Russian Prez Vladimir Putin appointed a new president of Chechnya the other day. I was going to make this just a brief post, but the history of Chechan leadership is interesting, and deserves a fuller explanation.
Basically the Russians have been fighting with the Chechens forever. An Islamic people, they were originally annexed by the Czar's Army in 1859. The Soviets proceeded to spent many decades figuring out how to best govern them. From 1957 to 1991 Chechnya was part of something called the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. A puppet state within the USSR, in other words, not unlike Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan.
Then in 1991 the Soviet Union fell apart and the Chechen government declared independence, as was the style at the time. But unlike many of its other colonies the Russians weren't prepared to let Chechnya go without a fight. In 1994 Yetlsin's forces invaded the country and assassinated its rebel president. There was a tenuous cease-fire in the late 90's and the Russians agreed to negotiate independence in 2001. But then Putin invaded the country a second time in 1999. The civil war has gotten much more gruesome and bloody since then as Putin- who has no interest in negotiating Independence- tries desperately to establish firm Russian authority over the rebellious, Islamic republic.
The leadership of Chechnya is quite muddled. Here's a timeline
1) Dzhokhar Dudayev was elected as the president of Chechnya right after the Soviet Union broke down in 1991. He was assassinated by the Russians in 1996.
2) Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was acting president from 1996 to 1997. He presided over the peace deal that saw the Russians withdrawal most of their forces.
3) Former Soviet colonel Aslan Maskhadov was elected in 1997 and the Russians agreed to recognize his government as legitimate. Pro-Chechen terrorist attacks in Russia prompted Putin to blame Maskhadov for stirring shit up, and in 1999 Russia broke off relations with his government.
Putin instead installed Nikolay Koshman as Chechen head of state. There have been two rival governments in Chechnya ever since, one of whom are the heirs of the pro-Moscow Koshman, the other the heirs of the pro-independence Maskahadov.
4) The Russians killed Maskhadov in 2005. An Islamist cleric named Sheikh Abdul Halim replaced him, but then the Russians killed him too.
5) The current rebel president (since June of '06) is Doku Umarov, a longtime rebel leader.
4) Putin's guy, Koshman, was replaced in 2000 by Akhmad Kadyrov. Kadyrov was assassinated by Chechen rebels in 2005.
5) Kadyrov was replaced by an austere (and very pro-Russia) Chechen politician named Alu Alkhanov. He is basically the only guy in this story who did not get horribly murdered in some way. Putin liked him so much he made him his minister of justice and recalled him from his job in Chechnya.
6) On March 4 Alkhanov's replacement was confirmed. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov and he's the son of the late Akhmad Kadyrov mentioned above. He is considered to be a very cruel, pro-Russian, anti-rebel hardliner, a fact which I am sure has nothing to do with the circumstances surrounding his father's death.
Neither of the Chechen regimes are democratic. The rebel presidents used to be elected, but now they're more or less just installed by a little terrorist fiat. The pro-Russian presidents were originally chosen through crooked sham elections in which the guy Putin liked always won by 80% or more. But evidently even that was too democratic, so in 2004 Putin changed the constitution and made it so he gets to appoint the presidents himself.
So that's Chechnya. Don't go there.