Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 18

The New York Times reported on May 4 that Chechnya is undergoing a construction boom. In an article filed from Grozny, correspondent C. J. Chivers wrote that with the arrival of spring and “bombings and roadside ambushes less frequent than before,” sections of the republic are finally being rebuilt. “Roads are being paved, buildings repaired, electric cables hung,” he wrote. “Scaffolding now cloaks many of the heavy ruins on the main boulevards. Shops are appearing, even on side streets. ‘By the end of the year, you will not recognize this place,’ said Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s new prime minister, as he sped through the city in a car with two loaded assault rifles on the back seat.”

Asking whether the Chechen separatist insurgency has “lost its footing” and “the volatile republic begun to recover,” or the rebuilding is simply “Potemkin Grozny, a show made for fools,” Chivers quoted Tanya Lokshina, chair of the Demos human rights think-tank and a program director for the Moscow Helsinki Group, as saying that the level of reconstruction in Chechnya is “staggering.” According to Chivers, large sections of the republic now have electricity, “if intermittently,” and neighborhoods in Argun and Gudermes “have undergone extensive paving, renovations and new construction.” He quoted Akhmed Gikhaev, Chechnya’s construction minister, as saying that more than 60 miles of roads in Grozny have been restored.

Still, Chivers noted: “The changes are early enough that each intact pane of glass, each unbroken street lamp and each hour of electric power all have the feel of political decree. Some sights are surprising: the freshly poured foundation for an enormous new mosque, working traffic lights at several intersections, apartment buildings under restoration and street lamps illuminating sections of rebuilt roadways at night.”

He also quoted Lokshina as saying—and a Chechen official “who asked to remain anonymous for his safety” as agreeing—that much of the money for reconstruction has been raised by shaking down Chechnya’s small work force and business class.

“Most important, perhaps, it remains to be seen whether the reconstruction will continue, or whether once Mr. Kadyrov has restored enough shattered buildings and paved enough muddy streets – giving his political résumé something besides bloodline and violence—the reconstruction will cease, leaving Chechnya with a few freshly restored stripes,” Chivers wrote. “For now the changes are so new that many analysts are withholding judgment until more information becomes available. ‘Certainly, some of this is facade, and for a while I thought that was how it was going to remain,’ Ms. Lokshina said. ‘But now they are really doing something. You can see the construction spreading.’”