Fifteen years since start of Chechen campaign

Fifteen years ago to this day the first counter-terrorist operation in Russia’s republic of Chechnya began as federal troops entered the republic to put a stop to mounting violence in the region.

Magomed Khanbiev, now a Chechen parliament deputy with the title of Defense Minister, was once a top Chechen militant. Later he swapped allegiances for a peaceful life.

“People thought I had become a militant as I went with them to the mountains. But then all my Chechen friends began to say I was wrong to do so. And then I thought – what am I fighting for? I realized that my people do not want me there in the mountains and I went back,” Khanbiev says.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, then-President Boris Yeltsin offered more autonomy to Russia’s Republics, and Chechnya jumped at the chance.

Autonomy bred a desire for independence which saw growing unrest against Moscow. The republic became an enclave for Islamic extremists, spiraling into a conflict threatening to destabilize the neighbouring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Moscow had to do something to secure the North Caucasus and on December 11, 1994, Russian troops were sent in to restore order.

An operation that was planned to be over in two days lasted for more than two years. The Chechen militants forced Moscow into a peace agreement which was signed in 1996. Chechnya was now de facto independent, but the kidnappings and acts of terror in the neighboring regions continued.

A plot by Chechen militants, which blew up a number of apartment blocks across Russia killing three hundred people, and a military intrusion into Dagestan to establish an Islamic state on the territory of both republics were the last straw.

At the time then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was adamant and uncompromising – no more negotiations with terrorists. A second anti-militant campaign in Chechnya was launched, which ended just eight months ago.

A young Ramzan Kadyrov managed to bring relative peace to the republic as Chechen president. He began a program to get the militants to turn their back on violence and return to normal life.

“We have the rule of law, peace and stability – although there are some minor crimes, like anywhere else. This year we have been focusing on healthcare, education and agriculture. We plan to create more jobs, to attract more investment next year. I am sure that next year will be a good one for our economy,” Kadyrov says.

The sound of explosions is now a distant memory and today Chechnya is a large building site, but problems like high unemployment still exist.

With international flights from Grozny airport beginning again last month and the customs service functioning the goal seems attainable.

According to Ramzan Kadyrov, his main achievement while President is that, unlike other Chechen leaders throughout the history of the conflict, he has managed to consolidate the people, to unite them.

As some analysts say, by doing so, this was the beginning of the end of the counter-terrorism mission in Chechnya.

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