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Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Regions and territories: Chechnya

Map of Chechnya

The southern Russian republic of Chechnya is surrounded on nearly all sides by Russian territory but also shares with neighbouring Georgia a remote border high in the Caucasus mountains.

Rich in oil, its economy and infrastructure were reduced to ruins by years of war between local separatists and Russian forces, combined with armed banditry and organised crime.

Overview

Chechnya has been a thorn in Russia's mountainous southern border for nearly two centuries. The Russians finally overcame the resistance of Imam Shamil in 1859, claiming the Caucasus region for the empire after a long and bloody campaign that caught the imagination of many 19th Century Russian writers from Lermontov to Tolstoy.

Chechen special forces during raid on suspected insurgents in Groznyy in 2008
Security forces still frequently clash with militants

The Chechens had to wait for more than 60 years before they briefly escaped Russian dominion again in the chaos following the October revolution.

However, that period of independence was short-lived and by 1922 the republic had been forced back into the Russian fold.

World War II and the Nazi invasion presented another glimpse of freedom from Moscow's rule. When the war ended, Stalin sought vengeance. He accused the Chechens of collaborating. Their punishment was mass deportation to Siberia and Central Asia. They were allowed to return only in 1957 when Khrushchev was in power in the Kremlin.

Post-Soviet years

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Dzhokhar Dudayev, a former senior officer in the Soviet air force, declared independence from Russia. Yeltsin responded by sending a few hundred Interior Ministry servicemen to the republic. They were met at the airport by Chechen fighters and sent back home on buses, the first in a series of humiliations for Moscow.

Chechen girls in traditional dress in front of portraits of former President Akhmed Kadyrov
Moscow says the situation in Chechnya has now 'normalised'

This was followed by three years during which armed groups gained an increasing hold on Chechnya and Dudayev became more outspoken in his defiance of Moscow where the leadership argued over how to handle the situation.

In 1994 Russia sent its forces in a very poorly planned bid to bring the rebellious region back to heel. Early promises of a quick victory were soon silent as the Chechens put up fierce resistance to the Russian assault and the death toll mounted.

Amid growing public outcry over rising losses in the Russian army, Moscow withdrew its forces under a 1996 peace agreement. The deal gave Chechnya substantial autonomy but not full independence. The Chechen chief of staff, Aslan Maskhadov, was elected president.

However, Russia failed to invest in reconstruction. Maskhadov could not control brutal warlords who grew rich by organised crime and kidnapping. Many victims were murdered by their captors.

KEY DATES
1991 USSR collapses, Dzhokhar Dudayev elected president, declares independence
1994 Russia sends forces to crush independence movement
1996 Khasavyurt accords bring ceasefire but not independence
1997 Aslan Maskhadov elected president
1999 Russia blames Chechnya for wave of bombings, sends troops back
2000 Islamic cleric Akhmad Kadyrov appointed by Kremlin to head administration
2003 New constitution gives Chechnya more autonomy but enshrines its position within Russian Federation. Akhmad Kadyrov elected president
2004 President Kadyrov killed by bomb. Kremlin-backed Alu Alkhanov succeeds him.
2005 March - Separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov killed by Russian forces, succeeded by Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev
2006 March - Ramzan Kadyrov, son of assassinated president Akhmad Kadyrov, becomes PM
2006 June - Government forces kill separatist leader Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev. Warlord Dokka Umarov takes over.
2006 July - Warlord Shamil Basayev, Russia's most wanted man, dies in explosion in neighbouring Ingushetia
2007 March - Ramzan Kadyrov becomes president
2009 March - Russia says situation in Chechnya 'normalised'

In August 1999, Chechen fighters crossed into the neighbouring Russian Republic of Dagestan to support a declaration by an Islamic body based there of an independent Islamic state in parts of Dagestan and Chechnya. This body also called on all Muslims to take up arms against Russia in a holy war. By now Vladimir Putin was Russian prime minister and Moscow was fast and firm in its reaction. Within a couple of weeks the rebellion was over.

The late summer of the same year saw several explosions in Russia in which hundreds died. The Russian authorities did not hesitate to blame the Chechens.

