Jul 4th 2015 | GROZNY | From the print edition
CHECHNYA and Dagestan are both nominally inside Russia, but the road between the two features a checkpoint as elaborate as a border crossing. On the Chechen side, the roads get better and the drivers more nervous. Under Ramzan Kadyrov, its strongman president, Chechnya has become visibly richer and less free than Dagestan. It also feels distinctly separate from the rest of Russia.
Chechnya’s capital of Grozny, once a bombed-out ruin, today boasts not only the largest mosque in Europe but Dubai-style skyscrapers and a five-star hotel (rarely more than a quarter full). The main drag, Putin Prospect, is lined with glitzy restaurants frequented by Grozny’s golden youth. Behind the facades lies a republic steeped in fear, corruption and poverty. Chechnya has become a mini-totalitarian state, in many ways a caricature of today’s Russia.
Mr Kadyrov, who spends millions of dollars sponsoring appearances by Western pop singers and celebrities, has developed a personality cult inside Chechnya and celebrity status outside it. (His Instagram account has a wide following.) Always referred to simply as Ramzan, he appears to be omnipresent. The local television news consists almost entirely of his daily deeds. His reach extends well beyond Chechnya; some observers say he is the second-most powerful man in Russia after Vladimir Putin, the president.
Visitors on the roads into Chechnya are greeted by arches displaying photographs of the strongman’s father Akhmad Kadyrov, a warlord and imam assassinated in 2004, and of Mr Putin, the younger Mr Kadyrov’s benefactor and protector. Men linked to Mr Kadyrov’s security services were charged with the murder in February of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician, outside the Kremlin. The speed with which the alleged assassins were arrested shows how exasperated the Russian security services now are with Mr Kadyrov. But Mr Putin responded by giving Mr Kadyrov a medal—a clear signal to his siloviki to stay away from him.
Although Mr Putin hails Mr Kadyrov’s rule as a model of conflict resolution, Chechnya is only technically part of Russia. A new report by the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, argues that the republic is “virtually independent, with its own ideology, religious policy, parallel economy, taxes and laws”. It also has a well-trained army of some 20,000 men answerable only to Mr Kadyrov.
Russian laws are effectively suspended in Chechnya. In April, after Russian police from a neighbouring region shot a Chechen suspect in Grozny, Mr Kadyrov told his men to shoot back at Russian police if they operate in Chechnya without his permission. “The long conflict between Russia and Chechnya has not been resolved but has been only suppressed,” says Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, the author of the report. It could erupt again at any time.
From the print edition: Europe 译者：毛慧 校对:曽擎禹