President Ramzan Kadyrov attends a cerem
Alexander Nemenov  /  AFP - Getty Images
President Ramzan Kadyrov attends a Thursday ceremony in the Chechen town of Gudermes to celebrate his near-total control of the southern Russian province. He was sworn in as Chechnya's new president on Thursday.
updated 4/5/2007 5:51:37 PM ET 2007-04-05T21:51:37

A widely feared former security chief who has been linked to human rights abuses was sworn in as Chechnya’s new president Thursday, vowing to bring prosperity to the region wracked by two wars, growing Islamic extremism and grinding poverty since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin is pinning its hopes for a lasting peace in the North Caucasus region on the gruff-talking, rough-mannered Ramzan Kadyrov, whose father, Akhmad, also held Moscow’s backing until he was assassinated in a bombing in May 2004.

The 30-year-old Kadyrov, whose predecessor warned of a growing personality cult after being forced out in February, is credited with a reconstruction boom during his term as prime minister. Once a moonscape of rubble and shattered buildings, much of the capital of Grozny now has newly painted buildings, street lanterns, paved roads and parks.

“My main goal is to make Chechnya prosperous and peaceful,” Kadyrov told 2,000 guests and journalists at the inauguration that took place under high security in Gudermes, 19 miles east of Grozny. “Law and human freedoms will become the most important task, whose fulfillment I am intend to be concerned with on a daily basis.”

Kadyrov also repeated his opposition to a long-discussed separation of authority treaty with Moscow, which called for broad economic autonomy, including allowing Chechnya to keep substantial revenues from its oil wealth.

Analysts say Russian President Vladmir Putin has entrusted Kadyrov with power in part because he is seen as the only person who can keep large numbers of former rebels under control. Many former rebels now serve in the police and security forces.

Downplays idea of separation
In his speech, Kadyrov pledged that Chechnya would always remain part of Russia.

“We fully realize that our well-being is impossible without a strong and stable Russia,” he said.

On Thursday, banners reading “Ramzan Is Our Leader” and “Ramzan We Are Proud of You” hung from building facades in Gudermes, the town where he has his stronghold; young people in red T-shirts emblazoned with his portrait waved flags at passing cars on the road from Grozny.

Alu Alkhanov, the former police chief who became president after Akhmad Kadyrov’s assassination, had warned about a growing personality cult around Kadyrov and the highly public visibility he had cultivated including near ubiquitous building banners.

Some observers see Kadyrov’s growing clout as a potential risk for the Kremlin and say that his loyalty to Russia is closely tied to his relationship with Putin. Critics also say the Kremlin has put too much faith in a man whose security forces, human rights groups allege, abduct and torture civilians suspected of rebel ties.

Kadyrov has repeatedly praised Putin — including calling for him to stay on as president despite the two-term limit — but has harshly criticized the Russian government and the state-run oil company that controls much of Chechnya’s oil infrastructure.

Analysts say he has the power to foment new chaos in fragile Chechnya and create serious problems for Russia if ties with the Kremlin become less close.

Russia blamed for Chechen's death
Underscoring the issue of rights abuses, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the Russian government was responsible for the disappearance and presumed killing of a Chechen man during a military sweep in 2000.

It was the court’s fourth ruling in nine months against Russia in cases concerning the Chechen war; some 200 other cases related to Chechnya, the disappearance of civilians and allegations of torture are still pending.

The Council of Europe, which administers the human rights court, said last month that the region continues to be plagued by torture and unlawful detentions, with rights violations rarely investigated.

Two wars in the past 13 years between Russian federal forces and separatist rebels who increasingly voiced militant Islamic ideology left much of the republic in ruins and its people gripped by fear and resentment.

Major offensives and large-scale fighting have all but ended, but militants continue to stage small hit-and-run ambushes with booby-traps and remote-controlled bombs.

An estimated 100,000 civilians, soldiers and insurgents have died in Chechnya since 1994.

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