Thursday, 16 April 2009

Chechnya - war is over?

Russia has announced the end of its “counter-terrorism” operation in Chechnya, claiming that life there has been "normalised to a large degree". When the old Soviet Union fell apart, the Chechens tried to grab their independence, and there followed two Russian invasions. Now the country is ruled by a 32 year old pro-Moscow hard man, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been rewarded with hand-outs of hundreds of millions of pounds to re-build the country.

The Chechens certainly needed it. The wars with Russia had turned their capital Grozny into what the UN described as "the most destroyed city on the planet". The first war from 1994-6 resulted in a humiliating defeat for Moscow, and the deaths of up to 100,000 people – most of them Chechen civilians, but the Russians effectively won the second war in 1999-2000.

The Chechens tried to retaliate by taking the battle into Russia. They seized 900 hostages at a Moscow theatre in 2002; 120 of whom were killed as Russian troops tried to free them. The next year suicide bombers hit a Moscow rock festival, killing 16 people, and an attack on a school at Beslan in North Ossetia in 2004 cost the lives of 330 people including 150 children.

Mr Kadyrov claims that terrorist attacks have now been halted, but thousands of people have disappeared, and his government is accused of kidnapping, torture and murder.

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