The 9 May bomb blast in Grozny, seen live on local television, that killed pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and seriously injured the commander of the combined Russian forces in Chechnya could serve as a turning point in the second Chechen war by providing an exit strategy in the admittedly unlikely event that the Russian leadership is seeking one. That conflict has already lasted over twice as long as that launched in December 1994 by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin. But President Vladimir Putin's warning as he met later on 9 May with Kadyrov's son Ramzan that "retribution is unavoidable" suggests that of the various options available, the Kremlin will choose to intensify the ongoing battle against "terrorism" in Chechnya.
There are, however, other possible scenarios, the first of which is both the most optimistic and the least probable. Over the next four months, the Chechen resistance regains ground and launches a new offensive to win back Grozny, just as it did in 1996 under the command of Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot recognized by both Moscow and the international community. Under pressure from the international community, President Putin agrees to what the Council of Europe rapporteur for Chechnya, Andreas Gross, has described as a farsighted and courageous step, such as negotiations with Maskhadov on an interim, UN-administered administration for Chechnya. It is, however, not clear whether the Chechen resistance is strong enough to launch such an offensive; in recent interviews, Maskhadov has dodged questions about its current strength. Having committed himself to wiping out "terrorism," in Chechnya, Putin is unlikely ever to agree to negotiations with one of the men whom the Russian leadership regards as personifying it. And with its hands full coping with Iraq, the international community has little time or inclination to pressure Moscow to agree to a settlement that would consume UN energy and resources.
The second scenario is the one which observers and commentators consider the most probable: Putin orders the Russian military to intensify operations in Chechnya and signals to Ramzan Kadyrov that he has carte blanche to draw on the help of the Russian military in a war that, as Akhmed Muradov, the leader of the Chechen community in Kazakhstan pointed out to RFE/RL on 9 May, has now become Ramzan Kadyrov's own personal blood feud against his father's putative killers. Kadyrov was quoted last week by the daily "Trud" as saying that he "prays to Allah" for the chance to face Shamil Basaev in battle and would consider it "an honor" to kill him. A Chechen Interior Ministry official told Interfax on 9 May that the Grozny bomb bore the hallmark of Basaev's handiwork.
A third possibility, however, is that those members of the Russian leadership who were beginning to become apprehensive over the long-term implications of both Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's demands for total control of political and economic developments in Chechnya, and possibly also over the indiscriminate abductions and killings in which Ramzan Kadyrov's militia have engaged with total impunity, will seize upon Kadyrov senior's death as a heaven-sent opportunity to wrest back control and rein in Ramzan Kadyrov. The problem with this scenario is that some observers regard Chechen Prime Minister Sergei Abramov, whom Putin has named interim president pending new elections in accordance with the Chechen Constitution, as too young (he is 32) and too inexperienced (he has been in the job less than two months) to act as a counterweight to Ramzan Kadyrov. Meeting with Abramov hours after the Grozny explosion, Putin noted Abramov's good relations with security forces in Chechnya and urged him to continue cooperating with those forces in the interest of restoring "normal life" there -- a formulation that could be construed as orders to defer to Ramzan Kadyrov.
If Moscow decides to rely on Ramzan Kadyrov in its ongoing war of attrition against the Chechen resistance forces and civilian population, that decision will inevitably affect developments in neighboring Ingushetia.
Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska proposed on 9 May imposing presidential rule in Chechnya and possibly in other regions bordering it (which would mean Ingushetia and Daghestan). Should Putin decide to parachute in a strongman to administer Chechnya until new elections are held, one possible candidate is the former commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev. Troshev, who was born in Grozny, is currently Putin's adviser on Cossack affairs. Assuming that Moscow will rig the election of Kadyrov's successor as blatantly as it rigged his own last October, Troshev is one of the two candidates the Kremlin is most likely to select. The other is former Interior Ministry General Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who pulled out of last year's Chechen presidential ballot to take up a position as an adviser to Putin. (Ramzan Kadyrov is too young at 27 to contest the ballot; the Chechen Constitution stipulates that presidential candidates must be 30 or older.)
If Moscow decides to rely on Ramzan Kadyrov in its ongoing war of attrition against the Chechen resistance forces and civilian population, that decision will inevitably affect developments in neighboring Ingushetia, where President Murat Zyazikov, a former Federal Security Service general, is under increasing criticism for his inability to end a string of abductions of Ingush citizens by bands operating out of neighboring Chechnya. Some observers have construed those abductions as intended to create a pretext for first extending "antiterrorism" operations from Chechnya into Ingushetia, and then for merging those two republics into a single federation subject. Kadyrov was one of the most ardent supporters of such a merger, which Zyazikov rejected as unnecessary and counterproductive.
With Kadyrov now out of the picture, it remains to be seen whether the abductions of Ingush will continue. A halt would suggest that Moscow has abandoned its support for a merger of the two republics and opted to shore up Zyazikov rather than risk destabilization in Ingushetia at a time when the primary objective is to concentrate all available resources on hunting down and neutralizing the purported instigators of Kadyrov's demise.