Mr Putin sent the army back to subdue the republic by force in a second brutal campaign which, despite Russian claims of victory, has yet to reach a conclusion.

Western criticism of Russian tactics and human rights violations in Chechnya was all but silenced following the 11 September attacks on the US. Russia has since portrayed Chechen rebel forces as part of the global terror network and uses this to vindicate its methods.

A controversial referendum in March 2003 approved a new constitution, giving Chechnya more autonomy but stipulating that it remained firmly part of Russia. Moscow ruled out participation by the armed opposition and there were widespread concerns that the republic was far too unstable to ensure a valid outcome.

Parliamentary elections in November 2005 saw the pro-Kremlin United Russia party win over half the seats. Separatist rebels dismissed the election as a charade but President Putin said that the legal process of restoring constitutional order had been completed.

Since then there has been increased investment in reconstruction projects and the shattered city of Groznyy is being rebuilt. While Russia is keen to highlight these signs of rebirth, sporadic violence continues.

In April 2009, Moscow announced that the situation in Chechnya had improved to such extent that it felt able to end its military operation against the rebels. Sporadic attacks by separatists continue, however, including a triple suicide bombing in Grozny that killed six people in August 2011.

Facts

  • Name: Chechnya
  • Status: Republic within Russian Federation
  • Population: Approximately 1 million
  • Capital: Grozny
  • Major languages: Chechen, Russian
  • Major religions: Islam, Christianity
  • Natural resources: Oil

Leaders

President: Ramzan Kadyrov

Ramzan Kadyrov, son of assassinated President Akhmad Kadyrov and a dominant figure in Chechen politics, was nominated for the Chechen presidency by Russian President Vladimir Putin in spring 2007 and approved almost unanimously by the Chechen parliament. He was sworn in in April.

Ramzan Kadyrov
Ramzan Kadyrov insists iron rule is needed to maintain peace

His predecessor, Alu Alkhanov, had been moved to a post in the Russian government some weeks earlier.

Ramzan Kadyrov became prime minister in March 2006 after his predecessor, Sergey Abramov, was severely injured in a car crash.

Too young to run for president after the death of his father - he was then 27 and the required age under the Chechen constitution is 30 - he backed Alu Alkhanov in the 2004 election and took the job of deputy prime minister.

Mr Kadyrov has sworn to avenge his father. Human rights groups have criticised the violent activities of a powerful militia known as the "Kadyrovtsy" consisting of thousands of paramilitaries with the avowed mission of wiping out rebel forces.

Mr Kadyrov denies accusations that the force is behind many of Chechnya's killings, abductions and worst crimes, although he has admitted that there are some "rogue elements" among them.

Austrian police investigating the killing of a former bodyguard of Mr Kadyrov in Vienna said in 2010 that they believe he ordered the killing. Mr Kadyrov strongly denies any involvement.

A rebel fighter in his youth, he now speaks in praise of former Russian President Vladimir Putin and is the local leader of the United Russia party.

Mr Kadyrov defends himself against critics of his record on human rights, insisting that iron rule is required to bring stability. As prime minister, he oversaw the development of numerous reconstruction projects.

He describes himself as a believer in traditional Islam.

Media

Chechnya presents a formidable challenge to the media outlets operating there and journalists attempting to cover events on the ground.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) lists President Kadyrov as one of its "Predators of Press Freedom". "Self-censorship reigns within the traumatised and intimidated media, reinforced by a climate of complete impunity," RSF said, following a 2011 fact-finding visit.

Russian TV and radio is available across much of the republic, alongside services from ChGTRK, operated by the Chechen authorities.

Pro-rebel websites spread a different view of events. They include Kavkaz Tsentr, which has had a nomadic presence on the internet. Mr Kadyrov blogs via the Russian LiveJournal platform. Local bloggers appear to avoid criticism of the local administration.

The press

  • Vesti Respubliki - Chechen government newspaper
  • Groznenskiy Rabochiy - private weekly
  • Stolitsa Plyus - Grozny local government daily

TV/Radio

  • Chechen Republic State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company (ChGTRK) - state-run
  • Grozny TV and Radio Company - state-run


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