In Russia’s Chechnya republic, which has long been a center of anti Kremlin violence in the Caucasus, Ramzan Kadyrov, the young president, now feels his capital is safe enough to invite 50 foreign correspondents for a news conference and an exhibition football match.
Wearing a black velvet tunic with leather epaulettes, Ramzan Kadyrov, 34, the president of Chechnya, had an upbeat message.
Chechnya is winning the battle against terrorism and is now open for foreign investment, he told foreign correspondents at his high walled, tightly guarded compound in central Grozny.
He says Chechnya is winning the war against terrorism, because Chechens realize that extremism is evil and retards development. Human rights critics say that he has used torture and summary executions to beat down the Islamic fundamentalist insurgency.
Asked by VOA how many rebels are fighting in this republic of one million people, President Kadyrov responded with "68."
Kremlin officials estimate that there are about 1,000 rebels fighting in Russia’s Caucasus, a mountainous area that stretches from the Black Sea to the Caspian. Viewed from afar, the Caucasus is often a blur. But on the ground, it is clear that the insurgency is shifting among the four Islamic majority republics. Officials say violence is down in Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia. They say it is up in Dagestan and Kabardino Balkaria.
After two decades of violence, Chechnya now is ruled by a man who is a firm proponent of law and order. Last week, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev rewarded Kadyrov’s success by appointing him to a second term as Chechnya’s president. On Saturday, the republic’s rubber stamp parliament unanimously voted their support.
Asked about the uprisings in the streets of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Chechnya’s leader chose to praise the authoritarian governments of China and Saudi Arabia.
Referring to the conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, he said: "In Saudi Arabia, there is order, there is strict government and no one gets out of line."
President Kadyrov also uses a personality cult to try to impose unity on a divided, clan-based society. Asked by VOA about his massive portraits displayed on billboards all over the capital, he joked that "People like to look at pictures of a handsome nice young man."
At the Tuesday news conference, he called on a female aide in a long black dress and tightly wrapped black and orange scarf to explain to reporters why she wears conservative Muslim attire. He talks of his moves to severely limit alcohol sales and his interest in taking on a second wife.
"Money made selling women, drugs, alcohol - this money we do not want," Kadyrov said.
Asked which foreign forces are supporting the rebellions in the Caucasus, Kadyrov’s finger does not point to Iran or Saudi Arabia, two Islamic nations often seen as sources of funding. Instead, he focused on the United States.
In the Caucasus, he noted that, America’s ally is Georgia.
Pointing to his neighbor, on the south side of a high range of neighbors, he asked: "Why do the Georgians need America? America is on the other side of the ocean."
Kadyrov accused Georgia of training Chechen terrorists, then flying them to Russia, through Europe or Azerbaijan. With Russia embarking on an election year, this is an accusation increasingly heard from officials in Moscow.