Putin's Man in the Caucasus: Kadyrov Struggles to Rebuild Chechnya -- And Stay Alive

By Uwe Klußmann in Moscow

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, installed by Moscow, is establishing a police state in Chechnya based on a bizarre cult of personality. But will he meet his father's fate and be assassinated?

Ramzan Kadyrov dances to celebrate his approval as president of Chechnya in Grozny in March 2007.
DPA

Ramzan Kadyrov dances to celebrate his approval as president of Chechnya in Grozny in March 2007.

Young women stroll along streets lined with pizzerias, cafés and fashion boutiques that have only been open for a few days. Grozny, a city that was long synonymous with the horrors of war, is beginning to look like any other European city, at least in places. Only two years ago, the Chechen capital looked more like Berlin at the end of World War II.

Rasambek Sakajev, 37, is about to begin his evening stroll along Victory Avenue, the city's main thoroughfare. "It's like we've woken up from a nightmare," he says.

Sakajev, a businessman, wears black trousers and a dark red silk shirt. His business selling mobile phones has made him moderately well off. He points to a new mosque nearing completion, one of Europe's largest, its minaret still surrounded by intricate scaffolding.

A few streets away, the city's renovated Dynamo Stadium has opened its marble-clad gates. Construction cranes across the street rotate above a new complex of five-story buildings. A constant stream of Russian Shiguli small cars flows through the city, now unhampered by the Russian military checkpoints that made driving through the city an agonizing experience for years.

Peace seems to have returned to the separatist province, which is about the size of the German state of Thuringia, after more than seven years of civil war. It seems hard to believe.

Peace has returned to Chechnya after seven years of civil war.
DER SPIEGEL

Peace has returned to Chechnya after seven years of civil war.

The region, formerly known as the "Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya," had fallen under the control of separatist and Islamist extremists. Now that Moscow's weapons are silent, the roughly 300,000 inhabitants of what was once the most beautiful city in the northern Caucasus region are busy repairing the many buildings damaged in the war, fixing and re-plastering walls and replacing blown-out windows. The work is being done in three shifts. Hardly any workers wear helmets or protective clothing.

Like many of the workers, Ali Mansurov, 30, has no training in construction. The man with the haggard face has a degree from the local petroleum engineering school but, like most other graduates, he was unable to find a job in his field. Unemployment is at 76 percent, say government officials in Grozny. Since February, Mansurov has been pushing cement carts as part of an effort to plaster a five-story apartment building on Ionissyanaya Street.

Mansurov, like many of his fellow workers, has not been paid the full monthly wages of about €400 he was promised. Instead, he has only received advances worth about a third of that amount. Nevertheless, Mansurov says he has "high hopes" for Ramzan Kadyrov, the country's "young, energetic president."

In fact, everyone seems to have pinned their hopes on Kadyrov, and the phrase "young, energetic president" is on everyone's lips. This comes as no surprise, given the fact that the Caucasus republic's state-owned television and radio stations have been broadcasting paeans to the president day and night. The 30-year-old Kadyrov, enthroned as president of the republic at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is in charge of all construction in the city.

Kadyrov has relentlessly pumped state funds into reconstruction. The Russian government, for its part, has paid about €200 million to help repair the war-damaged republic this year alone.

The Ahmed Kadyrov Foundation is also a source of funding for reconstruction. The not entirely transparent charity, named after the president's father, who was killed in a bombing attack in May 2004, collects donations from dubious "bisnesmeni" and is said to have extorted "donations" from blue-collar workers.

Despite all efforts, life in Grozny is still a far cry from normal and peaceful. Some of the buildings may have been repaired and renovated, but they still lack running water and are not connected to a functioning sewage system. On calm evenings, there is a faint smell of smoke in the air over residential areas -- residents burning their garbage. Trash collection is infrequent.

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