Security restrictions hamper economy – Chechen president
The president of Russia's Chechen republic has called for the country's government to end the counter-terrorist operations in the region that began almost ten years ago.
In his interview with RT, Ramzan Kadyrov said the mission has been accomplished and it's time to let his republic move on.
RT: Recently you said that the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya would be wrapped up shortly – can you explain why you believe that?
RK: We’ve been analyzing everything that’s going on in the territory of the republic and we keep statistics as well. In fact, I think we can say that the counter-terrorist operation was even completed last year. There was not a single terrorist attack in 2008. The people of Chechnya have long forgotten about war – they have other things on the agenda, we’re developing, building and restoring the economy of the republic. And I am certain that the Russian leadership will make the right decision about it and lift the “counter-terrorist operation” regime in our republic. Together with our politicians, intelligence services and law-enforcement agencies, I am convinced that it’s really over.
RT: Does this signify that Chechnya is no longer a “hot spot” and that security problems in the Republic have been solved?
RK: Well, we’ve been a “hot spot” for a long time. It was all made up. Yes, we do have terrorists, bandits, and criminals. But they are everywhere, all over the world. Take any state or region – there are crimes there, too. We made it a goal for ourselves to find the criminals in our territory; we looked for them and hunted them down. And we also looked for ways to help them return to society. They need to lay down their arms. They face a choice of a prison cell or a normal life and participating in restoring the Republic. Those who listened to us are now taking part in the process of reconstruction. Those who didn’t are either wiped out or in detention facilities. Other regions also have their criminal world and criminal elements. But they let them be, whereas we want to make sure that human rights are respected and that law and order is upheld. We don’t have either a terrorist, or a bandit or a criminal world here. We live a normal life. We fight crime and that’s why we, our people and our region, were in the limelight.
RT: Chechnya was associated with human rights abuses for a very long time. What does the situation look like now?
RK: It is true that human rights were violated here. There was war and wars never lead to anything good. I’ll tell you even more – the Chechen people made a mistake when certain people appeared…they are not even people, I call them shaytans: Khattab, Abu-Ali, Abbakhaukh, some Arabs and other renegades, outcasts. When they came to our Republic, we should’ve told them – “You know what? Good bye. We will bring order on our own and defend the interests of our people ourselves.” But at that time we didn’t have enough…either the society was not quite consolidated or we never had the chance or we were afraid. Well, whatever happened – happened. And as for today… We fought for stopping the abuse of human rights. And today, in the course of my work, I have human rights activists present at all the meetings and events that we hold. There are about 500 registered public organizations here. Some states sometimes don’t have that – but we do; we have human rights activists and other organizations as well. I even read somewhere that here we defend the rights of our citizens better than in some states, even the most democratic ones. We live a normal life in normal conditions. People don’t complain. There are some basic issues, like family arguments, or when people put a comma or a full-stop in some wrong place. It may be that people didn’t get enough of something or they don’t want to be in line to get an apartment. Those are basic things. But overall – everything is great, everything is normal. It is true though that we still have problems. Some people are still missing, and yet there are those who are in prison because they don’t know the law – and I am convinced that the majority of them simply don’t know the law. Actually, we had no law at all. And that’s exactly why there are young guys behind bars. We appealed to the President of the country so that they could receive amnesty. Some women were forced to commit crimes – I mean they sold certain things that are illegal. We have about 700 women in prisons all over Russia. We are working on a letter where we request amnesty for them, too. As soon as the counter-terrorist operation is called off, we’ll seek amnesty for them, we’ll send requests and bring it to the attention of the leadership that it happened due to our fault, to Russia’s fault. We were left to our fate with all our social problems. Our people were armed to the teeth. Basayev, Maskhadov and Dudaev were sent here – we didn’t bring them up, the Soviet Union did. Then Boris Yeltsin granted us sovereignty, armed us – and we started the military operation. But it’s not our fault that the war broke out in Chechnya. The blame is on those people who wanted to destroy the Soviet Union and then Russia. They wanted to break up Russia as the sovereign State of Russia with the help of the Chechen Republic and use us as a platform for infighting with Russia. That’s why I hope that the Russian leadership will make the right decision and that in the nearest future we’ll fully succeed in cases for the imprisoned, too.
RT: How many militants do you estimate are left there?
