Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Vote Is Not Part of The Solution

It is hard to find any objective observer who believes that the weekend election in Chechnya was remotely free or fair. More than 86 percent of the republic's registered voters are supposed to have cast their ballot and more than 80 percent supported Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow administration, as president.

Those are not quite Soviet-era figures but their implication is little different. They will do little if anything to solve the tragedy of the bloody nine-year-old war in Chechnya and the damage that it is doing to Russia both at home and abroad. They may make matters worse.

The only credible rivals to Kadyrov on the ballot either withdrew, or were disqualified, in recent weeks. No serious international observers were willing or able to watch the voting, largely because of the lack of security. Chechnya is a territory in ruins, where murder and kidnappings are the norm and rival warlords -- including Kadyrov, a former rebel -- vie for power with the Russian security forces. Much of the country remains outside federal control.

Sunday's election was supposed to be part of a process of "gradual normalization" of the situation, according to President Vladimir Putin. It seems more likely to lead to "Chechenization", in which the conflict becomes more of an internal civil war between rival Chechen factions, instead of between Chechens and Russians. But even that is uncertain. Moscow is losing an estimated five to six soldiers or militia per day, and the war now seems to be spreading to neighbouring republics.

Putin came to power on a wave of national sympathy after he relaunched the Chechen war in 1999, following a series of terrorist bombs. He is certainly not going to relinquish Russian power now to the separatist rebels who still control the Chechen mountains, and most of the country at night.

But his options are very limited. He cannot understand why the international community will not back his war as part of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The rebels have certainly attracted some support from sympathizers of al-Qaida and other Islamists.

Clearing the path for Kadyrov to be elected president was supposed to be part of an internationally acceptable "political solution." But no such solution will be acceptable, or stable, unless it is accepted by the Chechen population.

Kadyrov must now demonstrate that he is prepared to negotiate with his rivals and seek some form of reconciliation. He can try to exploit the sheer exhaustion of the Chechen population, appalled by the years of bloodshed. But as long as he is seen as Moscow's man, it seems likely to count against him. The best solution -- if Putin could ever be persuaded to accept it -- would be for some form of international supervision of a peace process. That may still be years away.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.