The Monster of Chechnya

kadyrov071609.jpgI regret to pull such a long excerpt, but Tom Parfitt’s column at the Guardian is very interesting today, and contains a number of personal observations you won’t find in any of the wire reports on the recent tragic events in the Caucasus:

It is some time since strategists in the Kremlin have been pulling out their hair, wondering how they created the monster which is Kadyrov. Installed as a fixer who could stamp out the rebels and rebuild Grozny, he has largely done both things while turning the republic into his own personal fiefdom. Chechnya, traditionally an egalitarian society in which no individual is considered above his peers, is now full of risible billboards of Kadyrov clutching smiling children like some modern day Enver Hoxha (“The streets in Grozny are so clean,” say his fans, but the streets are clean in Belarus and North Korea). Political opposition in parliament has been extinguished and many potential opponents are no longer a threat. Kadyrov’s greatest rival, the former battalion commander and Hero of Russia, Sulim Yamadayev – himself, admittedly, no fluffy democrat – was rubbed out by an assassin in Dubai in March.

Yesterday,in Estemirova, the most prominent civil society activist stillrecording abuses inside Chechnya was exterminated. Others had alreadytaken fright and backed off. Estemirova kept on with enormous courage,frequently clashing with Kadyrov, who was incensed by reports of hisalleged savagery: at a tense meeting with representatives of Memorialearly last year, one member of the organisation says Kadyrov clawedhimself and cried, “What can I do to stop you people writing thesethings about me?”

What is clear is that Kadyrov’s hardline rulein Chechnya receives tacit consent from the Kremlin, which signed aFaustian pact with him to quell insurrection and stop terrorist attacksreaching the Russian heartland, in exchange for wide autonomy on hishome turf. But there may come a point when Kadyrov becomes just tooembarrassing for a civilised country that is a member of the G8. Theproblem now is that he is practically impossible to sack: hisbeatification means removal would leave such a gaping power vacuum thatthe republic could slip once more into chaos.

That does not meanthe issue should be fudged. If the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev isserious about solving this murder, the investigation must look hard atthe Kremlin’s own power structures in Chechnya. Meanwhile, the westmust return human rights to the top of its agenda in dealing withMoscow.

Another Russian mantra of modern times is the idea of”stabilnost”. Achieving that in Chechnya has ostensibly been the aim ofsupporting Kadyrov. But peace in the North Caucasus cannot come at theprice of human freedom. Because, as Estemirova herself knew so well,stability based on terror and killing is no stability at all.