Russia has ended its decade-long counterterrorism operation in Chechnya, an undertaking that led to broad restrictions on civil liberties in the war-torn Caucasus republic. The move could lead to the withdrawal of 20,000 Russian police and servicemen from Chechnya. 

Russia's National Counterterrorism Committee issued a statement saying Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov canceled the security regime in Chechnya on orders of President Dmitri Medvedev.

Decision aims to normalize situation

The statement says, "The decision is aimed at creating conditions for the future normalization of the situation in the republic, its reconstruction and development of its socio-economic sphere."

The counterterrorism operation in Chechnya was instituted in 1999, when Russia sent troops for the second time since the collapse of the Soviet Union to put down a local separatist movement.  The operation resulted in curfews, roadblocks, arbitrary arrests, and limited civilian air transport.  Journalists were prohibited from entering Chechnya without permission and had to travel with an official escort.

Cause for celebration

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said the end of the operation would boost the local economy and declared a holiday to celebrate the event.

Kadyrov says Chechens traveled long to see the end of the operation, plus they lost everything of value, and paid dearly for peace, stability and prosperity.

He also recalled the loss of many friends and relatives, including his father, former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in a bombing in 2004.

The Interfax News Agency quotes an unnamed Russian security official as saying as many as 20,000 police and servicemen could be withdrawn from Chechnya with the end of the counterterrorism operation.  But the speaker of the lower house of the Russian Parliament, Boris Gryzlov, says some Interior Ministry troops will remain.

Gryzlov says Interior Ministry troops will remain in areas of permanent deployment, including the 46th brigade.  This he says, is necessary, and recalls that special housing was built for this brigade, where it can continue to serve.

Financial crunch made impact

Last month, Gryzlov said the global economic crisis required Russia to reconsider the cost of maintaining the large number of Interior Ministry troops needed to enforce the counter-terrorism operation.

But violence continues to plague Chechnya and the government of President Kadyrov is accused of widespread human-rights violations.  On Tuesday, an Interior Ministry officer was killed in the republic and two others were wounded in a gun battle with rebels. 

The bloodshed also continues outside the country.  At least five critics of President Kadyrov have been killed in recent months.  Victims include former rebel leaders Ruslan and Sulim Yamadayev. 

Ruslan was shot in September in rush hour traffic near the Moscow offices of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  Sulim was gunned down in Dubai at the end of March.  Ramzan Kadyrov's former bodyguard was killed in Vienna in January.  He had claimed the Chechen leader personally tortured him with electric shocks.  None of the killings have been solved.