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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Creates a Chechnya Minister

President Vladimir Putin created a new Cabinet post responsible for Chechnya on Tuesday, signaling his mounting frustration with the failure to end a costly war and refugee crisis in the republic.

Putin issued a decree naming former construction official Vladimir Yelagin a minister without portfolio, tasked with overseeing "socio-economic development" in Chechnya.

Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky made clear that Moscow was unhappy with reconstruction efforts under Akhmad Kadyrov, the Moslem cleric and one-time rebel guerrilla tapped to run the region after federal forces took control.

"In recent months social-economic questions in Chechnya have either gone unresolved altogether, or were resolved inefficiently," Yastrzhembsky said.

Kadyrov’s administration had made little progress, Yastrzhembsky said, blaming "a variety of factors including some beyond its control."

"One would like to express hope and certainty that Yelagin, known as an experienced manager and administrator, can achieve more effective coordination among federal executive organs on questions of cooperation with Kadyrov’s administration," he added.

[Earlier this month, Kadyrov’s administration asked the Kremlin to appoint a special envoy to Chechnya, saying the absence of an official to coordinate the federal government’s activities in the region means it takes months to make and implement decisions. Spokesman Shamil Beno said Kadyrov’s administration wanted Security Council head Sergei Ivanov to fill the proposed position. But Interfax cited Kadyrov’s press secretary Ramzan Ibragimov as saying Tuesday that Kadyrov welcomed Yelagin’s appointment to the post.]

The move comes a week after Putin upbraided his military brass for slow progress, telling an annual meeting of generals: "Long months are passing, the people are suffering and the anti-terrorist operation needs to be completed."

Russia is still looking to end the war 14 months after its forces poured into Chechnya. The military has imposed control over virtually the entire region, but has failed to stop rebel ambushes or catch top rebel leaders.

The destruction in Chechnya is monumental, and little has been done to repair the damage. Federal forces obliterated towns and villages in their path, especially in Grozny, once home to more than 400,000 people.

A second winter is beginning and nearly 200,000 people have yet to return from neighboring regions, where many are living in railway cars or tented camps. In Grozny, civilians are camped in cellars of bombed-out buildings with no heat or water. Russian officials and Chechens have complained that money sent to rebuild the devastated region has disappeared.

Yelagin’s appointment restores the pecking order in place early this year, when Russia’s top Chechnya official, Nikolai Koshman, held the rank of deputy prime minister in Moscow. Koshman was left out of the new Cabinet list after Putin’s inauguration in May as part of an effort to give local ethnic Chechens more control over the region.

But little rebuilding has been achieved under Kadyrov, who has failed to win support from pro-independence rebels and has quarreled acrimoniously with a rival pro-Moscow leader, Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantamirov.

Continuing violence has also hampered reconstruction efforts. Radio Russia, monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp., reported that three electric engineers working on repairing cables were killed by a mine in Grozny on Tuesday.

In Vienna, a two-day conference of Europe’s main security organization ended Tuesday in Cold War-style acrimony, with the United States and Russia accusing one another of scuttling agreements on issues such as Chechnya and the rights of children, The Associated Press reported.

At the foreign ministers meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia refused to accept a specific deadline for the return of an OSCE observation mission to Chechnya. Moscow agreed at the OSCE summit last year in Istanbul to accept such a mission, but the members have been unable to reach the war-torn region.

U.S. Ambassador David Johnson said the United States had made clear for the last two months that it wanted the Russians to commit to a specific date for the return of the OSCE mission.

The Russians also blocked adoption of a statement affirming support for the rights of children in areas of armed conflict.

The Russians took a swipe at the United States in defending their refusal to approve the document, which required unanimous consent.

"We believe a document should be broader-based in agreement with the UN document on the international rights of the child," said Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Gusarov. He noted that Russia had ratified the document, which protects children from prosecution as adults and the threat of capital punishment.

The United States, which on occasion prosecutes teenagers as adults, has never ratified the UN declaration on children’s rights. "We do not seek that it be dictated by countries that have not ratified the UN rights of the child," Gusarov added.

The current head of the OSCE, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said the conference was also unable to approve declarations on Russian troop reductions in Moldova and Georgia. Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, blamed the Russians for scuttling the declarations.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov gave assurances that Moscow would honor agreements searched at Istanbul regarding troop withdrawals from former Soviet republics.