On December 7 the independent Chechen magazine Dosh (Word) reported that its website was attacked by hackers, who destroyed its news section and part of its archive (www.doshdu.ru, December 7). The attack came days after the magazine received a prestigious award from the Reporters Without Borders organization in Paris, sharing it with an Israeli reporter (www.rsf.org, December 3).
The hacking of the Chechen magazine’s website was the latest assault on the activities of the rights activists and independent journalists in Chechnya. Earlier, in July, the renowned rights activist Natalya Estemirova was kidnapped and murdered in Chechnya. This murder was followed in August by the killing of the rights activist couple Zarema Sadulaeva and Alik Dzhabrailov.
On November 30, Russian human rights organizations published a harsh statement, accusing government authorities of manifest disregard for human rights in Chechnya, which are formally legally protected. “The authorities, both regional [Chechen] and federal, not only decline to investigate many of the cases of blatant violations of human rights, but often obstruct independent investigations and coverage of such facts,” read the statement. It also emphasized that while in 2007-2008 there was a sizeable decline in the numbers of abductions and killings, 2009 saw a significant rise in such crimes. The authors of the statement said that in many cases official law enforcement officers are responsible for these crimes, “responding with terror to terror.” The signatories of the statement called on the Russian government to ensure the safety of the rights activists in Chechnya and conduct an effective investigation of the rights activists’ murders (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 6).
No significant progress has been made in the investigation of the murdered rights activists in Chechnya, while Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is accused of fueling intolerance toward human rights activists, has successfully sued Memorial human rights center head Oleg Orlov on defamation charges. Kadyrov is soon expected to provide testimony in support of his appeal to fine both Memorial and Orlov (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 6).
Meanwhile, the Chechen government’s claims for Moscow’s financial assistance to rebuild the destroyed economy remain high. The Chechen government asked Moscow to cover 80 percent of its $6.1 billion economic revival program set to last for ten years (until 2020). Russian President Vladimir Putin commissioned an economic recovery plan for Chechnya back in 2006, but it has reportedly been approved by federal agencies only now. The head of department for the regions in the Russian ministry for economic development, Alexander Sokolov cautioned about Moscow giving a green light for this investment package, saying: “We will naturally not be able to shoulder 180 billion rubles ($6 billion). If private investment is not attracted, it is useless” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 7). It is unclear whether Moscow, itself having a very hard time recovering after the global economic crisis and having plans to borrow on the international finance market, will be able to provide much support for Chechnya. Another point of uncertainty is whether Kadyrov’s government, with its poor human rights’ record and proneness to revert to violence, will be able to attract the more than $1 billion of private investors’ money that is supposed to complete the $6 billion program portfolio.
The program for economic recovery includes 41 projects focused mainly on the energy, agricultural and car making sectors. Currently, only Russian banks and partially state-owned companies have projects in Chechnya. The previous program of economic recovery of Chechnya that was in place in 2002-2007 was closed down by Moscow for its ineffectiveness (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 7).
While the official point of view about Chechnya invariably draws rosy pictures about its recovery. Moscow, of course, understands very well the reality on the ground. Chechnya occupies one of the lowest positions in the development ratings of Russia’s regions, along with other North Caucasian republics like Ingushetia and North Ossetia (www.gazeta.ru, November 30).
While not very popular with human rights defenders, Ramzan Kadyrov has become one of the top possible contenders for the position of “governor of the Northern Caucasus” that President Dmitry Medvedev made public in his state of the nation address in November.
However, while Moscow may like the thought of suppressing dissent in the rest of North Caucasus in the same manner carried out by Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya, there are some hardwired limits to this strategy that are difficult to ignore. If Moscow’s resources can now hardly cover a quick economic recovery of Chechnya, more Ramzan-style management in the Northern Caucasus might bring Russia to the brink of bankruptcy. Indeed, if Moscow’s financial commitments to restore Chechnya were applied to other regions of the North Caucasus, then the bottom line would be enormous. This in effect means that instead of relying on crude force in dealing with regional issues as it has done in the past, Moscow is far more likely to search for more creative solutions in dealing with the North Caucasus because of the economic crisis plaguing much of Russia.