President Vladimir Putin touched on the situation in Chechnya and more generally in the North Caucasus during his final annual press conference as Russia’s head of state on February 14. According to the ANN news agency, Putin said it is no longer possible to compare Grozny with the bombed-out Stalingrad of 1943-44. “The leadership of the Chechen Republic is concentrating its energy on resolving key tasks,” he said. “True, unemployment is still very high there. But Ramzan Kadyrov has big plans.” Asked by a correspondent from the French newspaper Le Figaro whether he believes the pro-Kremlin United Russia party actually won 99 percent of the vote in the Chechnya in last December’s State Duma election and that 99 percent of the republic’s voters turned out to vote in that election, as the official figures state, Putin answered in the affirmative. Given the emergence of “a political force … with which people began to link the republic’s revival, I fully allow that this is an objective figure,” he said. “People are tired,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “The civil war lasted there almost 10 years and people have finally begun to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Polit.ru, meanwhile, reported that when a correspondent from Ingushetia complained to Putin during the press conference that forces outside the republic are “meddling” in its affairs and trying to destabilize the situation, Putin agreed, stating that “someone” has decided Ingushetia is a “weak link.” At the same time, he suggested that attention be paid to Ingushetia’s social problems—he noted that it also has extremely high unemployment—and promised federal aid. Putin also said that the federal authorities must help refugees and internally displaced persons return to their homes and provide them with financial assistance. According to Gazeta.ru, Putin promised to resolve the problem of compensation payments to residents of Chechnya whose homes were destroyed in the fighting. “We will satisfy everyone who has the right to compensation,” he said. “Together with the republic’s leadership, we need to figure out how many such people there are, and we will see this through to completion.” Putin also said that there will be no interruptions in the development of the North Caucasus after the end of his presidency. Putin also met with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in the Kremlin on February 14. The Russian president, it should be noted, paid a surprise visit to Dagestan on February 4 (Chechnya Weekly, February 7).
According to the official results, more than 99 percent of Chechnya’s eligible voters turned out last December 2 for the State Duma election and more than 99 percent of those voted for United Russia. Likewise, the republican authorities in neighboring Ingushetia claimed that more than 99 percent of the republic’s eligible voters went to the polls on December 2 and that 98 percent of those voted for United Russia (Chechnya Weekly, December 6, 2007). Besides the fact that they are reminiscent of the Soviet era, there are strong reasons to doubt those figures. To wit: the “I Didn’t Vote” campaign in Ingushetia has collected statements from more than 90,000 of the republic’s inhabitants—54 percent of its eligible voters—declaring that they did not go to the polls last December 2 (Chechnya Weekly, January 31).
The initiator of the “I Didn’t Vote” campaign in Ingushetia, Magomed Yevloev, who is also the founder and owner of the independent Ingushetiya.ru website, has been put on the republic’s wanted list for his alleged role in fomenting “mass riots” in Nazran on January 26, when opposition supporters attempting to hold a protest rally clashed with police and several building were set on fire. Yevloev said the opposition was not responsible for the arson attacks or other acts of violence in Nazran, which he blamed on “provocateurs acting in the interests of the authorities” (Chechnya Weekly, January 31). The other organizer of the January 26 protest, Maksharip Aushev, was reportedly arrested in Ingushetia on February 14. Regnum.ru reported on February 8 that six participants in the January 26 unrest in Nazran were formally charged with organizing and participating in “mass riots.” Kavkazky Uzel reported on February 8 that dozens of people arrested during the January 26 unrest remained in custody.