Russia declared victory yesterday in its war to crush separatists in the rebel republic of Chechnya; a conflict that has cost the lives of an estimated 100,000 people since the region claimed independence in 1991.
A decade after Vladimir Putin rose to power pledging to restore Kremlin rule, Russia said it was ending "counter-terror operations".
The decision cements the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's feared president, who has been accused repeatedly of involvement in torture and murder. Mr Kadyrov (32) has sworn loyalty to Mr Putin, who has allowed him almost complete autonomy in running the republic in the North Caucasus.
The former rebel said: "We have defeated the bandits. We can calmly announce our victory."
Counter-terror operations were introduced in 1999 after the then little-known Mr Putin was appointed prime minister by an ailing President Yeltsin. Patriotic fervour swept him into the Kremlin as president in 2000 after he launched the Second Chechen War against the rebels. The Chechen capital, Grozny, was flattened in the offensive he ordered, which drew international condemnation but was supported widely at home.
Mr Putin installed a pro-Moscow regime headed by Mr Kadyrov's father, Akhmad, as part of his strategy to "Chechenise" the conflict by using local forces to defeat the rebels. When Akhmad was killed by a bomb in 2004, Mr Putin installed Ramzan as president in 2007.
Thousands of Russian troops fought a bitter campaign against insurgents who began a guerrilla war from the mountains.
The rebels were joined by foreign fighters waging a "holy war" to establish an Islamic caliphate on Russia's southern frontier.
The conflict generated intense hatred that produced notorious acts of terrorism by Chechen rebels, including the hostage crisis at the Nord-Ost theatre, Moscow, in 2002, and the massacre of 344 pupils and parents at a Beslan school in 2004.
Mr Kadyrov keeps tigers, bears and leopards in a personal zoo at his family compound in Chechnya, which is also reputed to house a private prison.
The slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who criticised human rights abuses in Chechnya, described Mr Kadyrov as a "Stalin of our times".
She claimed, days before she was shot dead in Moscow in 2006, that she had obtained material implicating a private militia controlled by Mr Kadyrov in torture and killings.
He has established stability in Chechnya and oversaw a remarkable reconstruction of Grozny using billions of dollars of federal funding. But some in Moscow fear that he has grown too powerful for the Kremlin to control, despite protestations of loyalty to Russia.
He had lobbied for an end to the counter-terror operation, which will allow him to tighten his grip on Chechnya as federal authorities withdraw as many as 20,000 police and soldiers.
Mr Kadyrov has taken to imposing elements of Islamic law, including headscarves for women in public buildings and restrictions on alcohol. He called last week for men in Chechnya to practise polygamy, even though it is illegal under Russian law. (© The Times, London)