Chechnya, Republic of

Chechnya, Republic of
   An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. The Chechen Republic covers an area of 15,300 square kilometers, and has an estimated population of 1.1 million. Of this population, 93 percent are Chechens; ethnic Russians are 4 percent of the population, and the remaining 3 percent are Kumyks, Ingush, and other ethnic groups.
   Chechnya is part of the Southern Federal District and the North Caucasus Economic Region. Its capital is Grozny, a city of slightly more than 200,000 (down approximately half since the mid-1990s). Chechnya is bordered by Dagestan, Stavropol, North OssetiyaAlaniya, and Ingushetiya and shares an international frontier with Georgia. Its border with Ingushetiya, to which it was bonded during the Soviet era, has yet to be delimited. In the north, the region is defined by fields and forests, while the south is extremely mountainous. Ravaged by war and terrorism, the Chechen economy was nearly destroyed in the 1990s. Counterfeiting, oil siphoning, illicit trade in arms and narcotics, hostage-taking, and other criminal activities became a central part of the regional economy, alongside traditional occupations such as animal husbandry. The federal government began funneling massive amounts of aid into the region after 2000. Since 2005, stability has allowed for a spate of new building in the capital, creating an economic revival centered on the construction and banking industries. Plans for greater local control of the oil sector have also been raised as a way to help the republic wean itself off of federal subsidies.
   Tsarist Russia violently incorporated the Chechen lands into the empire during the Great Caucasian War (1817–1864). The conquest was colored by forced conversions, eradication of whole villages, and a scorched-earth policy, which permanently strained relations between the conquering Russians and the subdued Muslim nations, particularly the Chechens, who put up the fiercest resistance. Once subdued, many Chechens were forcibly deported to Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. After a brief period of self-rule in the early days of the Bolshevik regime, the country was once again brought under tight control by Moscow and integrated into the Mountain People’s Republic of Soviet Russia in 1920.
   After the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Chechnya became an autonomous oblast within Russia. In 1936, two years after its merger with the Ingush autonomous oblast, a Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) was established as a biethnic homeland for the two nationalities. The ASSR was abolished in 1944, and the Chechens—along with other punished peoples—were deported en masse to inner Asia, charged with Nazi collaboration. About a third of all Chechens died en route or as a result of poor conditions upon arrival. During the “thaw” that followed Joseph Stalin’s death, the Chechens were rehabilitated and allowed to return to their historical homeland. The displacement and debilitation of the nation, however, produced multiple generations of marginalized and discontented Chechens, resulting in their “criminalization,” as many turned to black-market activities to sustain themselves in exile.
   The twin policies of glasnost and perestroika provided an opportunity for Chechen elites to roll back the effects of Russian domination. Inspired by the devolution of power from Moscow to the union republics at the end of the 1980s, the Chechens unilaterally declared the creation of the Chechen-Ingush Republic in 1990. This was done in hopes of raising the country to a coequal status with Lithuania, Estonia, and the other Soviet Socialist Republics, which were beginning to move in the direction of independence from the Soviet Union.
   In the autumn of 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Chechnya-Ingushetiya, at the direction of the Soviet air force general Jokhar Dudayev, voted itself out of existence. A Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya was declared, and a less-than-fair presidential election put Dudayev in power. With tacit approval, Ingushetiya broke off from the existing republic, allowing Chechnya to pursue its own plans for independence from Moscow. This move effectively paved the way for independence from Russia. The Kremlin—fearing a second round of decolonization which might rend Tatarstan and other integral parts of the newly formed Russian Federation from its control—balked at the move, rejecting the declaration of independence as illegal and the election of Dudayev as invalid.
   After 1991, Chechnya held an ambiguous status: the country possessed de facto sovereignty without international or Russian recognition of its independence. In 1993, Chechnya did not participate in federal elections and rejected the country’s new constitution. The diplomatic stalemate lasted until 1994 when Boris Yeltsin sent in troops to reintegrate the breakaway province, starting the first Chechen War. Yeltsin had been advised that the war would be short, decisive, and popular and would shore up his position going into the 1996 presidential elections. However, the operation went badly, with atrocities and human rights violations regularly committed by both sides.
