Billions of dollars in aid from Moscow have helped to rapidly rebuild Chechnya – and President Ramzan Kadyrov has been given free rein to rule with an iron hand in exchange for peace.
Chechnya's regeneration has been all the more remarkable for passing largely unnoticed in the West, where images remain fresh of its capital city, Grozny, as a smashed moonscape that was often compared to Stalingrad after World War II.
But today, thanks to billions of dollars in Kremlin aid, downtown Grozny now features broad avenues – including one named after Russian leader Vladimir Putin – lined with luxury boutiques and new glass-fronted skyscrapers. Many of the city's once-shattered residential neighborhoods now boast clusters of graceful high-rise apartment blocks. Grozny's airport is totally refurbished and hosts daily flights to Moscow and other Russian cities. Where mine fields and piles of rubble dominated the city's center just six years ago, the marble-lined Akhmad Haji Kadyrov mosque – reputedly the largest mosque in Europe – now towers over the landscape with its four 197-foot minarets.
IN PICTURES – Chechnya today: Peace at a price
But experts say that all this physical progress has come at a high price. In exchange for peace, they say, the Kremlin has turned Chechnya over to President Ramzan Kadyrov, who runs the mountainous republic of about 1.3 million people as if it were his private fiefdom.