Russia's Medvedev makes surprise visit to Chechnya

GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a surprise visit to Chechnya on Monday after a series of attacks in the troubled North Caucasus region, where the Kremlin is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency.

In the regional capital Grozny, Medvedev congratulated Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel turned Kremlin loyalist, on the republic’s recent armed operations which killed 14 insurgents.

“The fighting of bandits does not stop. In fact, it goes on in a regular, systematic way and recently there have been good results,” Medvedev said in remarks provided to reporters by the Chechen president’s press service.

Kadyrov, largely credited by the Kremlin for rebuilding the republic after two separatist wars with Moscow since the 1990s, vowed to continue pursuing Islamist fighters until they “are completely destroyed”.

Youths, fueled by poverty and the global ideology of jihad, stage near-daily attacks on law enforcement officials and civilians in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus republics, mostly in Chechnya, neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Twin suicide bomb attacks on the Moscow metro which killed 40 turned the global spotlight on this turbulent region. Authorities blamed the attacks on two women from Dagestan.

Attacks in Ingushetia and Dagestan earlier this month killed at least five people, including a religious leader.

The Kremlin argues that the billions of dollars it has poured into the North Caucasus, where unemployment in places is as high as 50 percent, helps turn youths away from joining the insurgency.

Alexander Khloponin, appointed by the Kremlin earlier this year to oversee the newly-created North Caucasus Federal District, told Medvedev and Kadyrov an additional 32.3 billion roubles ($1.02 billion) will be given to Chechnya in 2011-2012.

For 2008-2011, 120 billion roubles had been allocated.

Though insurgents are regularly killed in what authorities say is crossfire, analysts say persistent poverty and corruption means the situation remains unchanged.

“While isolated success stories involving the Russian security forces are good news for the Kremlin, they do nothing ultimately to resolve the underlying issues driving the insurgency,” Valery Dzutsev, from the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, said on Monday.

Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Janet Lawrence