Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's April 16 decree formally ending the counterterror operation in Chechnya is being touted as a major propaganda victory for Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, and possibly even as heralding the republic's de facto independence from the Russian Federation. In fact, however, it will change very little on the ground.
For the past several years, the Russian military has played little part in the desultory low-level fighting. The Chechen resistance still operates in the southern districts of the republic, taking and then relinquishing temporary control of individual villages, but its primary target is not the Russian troops but the pro-Moscow units loyal to Kadyrov.
In line with Medvedev's decree, up to 20,000 of the 50,000 Russian troops deployed in Chechnya will be withdrawn, possibly to the two new Russian bases currently under construction in Karachayevo-Cherkessia and at Botlikh in Daghestan. But according to State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, at least one Interior Ministry regiment -- the 46th -- will remain in Chechnya permanently.
Kadyrov himself was quoted by regnum.ru
on April 16 as saying that is imperative that some Russian Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry troops remain in Chechnya, "not because there is any danger of banditism and terrorism, but in the event of an external threat. We have to defend Russia as a whole, and the Caucasus in particular."
For Kadyrov, the main advantage of the formal end of the counterterror operation launched by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1999 at the beginning of the second war is economic. It will pave the way for the establishment of customs posts at Grozny airport -- which will receive international status -- and at Chechnya's border with Georgia. Indeed, it was the pressing need for such economic liberalization, as a precondition for attracting much-needed foreign investment, that Kadyrov stressed on March 25 when he first predicted that Moscow was about to announce the end of the counterterror operation by the end of the month.
To infer, however, that Medvedev's decree paves the way for Kadyrov to parlay the already considerable autonomy he enjoys vis-a-vis the federal center into virtual independence ignores the fact that Chechnya is still dependant on subsidies from the federal center for the lion's share of its annual budget -- 24.5 billion rubles ($734.5 million) in 2009. Moreover, the Russian company Russneft still controls the extraction, export, and refining of Chechnya's oil and has systematically opposed all attempts, both by Kadyrov and his late father, to secure total control of the remaining oil reserves.