Shame of Chechnya. Only negotiation with rebels will end tensions


The Herald

Glasgow. "Retribution is inevitable." Vladimir Putin's response to the assassination of Akhmad Kadyrov, the Chechen premier, was characteristically swift and unyielding. Since restarting the war in 1999, the Russian president has been merciless in his dealings with the separatist forces suspected of carrying out yesterday's attack.

While he has largely succeeded in keeping the conflict hidden from the attention of the west, the Grozny bombing shows he is as far away as ever from bringing it to a peaceful conclusion. The forgotten war has roared back to life, wreaking death and chaos once more.

This was not the first attempt on Mr Kadyrov's life. The former imam and separatist rebel earned himself many enemies when he turned tack and became Moscow's choice for the presidency. His election last October was flawed, and, while he was not slow to criticise his Russian masters, especially for what he saw as their lack of investment in the region, the 52-year-old was widely regarded as a man who would not live to see a peaceful retirement. His failure to bring peace, prosperity and stability, coupled with accusations that the Chechen security service, led by his son, Ramzan, was responsible for scores of disappearances, killings and other violence, had sent his popularity crashing. Even so, he continued to enjoy the backing of President Putin. It was not enough to save him. Victory Day, when Russia marks the Allied defeat of the Nazis, has long been a target for terrorists. It is only two years since a bomb exploded during a parade in the Cas-pian Sea port of Kaspiisk, killing 43 people.

Security forces are meant to be on the highest alert. The fact that the Grozny bombers were able to enter the stadium where President Kadyrov and other high-ranking officials – including Colonel General Valery Baranov, a senior Russian military commander – were present, and plant a bomb directly under their seats, shows the extent to which Russia and Putin have lost control in the region. Despite a decade of fighting the rebels, tens of thousands of casualties, and the most brutal repression of civilians, Chechnya remains Russia's nightmare and its shame.

The loss of Mr Kadyrov will be a heavy one for Mr Putin to bear.

There is no obvious successor and, given the Russian president's refusal to contemplate talks with the rebels, no apparent Plan B. It seems likely that Mr Putin will continue with his strategy of trying to contain the rebels while hitting back periodically with massive force. To date, the west has been content to allow Russia to do as it sees fit in Chechnya. Accepting Mr Putin's argument that Chechnya is part of the wider war on terror, the US, Britain and others have averted their gaze from the most appalling abuses of human rights there. Yet, if only on grounds of self-interest, the west can no longer stand silently by while Russian policy fails. Chechnya is proving to be a fertile recruiting and training ground for al Qaeda and its proxies. The longer the conflict goes on, the more terrorists are produced to fan out across the world. Russia has had 10 years to quieten Chechnya by force and has not done so. It has made a half-hearted attempt at a political solution, allowing the region limited autonomy while continuing to deploy thousands of troops there and dictating the composition of government. The only lasting solution to the conflict in Chechnya will be a negotiated one, no matter how loathsome that may be to Mr Putin.