RK: Well, according to our estimates we have between 50 to 80 Chechens like that on our territory. But those are Chechens for sure. Yesterday, though, there was a confrontation. I received information from the head of the Kucheloyevskaya police that a squadron commander, the head of the police, himself, and my assistant went to the forest. A gang of 7-10 people was on its way from Dagestan to Ingushetiya via mountain villages. There was a military clash, during the course of which two bandits were killed. We still don’t know what their nationality is (they are definitely not Chechens, I’m 100% certain), what group they belong to, where and what and why – all that is unknown. If we talk about our bandits – I call them militants because they are not bandits, they are shaytans. They are enemies of our people, enemies of Islam. They don’t know what they want. They used to have a slogan of Ichkeriya, but they lost Ichkeriya, they lost their idea – sold it to someone. Take Umarov – he speaks badly about the Chechen people. He is a schizophrenic, an ex-swindler and pickpocket. He killed, he robbed. That’s the environment he comes from. He didn’t even live in Chechnya before that. When he was young he was in Russia, somewhere else in the world. He can have any ideas. He never prayed, he doesn’t know what Islam as a religion is like, what a dignified Chechen is – he didn’t even know our traditions. And now he allegedly is ruling the State of Ichkeriya – I think he has an Emirate there. He brought something together in the Caucuses and proclaimed himself Emir. People like him don’t know what they want and don’t know what to do with themselves. They’ve lost their big idea long ago – there are about a dozen of them left there. Everyday 18-20 people receive amnesty here – those who laid down their arms. The Prosecutor’s Office deals with such cases. None of them has been put behind bars. They lead a normal life. Their cases are now proceeding and there are absolutely no problems. The leadership of the Russian Federation doesn’t forbid us to keep working with such people. But overall, dozens of bandits left. Either they return home or we put them behind the bars or were killed.
RT What will happen to those militants who will want to lay down arms on their own accord?
RK: Those who laid down arms on their own accord now work as deputies, in police and human rights organizations. So, what happened to those people will happen to those yet to come.
RT: You said that you’ve recently talked to the militant leader Akhmed Zakayev, who has found political asylum in London, and that he expressed the desire to return to Chechnya. Does it mean that he also has a place in the restored republic?
RK: I don’t consider him a militant. He left the Republic a long time ago, at the beginning of the military campaign. I’ve talked with him several times. He has the desire to return. He knows that the situation today is normal for our people. They have forgotten about the war and about those people who… well, people didn’t forget those people, but they want to, so that the tragic days would not be repeated again. Basayev, Maskhadov, Zakayev… I spoke with Zakayev two or three or four times and he wants to return home – I am sure that he wants to. He now has a chance to do what Basayev and Maskhadov couldn’t do. He has a chance to be forgiven by his people. If he comes home, he’ll come with his deputies, governments – that’s what they want to be called and as they call themselves…If he comes home, then so will those Chechen guys who live in Europe – we have a lot of our citizens living abroad. Some of them are crooks, some were forced to move, and yet some think that they are some great leaders, militants, emirs, etc. They’ve divided the Chechen republic into sectors. They continue to live in Europe, have long beards and long hair – can’t tell who’s a woman and who’s a man out of them. We don’t know what’s happening with the Chechens there. So, in order to bring those people back home, we need Zakayev. Zakayev is over there and he is good at playing political games. But I want the people to be united. I don’t want Chechens to be fooled any more; don’t want them to be set against each other. If Zakayev returns home, then there will be no one left in Europe to set us, Chechens, against each other and against Russia. All intelligence services use them and try to work with them. Recently, I’ve talked to young people who returned home from Europe. Each and every one of them is being worked with, the kind of work that is meant to set them against the Russian Federation, against our people. They are being told that there is killing in Chechnya and that we still live in a state of war. They are told that people are being killed, that something is blown up here every day. But, in reality, they have seen for themselves what’s going on here. Our TV Channel “Grozny” is broadcast in Europe and in Arab countries and the viewers can see everything for themselves now. And many people do come back. I am sure that if Zakaev decides to return, 50-60% of those people who thought…well, they even did not think, they were just delusional – they will come back home and it’ll be much easier for us to work in the future.
RT: Some time ago, there was information in the mass media that the son of one of the ex-leaders of the militants, Aslan Maskhdov, who currently lives in Norway, talked about allegedly receiving threats and being pressured to return to Chechnya. What do you know about that?
