"The situation is stable and this change of status will help us in continuing efforts to restore our economy, build more housing, and attract outside investment," says Ziyat Sabsibi, who is Mr. Kadyrov's official representative in Russia's Federation Council, the upper house of parliament. "We have particularly high hopes of getting investment from the Persian Gulf and Middle East," where there are large communities of expatriate Chechens, he says.
Kadyrov told journalists this week that most former rebels have been either killed or come over to the pro-Moscow local government, leaving "no more than 70" of them still holed up in mountain hideouts. Lifting the state of emergency will enable Moscow to pull out some 20,000 Interior Ministry forces – though an equal number will remain indefinitely – and also allow the cancellation of curfews, Chechnya's formerly ubiquitous security check points, and summary house searches by police, he said.
Critic: Russian withdrawal 'purely symbolic'
Critics say it's true that Chechnya today is mostly peaceful and that the horrific human rights abuses committed by Russian forces in early stages of the war have largely abated. But they argue that life in the little republic of 1.1 million people is anything but normal. They say that the Kremlin has bought the appearance of stability at the cost of consigning Chechnya into a legal black hole, where Mr. Kadyrov's forces run the republic without regard for the Russian Constitution or even the Kremlin's authority.
"Chechnya exists today as a kind of enclave, completely outside the framework of Russian or international law," says Tatiana Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Russia, who was reached by phone in Grozny. "This decision to lift the state of emergency has purely symbolic significance for the population of Chechnya. Today, the human rights abuses are committed by [pro-Moscow] Chechens rather than Russian security forces, but the atmosphere of impunity is the same," she says.
A tiny republic's dark history