As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Chechen leaders proclaimed the formation of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Initial Russian efforts to re-establish control in the area were repulsed, but factions within the independence movement soon fell into conflict with each other. A major Russian offensive in 1994 sparked the First Chechen War, which ended in 1996 with a peace agreement. Fighting resumed in 1999 and Russian forces quickly established control over much of Chechnya. However, they faced a determined insurgency from an increasingly radical (and international) resistance movement: In addition to local separatists, Arab Mujahideen and radical Turkish groups fought to establish the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.1 Many Chechen leaders who had risen to prominence in the First Chechen War such as Akhmad Kadyrov switched sides in 1999-2000. Upon the Russian victory, Kadyrov was appointed as interim leader of a Chechen Republic within the Russian Federation as part of ‘backroom deal’ which established a ‘special relationship’ between Grozny and Moscow.2 In 2003 he was elected president of the republic. His victory coincided with the promulgation of a Russian peace plan, which outlined a new constitution offering considerable autonomy for Chechnya within the Russian Federation. It was subsequently approved in a referendum.3 Kadyrov was assassinated the following year, but his son Ramzan was appointed deputy prime minister the following day and was elevated to lead Chechnya in 2007.
Through policies to co-opt former resistance leaders (often referred to as “Chechenisation”) and offer meaningful autonomy to the population (or at least the elites), the Government of Russia was able whittle away support for the independence movement until it was isolated from much of the population. Thus, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (which at this point was little more than an idea carried in the minds of exiles and insurgents) that had inspired the First Chechen War became increasingly the preserve of extremists, becoming part of the Caucasus Emirate (affiliated to Al-Qaeda) in 2007 and the Vilayat Kavkaz (affiliated to ISIS) in 2015. As the conflict receded, the Russian government ended its military operation in 2002, and had pulled out most security forces by 2009. The withdrawal was met with an announcement from exiled resistance leaders that Chechen security forces, even those of the pro-Moscow administration, should not be targeted.4 A low-level insurgency continued until 2017, by which point most fighters had departed to Syria.