- - Monday, December 26, 2011

GROZNY, Chechnya — A white stretch Hummer limousine leads an entourage of silver cars maneuvering through a mountain village in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

People on the street pause to watch as the motorcade approaches Paradise Restaurant, one of Grozny’s hot spots for wedding festivities.

“It’s a status symbol,” says limo driver Adam Lutheshev, 36, the limo company’s manager. “People want to be seen riding in this vehicle on their wedding day. Chechens only dreamed of things like this; now they are becoming available.”

In 2006, the region lay in ruins during the decadelong Second Chechen War with Russia. Since then, it has rebuilt its infrastructure, and its capital, Grozny, gleams with new skyscrapers and elite boutiques.

Today’s prosperity has bred a personality cult that flourishes around the man deemed responsible for the largely Muslim republic’s turnaround: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

Elina Mutsaev, 17, wears a silk gown embroidered with gold thread and seed pearls, plus diamond ornaments in her hair, for her wedding. An average wedding in Chechnya costs $3,000 to $20,000 as sudden prosperity encourages conspicuous luxury. (Diana Markosian/Special to The Washington Times)
Elina Mutsaev, 17, wears a silk gown embroidered with gold thread and ... more >

“We owe it to Ramzan,” says Roza Ortuseva, 30, sitting in her newly built home in downtown Grozny. “I never thought we would have electricity again. Now we have this home, a city to walk around in, and my kids have a future here. That’s thanks to Ramzan.”

From father to son

Accolades for the leader echo throughout Grozny. Huge portraits of a smiling Mr. Kadyrov — and of his late father — hang everywhere, along with signs of praise and thanks. Mr. Kadyrov denies he has had anything to do with the displays.

The 35-year-old potentate came to power in 2007, groomed by then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had dismissed Chechnya’s second president, Alu Alkhanov.

Mr. Kadyrov inherited power — if not his current position — from his father, Akhmad Kadyrov. A Muslim cleric and separatist leader, Akhmad Kadyrov cut a deal with Moscow after the First Chechen War broke out in 1994. That war ended in 1996; the region’s second conflict for independence began in 1999 and ended in 2009.

Akhmad Kadyrov became Chechnya’s first president in October 2003, only to be assassinated by Chechen Islamists in May 2004.

Once a separatist rebel himself, Ramzan Kadyrov is finishing the job his father left undone. He has managed to silence dissent, pacify the breakaway republic and embark on a massive reconstruction campaign.

Meanwhile, human rights groups accuse him of torture, kidnapping and murder.

“Large-scale war in Chechnya is over; however, the conflict has not been resolved,” said Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, project director of the International Crisis Group, an independent aid organization.

“Today, Chechnya is a dictatorship. Ramzan Kadyrov fully controls its social, economic, political space. He is the only North Caucasus leader who also controls security services on his territory,” she said. “Many violations of law largely go unreported due to the prevailing climate of fear.”

Story Continues →