Is Chechnya coming undone?

RUSLAN ALKHANOV/AFP/Getty Images Nine people were killed in small village in Chechnya last night in an hourlong gunfight between separatist rebels and the police. The violence is something of an anomaly in the troubled region, which has been relatively stable in recent years under the authoritarian rule of ex-rebel Ramzan Kadyrov (shown at right with ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
595870_080320_kadyrov2.jpg
595870_080320_kadyrov2.jpg

RUSLAN ALKHANOV/AFP/Getty Images

Nine people were killed in small village in Chechnya last night in an hourlong gunfight between separatist rebels and the police.

The violence is something of an anomaly in the troubled region, which has been relatively stable in recent years under the authoritarian rule of ex-rebel Ramzan Kadyrov (shown at right with Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev), though the number of rebel attacks in neighboring Russian provinces has increased.

RUSLAN ALKHANOV/AFP/Getty Images

Nine people were killed in small village in Chechnya last night in an hourlong gunfight between separatist rebels and the police.

The violence is something of an anomaly in the troubled region, which has been relatively stable in recent years under the authoritarian rule of ex-rebel Ramzan Kadyrov (shown at right with Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev), though the number of rebel attacks in neighboring Russian provinces has increased.

Does last night’s violence indicate that Chechnya’s fragile stability, one of the Putin administration’s main accomplishments, is coming undone just in time for his successor to inherit the mess? I asked Jonas Bernstein, senior research associate at the Jamestown Foundation and Russian defense expert, if the attacks could be in any way connected to the transfer of power in Moscow:

This does seem to be a deliberate uptick on the part of the rebels. My guess is that the rebels may be trying to send a message to the new administration that, ‘We’re still here.’

Russia has maintained order in Chechnya largely by arming Kadyrov and his fellow ex-rebels, an approach not unlike the U.S.’s “Anbar awakening” strategy in Iraq. According to Reuters, Russian military analysts now worry that they may have created a force they can’t control if Kadyrov’s loyalties shift. Kadyrov is a staunch Putinist (he even delivered a dubious 99.5 percent voter turnout for the ruling party in parliamentary elections), but could he turn against his bosses in Moscow with Medvedev in power? Bernstein doesn’t see this as likely. In fact, Kadyrov is probably quite satisfied with Putin’s choice:

If anything, the victory of the Medvedev faction within the Kremlin is actually to the benefit of Kadyrov. It’s the harder-line, so-called siloviki, who have always been suspicious of Kadyrov… because he’s a former rebel from the first war. So in that sense, depending on how things play out in Moscow, it may actually be to his benefit.

Of course, the Chechen conflict never really went away. For the most part, it simply seeped over into neighboring provinces. It would be a tragic irony if the same conflict that helped Putin consolidate his power at the beginning of his presidency re-emerged just at its end.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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