   On 21 April 1996, President Dudayev was killed by laser-guided missiles, after the Russian military recognized his mobile phone signature. He was succeeded by his vice president, the Islamist Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. At the end of the summer, LieutenantGeneral Aleksandr Lebed and the future Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov negotiated the Khasav-Yurt Accord, effectively bringing an end to open conflict and delaying action on the status of the republic until 2001 (a formal peace treaty took effect a year later in 1997). During the troubled peace that followed the first Chechen War, the local leadership of the secessionist movement fractured. Once a clearly nationalist affair under Dudayev, by the end of the decade, the political landscape of Chechnya included revolutionary Islamists, the most notorious of whom were Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khattab. Through a nexus of radical imams, Arab influence, and veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War, the Chechen nationalist movement was transformed into a transnational Islamist struggle during the first Chechen War.
   Following Dudayev’s death at the end of the first war, Maskhadov, elected president in 1997, attempted to maintain a secular, nationalist façade in order to sustain support among Western advocates. However, Maskhadov steadily saw his authority sapped by Islamist paramilitaries like Basayev. The 1995 declaration of jihad by Chechnya’s supreme mufti, Akhmad Kadyrov, attracted numerous Islamist combatants from across the Caucasus, as well as experienced “Afghan-Arab” mujahideen and would-be jihadis from around the Muslim world. The influx of foreign fighters, an expansion of terror attacks, and the limited application of Islamic law (including shariah court-ordered executions beginning in 1996) rapidly changed the nature of the conflict. Though Kadyrov would later publicly revoke the decree, ally himself with Vladimir Putin, and condemn the “Wahhabification” of his country, his call to jihad permanently reordered Chechen politics and linked the conflict to international terrorism. From the end of the first Chechen War, the Islamists were no longer content with an independent Chechnya. Instead this increasingly prominent clique articulated its aim of creating a miniature caliphate in the Caucasus where shariah, rather than secular law, would prevail. After taking over Chechnya, the goal was to expand the boundaries of the theocratic state to include all the Muslim regions of southern Russia, parts of Georgia, and potentially even oil-rich Azerbaijan. Basayev’s raid into neighboring Dagestan in August 1999 provided a threatening salvo in this new struggle for ideological supremacy in Chechen politics. Occurring the same month as the Dagestan incursion, the apartment bombings in Moscow stimulated renewed calls in Moscow to reign in the Chechens.
   On 24 September 1999, then–Prime Minister Putin initiated the second Chechen War under the banner of the “reconquest” of Chechnya. The Russian invasion prompted Maskhadov to return to his earlier role as a guerilla leader (he would die violently in 2005). Federal forces took control of Grozny in 2000, and Putin initiated direct rule of the region from Moscow. His chief administrator was Kadyrov, who was appointed head of the republican administration until he was elected president of the republic in 2003. His rule saw devolution of power from Moscow to Grozny, though federal rule of the province remained partially in effect.
   A 2003 referendum to implement a new constitution received strong support, though many Western governments and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) questioned the viability of holding such a vote given the chaotic conditions in the republic. Kadyrov was assassinated in a Victory Day bombing in 2004. He was succeeded by Alu Alkhanov, who was later dismissed by Vladimir Putin. Ramzan Kadyrov, a militia leader and son of the late president, became president in 2007 after reaching the minimum age requirement; he had previously held the office of prime minister and had been functioning as the region’s de facto leader for some time. His paramilitaries, dubbed Kadyrovtsy, have assumed a major role in security operations since 2005. In recent years, stability has returned to the regional capital, though guerilla and terrorist attacks are still somewhat common. Kadyrov and federal forces have yet to extinguish the shadow government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya, which operates from mountain redoubts in the North Caucasus abroad and via its spokesman Akhmed Zakayev, who resides in Great Britain.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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