Chechnya on Thursday swore in as its Kremlin-backed president a 30-year-old warlord who has used tough tactics and a personal militia to restore stability to the war-ravaged separatist republic in southern Russia.
Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel turned ally of Moscow, was inaugurated as president in his home town of Gudermes, amid accusations from human rights groups that his private forces, nicknamed “kadyrovtsy”, have murdered and kidnapped civilians.
Mr Kadyov’s father, Akhmad, was briefly president of the republic after Kremlin-backed elections in 2003, but was killed by a rebel bomb attack in May 2004. Mr Kadyrov himself, who became Chechen prime minister last year, was nominated to the republic’s presidency by Russian president Vladimir Putin two months ago – just months after he turned 30, legal minimum age for him to be the regional head.
His lavish inauguration took place at the same time as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled against Russia in a case about the disappearance and presumed killing of a Chechen man during a military sweep in 2000.
The court blamed the Russian government for the man’s presumed death and also blamed the authorities for failing to investigate the incident properly. It awarded the man’s wife Euros52,000 in damages and nearly Euros13,000 in costs, in the court’s fourth ruling against Russia in cases connected with Chechnya in nine months.
Mr Kadyrov pledged on Thursday to make the republic “prosperous and peaceful”.
“I want to achieve a peaceful Chechnya within the Russian Federation,” he added.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, in a congratulatory message posted on the Kremlin’s website, called on Mr Kadyrov to work to “realize the republic’s significant potential”.
“Special attention should be paid to strengthening the foundations of the republic’s peaceful and stable development, ensuring the security of its citizens, as well as increasing their well-being, living standards and quality of life,” Mr Putin said.
Fighting in the republic has continued to die down, though not entirely ceased, since the death last summer of Shamil Basayev, the rebel leader and mastermind of the hostage-taking at a school in Beslan in 2004.
The Russian authorities have been pouring money into rebuilding the republic and its capital, Grozny, and regular flights resumed to rebuilt airport in the capital earlier this year. The Council of Europe warned in a report last month, however, that the republic continued to be plagued by torture and unlawful detentions.
The accession of Mr Kadyrov, with his own forces at his disposal, is seen as the final stage of a policy of “Chechenisation” of the conflict, enabling the presence of Russian federal forces and police to be reduced.