RK: I’ve known Anzor Maskhadov since the first military campaign, when his father was the head of the State of Ichkeria. He also knows me very well. I think that these rumors are just speculations by the tabloids. Anzor knows that nobody puts any pressure on him, nobody talked to him about that, nobody cares about what he does. If he comes back, we will let him live quietly in Chechnya. His relatives and his nephews live here. His nephew was arrested, he served 2 or 3 years in prison, then he was set free, and he lives quietly, drives around Grozny…I’ve seen him, I’ve talked to him several times. Anzor never supported his ideas; he never even supported his father’s ideas. If he supported his father, if he had thought Maskhadov was right, he would have come here and would have been by his father’s side.
He’s a normal and clever guy, and I think he’ll prove that nothing of the sort has ever happened. I’ve heard these rumors too, and I asked several people – nobody here knows where he is, what he’s doing, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you those rumors are lies. According to the legislation of the Russian Federation, a brother is not responsible for his brother’s actions, and a son should not pay for his father’s actions, especially if he did not support him.
RT: Were there any restrictions in relation to counter-terrorist operations and will there be any changes?
RK: There was a time the Republic really needed the counter-terrorist operation regime, but now it prevents us from restoring the economy. If they call the restrictions off, it would be easier to revive the economy, to create new jobs. The unemployment level in the republic is above 50%. Those people who are engaged in speculative activities go to Kabardino-Balkaria or Dagestan. We are neighboring republics and Gizel, a Chechen town, is just 15-20 kilometers away from Khasavyurt in Dagestan, because products here are much more expensive than there.
Why so? Because they have their own customs office, they import the goods, and our people buy goods there and then resell them in Chechnya. That’s why our people go to other regions…Once we counted – 600 minibuses one after the other were driving from Chechnya to Dagestan. People also drive to Kabardino-Balkaria or Pyatigorsk looking for cheap places to buy food and clothes.
Those investors who express a wish to invest in the development of our region always ask the same question: whether the airport here operates, whether they can fly right here, bring in the equipment, etc. When we tell them they need to do it through Mineralnye Vody or Dagestan they back out. Now it will be very good for the people if we get an opportunity to restore our economy – or, more likely, to build it from scratch. But if the counter-terrorist operation is not called off, we will not have such a chance.
RT: You are saying the situation has improved considerably. What are the main problems in the region now?
RK: The unemployment level is quite high, and we still have this problem with people being kidnapped. These are the two major problems right now, and we are working on them. I think the unemployment is not such an urgent issue if we compare it with kidnapping. Most of the people who are considered to be missing are those who took arms, went to fight, and were either killed or detained. We need to work along with the police and the Federal Security Service to make an expert evaluation. Seventy out of a hundred missing people are the ones who went to the forests and were fighting for independence. Many others who left a note saying “gone not to return” actually fled to Europe.
So out of 100 missing people only from five to ten were actually kidnapped. We hear they were taken by some people on tanks, armored fighting vehicles, etc. There is a governmental commission, a parliamentary commission working on the issue, but as for us – we don’t have enough authority to get to people who were in command on those fronts, in those towns and regions. This is the main reason I cannot do much. I do not know what I can say to a woman who tells me: “My son was kidnapped; I’ve been looking for him for 4 years”. When a woman is crying all I can do is cry along with her. So the most pressing task we face now is to find those who are thought to have been kidnapped.
And as for unemployment, I think by the end of this year it will decrease 15-20%. We are working on it; we have various governmental programs and good conditions to implement them. The Head of the Government, Vladimir Putin, urged all major Russian banks to lend funds to our region, to invest, to create joint ventures. There are large construction companies working here. The UAE is also willing to invest in the development of our republic, as well as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan – we’ve reached many. We need an international airport, and we will open it in the near future. So everything is going to be fine in this respect.
RT: How do you attract foreign investors to Chechnya, how willingly do they invest and how many investors are already operating in the republic?
RK: Post-war Chechnya, the republic that has lived through those horrible events, is an interesting region for everyone. I have good friends who used to work with my father many years ago. Those people who care about the future of our nation and are willing to help come to us by themselves. I’ve met some big men from Abu Dhabi, from Palestine, from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. These people came to us; we did not look for them and beg for investments. They offered their help and participation in different projects. Two days ago I had a meeting with the Head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, he will visit Chechnya and we will sign an agreement on cooperation. We’ve asked the Russian government, and they support this initiative.