MOSCOW // Russia today ordered an end to its "counterterrorism operation" in Chechnya, a move that could lead to the withdrawal of tens of thousands of troops from the southern republic battered by two separatist wars in the past 15 years. The operation led to curfews, limitations on access for journalists and limitations on civilian airline flights, among other measures. Its cancellation was ordered by President Dmitry Medvedev and took effect this morning, according to the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, which did not provide further details.
The Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov is a former rebel who has close ties with the Kremlin. He often comes under criticism from human rights groups for running the region with brutality and harsh repression of dissenting views. His corps of security agents is widely alleged to have kidnapped and killed opponents and suspected rebels. "Today, the Chechen Republic is, as recognised by thousands of guests including politicians, businessmen, journalists and cultural figures, a peaceful and redeveloping region," Mr Kadyrov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "Ending the antiterrorist operation will only help the republic's economic growth."
The interior ministry spokesman Col Vasily Panchenkov said last month that ending the regime could lead to the withdrawal of about 20,000 ministry troops from Chechnya. Col Panchenkov said at least one Interior Ministry brigade and a division of military troops would remain in the republic. The total number of troops currently in Chechnya could not immediately be determined. Sporadic clashes between militants and troops persist in Chechnya, but major fighting died down several years ago.
Russia has poured millions of dollars into restoring the Chechen capital Grozny, which artillery assaults and aerial bombing had turned into a near-wasteland. The first Chechen war began in 1994 as separatists led by the late Chechen president Dzokhar Dudayev pressed to split off from Russia. The rebels fought Russian forces to a standstill and the Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 under an agreement that left Chechnya de-facto independent.
One of Kadyrov's most vehement enemies, Sulim Yamadayev, was shot dead in an attack in Dubai last month, Dubai police said Kadyrov's right-hand man, Adam Delimkhanov, was suspected of ordering the killing. Mr Yamadayev's brother Ruslan was killed in Moscow last year and reports said Mr Delimkhanov was also suspected in that attack. The deaths of the Yamadayev brothers eliminated two of Kadyrov's most powerful opponents.