-strong local Chechen police force, loyal to Mr Kadyrov, will then take on most of the burden of "protecting security" in the republic.

The first problem is that Chechnya's new leader lacks any legitimacy
Mr Putin will then be able to stand for re-election next March, saying that Chechnya is getting back to normal and young Russian soldiers are no longer dying there.

There is no doubt that ordinary Chechens, desperately weary after years of conflict, like the idea of "normalisation".

Anecdotal evidence and limited opinion polling suggests that support for independence has dropped sharply over the last few years, as rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov's movement has been taken over by radical Islamists.

So any regime of whatever stripe that promises stability, jobs and cutbacks in Russian troop numbers will be welcome to many Chechens.

But that is pretty much where the good news ends for Mr Putin.

Foregone conclusion

The first problem is that Chechnya's new leader lacks any legitimacy.

Akhmad Kadyrov
Without Kadyrov Moscow would be back at square one
Foreign observers refused to monitor the polls - in stark contrast to Chechnya's last presidential election in 1997, when Chechens elected Mr Maskhadov as a pro-independence candidate in a poll recognised by monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

And the only three serious rivals to Mr Kadyrov, all Moscow-based Chechens, were all persuaded or forced to step aside. The result was pre-determined from the start.

So Moscow's new plan for Chechnya therefore rests on one man, meaning that were the next assassination attempt on Mr Kadyrov to succeed - he has survived several already - it would be back to square one.

He is a highly controversial figure in Chechnya. To pro-independence fighters, he is a traitor, as he once fought on their side.

By background he is more warlord than politician and his supporters tend to behave like a private army. A Russian-Chechen conflict may be changing into an intra-Chechen civil war.

Investment problem

What is more, most analysts agree that Chechnya's best hope of improvement lies in some kind of slow economic regeneration from the ruins.

Without economic growth, Chechnya will remain stuck in the grip of the corruption and violence that it has lived by for the past 10 years
The Kremlin may therefore come to regret excluding two Chechen millionaires, Malik Saidullayev and Hussein Dzhabrailov, from the election race. Their main pledge was to invest heavily in the Chechen economy.

They and other members of Moscow's Chechen business community will probably keep both themselves and their money out of Chechnya, as they watch how the Kadyrov regime develops.

No economic growth will leave Chechnya stuck in the grip of the corruption and violence that it has lived by for the past 10 years.

And as in the Middle East, that will ensure a steady trickle of recruits to the Islamist extremists and suicide bombers, who are now striking far outside Chechnya's borders. It may be some time before we get any really good news out of Chechnya.

Thomas de Waal is co-author, with Carlotta Gall, of "Chechnya: A Small Victorious War" (1997). He works for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting,

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg
"Human rights groups... dismiss the election as a farce"

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30 Sep 03  |  Country profiles

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