Chechnya: Russia's unpacified Caucasus region

19th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Militants on Tuesday attacked the parliament in Chechnya's capital Grozny, shattering a period of relative calm in the war-torn southern Russian region over the past months.

Here are key facts on the region, which formally has the status of a republic within the Russian Federation.

GEOGRAPHY: Chechnya is sandwiched between the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountain chain and the steppe and bordered by Georgia. It covers 15,000 square kilometres or 5,800 square miles.

It also borders Russia's restive Caucasus regions Ingushetia and Dagestan, where militant attacks have become a near daily occurrence.

POPULATION: About 1.2 million people before the 1994-96 war, including more than 450,000 ethnic Russians. The Chechens are part of the tiny Vainakh ethnic group, native to the Caucasus.

The 2009 population was officially 1.27 million, however sceptical demographers have said that officials overstate the war- and migration-decimated population by up to 50 percent. The Chechens have been mainly Muslim since the 18th century.

CAPITAL: Grozny (meaning "threatening" in Russian), had a population of 450,000 before the first war, and 185,000 in 1996. In 2009, population was officially estimated at 241,000.

HISTORY: Chechnya spearheaded resistance to Russia's colonisation of the Caucasus in the 18th and 19th centuries, and also against Moscow at the start of Soviet rule. Under the leadership of Imam Shamil, it put up fierce resistance from 1834 to 1859.

It was made an autonomous republic, jointly with Ingushetia, under Stalin in 1934.

In 1944 Stalin ordered all ethnic Chechens and Ingush, about 600,000 people, deported to Central Asia on the invented premise that they had collaborated with Nazi Germany. Some estimates say a third died even before reaching their destination. Survivors were allowed to return home in 1957 during the Khrushchev thaw.

POLITICAL SITUATION: Just before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechnya proclaimed independence and in 1992 separated from Ingushetia. Then Russian president Boris Yeltsin launched a military intervention in December 1994 which ended in 1996 with an accord that failed to address the region's final status. Aslan Maskhadov was elected president in January 1997 but was subsequently disavowed by Moscow.

A new conflict erupted in October 1999. In the two periods of conflict since the Soviet collapse, about 100,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed.

In June 2000 President Vladimir Putin placed Chechnya under the control of a local administrator, former mufti Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated on May 9, 2004. He was replaced by Alu Alkhanov, who in turn was replaced by Kadyrov's son Ramzan in April 2007.

In 2009 Russia ended the decade-long "counter-terror" operation in Chechnya and pulled out most of the federal troops from the region. In the past years security has relatively improved under Ramzan Kadyrov.

However the Chechen leader has been accused by rights groups of abusing power and using tactics like torture to crack down on critics.

ECONOMY: The republic has modest reserves of high quality oil that during the Soviet period was important for manufacturing aviation fuel. Grozny was also the location of a huge refinery, which Russian air and artillery strikes largely destroyed. Large engineering, concrete and canning factories were also destroyed, while the widespread use of landmines put a dent in once flourishing agriculture.

The economy in recent years has largely depended on federal funding which has financed a construction boom in Grozny. Chechnya is the largest recepient of federal funds in Russia, according to a study done by Finans magazine in 2009, taking in 57 billion rubles that year, which made up 90 percent of its regional budget.

© 2010 AFP

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