Looking out across Grozny, capital of the Russian republic of Chechnya, from the top of its skyscrapers, there’s little trace to be seen of the two independence wars that killed almost 150,000 people and left the city in ruins over a decade ago.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the mountainous republic’s Kremlin-installed leader, is rebuilding the city with great pomp and glamour. Billions of dollars are being pumped in from Moscow and as long as Kadyrov keeps a lid on the region’s separatist and extremist tendencies, he has free rein.
Behind the glittering facades of modern-day Grozny lies its leadership’s human rights record, which is far from pristine. Under Kadyrov’s rule, opposition movements have been silenced, activists have been killed, the media brought into line and any public dissent has been quashed. Numerous Chechens have been disappeared, according to reports by civil rights groups, and anti-gay purges have recently returned. Chechnya is now a state within a state, where strict laws based on local traditions and the current regime’s interpretation of Islam are at odds with the Russian mainstream. It is a deceptively calm place.