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Speculation is intensifying in the Russian press over which candidate Moscow will support in the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, on the assumption that as in the October 2003 election, the support of the Kremlin, rather than the preferences of the Chechen electorate, will prove the decisive factor.
Broadly speaking, potential candidates can be divided into three categories: those backed by Kadyrov's surviving supporters in Grozny (assuming that the so-called "Kadyrov team" is not on the verge of disintegrating into rival groups, as Chechen journalist Khamzat Gerikhanov is quoted by "Rodnaya gazeta" on 28 May as suggesting); the wealthy Moscow-based Chechen diaspora; and the "siloviki," or representatives of the FSB or other federal "power" ministries.
Initially, two representatives of the "Kadyrov team" were identified as most likely to succeed him. The first is former Nationalities Minister Taus Dzhabrailov, who was promoted after Kadyrov's death to the post of chairman of the State Council (the interim Chechen legislature). Dzhabrailov, who was born in 1957, is a former mathematics teacher whose association with the assassinated leader dates back to late 1996 when the latter was Chechnya's mufti. The second is Chechen Interior Minister General Alu Alkhanov. Both men are considered 100 percent loyal to Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov's younger son Ramzan, who was named Chechen first deputy prime minister the day after his father's death in tacit acknowledgement of his unofficial status as the most powerful man in Chechnya.
Ramzan Kadyrov commands a personal security detachment numbering several thousand men who, according to Russian human rights groups, have repeatedly been accused by relatives of the victims of engaging with impunity in the abduction and murder of persons suspected of sympathizing with the Chechen resistance. At 27, he is too young to contest the ballot, but some experts have suggested that Moscow might engineer the election of a figure-head leader who would administer the republic in tandem with the younger Kadyrov.
Interfax on 29 May quoted Shirvani Yasaev, who is head of the Urus Martan district administration and a member of the Chechen State Council, as arguing that Alkhanov is the most appropriate candidate to succeed Kadyrov. Yasaev also pointed out that the Chechen police force (which numbers some 12,000 men) would unanimously cast their ballots for Alkhanov. "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 June reported, quoting unnamed sources, that Alkhanov met at the Kremlin 10 days earlier with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who endorsed his candidacy. To date, however, neither Dzhabrailov nor Alkhanov has declared his candidacy. Instead, unnamed Chechen ministers and district administrators have nominated Ruslan Yamadaev, the former deputy military commandant of Chechnya who as the candidate of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party was elected last December, as Chechnya's deputy to the State Duma. Reporting Yamadaev's candidacy, "Gazeta" on 1 June quoted commentator Dmitrii Orlov as predicting that "if Unified Russia endorses Yamadaev, we may take it that the Kremlin has made up its mind" who Kadyrov's successor will be.
On 26 May, however, "Trud" quoted Frants Klintsevich, who is deputy chairman of Unified Russia's Duma faction and heads the party's Chechen chapter, as saying that the party is still discussing the choice of possible candidates and what the key tenets of its candidate's election program should be. Klintsevich described his party's ideal candidate as "an honest person, someone who is not involved in any corrupt dealings, any Chechen intrigues.... This person should preferably be an ethnic Chechen and not from a military background. It would be good if this person lived and worked in Chechnya together with his family. At the same time, he should be an independent figure with enough contacts in Moscow to lobby Chechen interests."
The 11 candidates who originally registered last summer to contest the October 2003 ballot included two prominent members of the Moscow-based Chechen diaspora, businessman Malik Saidullaev and Khusein Dzhabrailov (no relation to Taus), deputy director of Moscow's Hotel Rossiya. Dzhabrailov withdrew from the race on 2 September, saying that he was convinced that he could do more for the Chechen people by directing his social and economic resources toward furthering dialogue between the various Chechen factions and helping to create a civil society in Chechnya. Three weeks before the ballot, Chechnya's Supreme Court annulled Saidullaev's registration in response to a suit by a rival candidate, ruling that over 40 percent of the signatures Saidullaev produced in support of his registration were forged, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 12, and 26 September 2003). The names of both Saidullaev and Umar Dzhabrailov have figured among possible election candidates, along with those of two other Moscow-based Chechens, Russian Industrial Bank President Abubakar Arsamakov and Usman Masaev, who heads the Union of Industrialists and Businessmen of Chechnya, "Rodnaya gazeta" reported on 28 May.
On 31 May, "Kommersant-Vlast" published an interview with Saidullaev in which he affirmed that "the time has come," and that he will run in the 29 August ballot. Saidullaev, who is reputedly very popular in Chechnya, told the journal that Chechnya no longer needs a powerful and brave leader such as Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, but "a civilized and educated man" who can attract foreign investment and impose strict financial control to put an end to the continued theft of budget funds earmarked for reconstruction of the republic's war-shattered infrastructure.
Russian commentators are, however, of the opinion that the outcome of the ballot will be decided beforehand in Moscow, rather than on 29 August at the ballot box, and that Russia's priority is to install a new leader who is acceptable to, but could at the same time act as a counterweight to, Ramzan Kadyrov. Saidullaev, for all his popularity and good intentions, does not meet either criterion. One man who may be strong enough to stand up to Kadyrov is "silovik" Said-Selim Peshkhoev. A former high-ranking FSB officer, Peshkhoev was named in late 2002 to head the Chechen police force, then served as deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. According to Putin's aide Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Peshkhoev has "an impeccable reputation;" "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 June claimed that Moscow views his candidacy favorably. But the paper also noted that Peshkhoev is opposed to permitting former Chechen fighters to serve in the police or other Chechen security forces. That could bring him into conflict with Ramzan Kadyrov, whose personal security detachment numbers many such former fighters.
In an interview published in "Kommersant-Vlast" on 24 May, Peshkhoev suggested that it may have been former resistance fighters who planted the bomb that killed Kadyrov on 9 May. He argued that alternative employment could and should be found for the former militants, and indirectly condemned the appeal to Putin by the State Council to waive the constitutional minimum age requirement to permit Ramzan Kadyrov to contest the presidential ballot. Lawmakers, Peshkhoev argued, should in the first instance seek to uphold the constitution rather than circumvent it.
Asked whether he has a personal security force, Peshkhoev answered in the affirmative, adding that "these are men who carry arms legally." But he admitted that he does not have the $1 million that former Grozny mayor Bislan Gantemirov estimates a presidential campaign will cost. On 31 May, "Kommersant-Vlast" quoted Gantemirov as saying he has not decided whether to join the presidential race himself. "If it is an appointment instead of an election, I'm not going to be part of the performance," he said. At the same time, he hinted that if for whatever reason he does not run, he may back Peshkhoev instead.
With six weeks still to elapse before the deadline for registration, it remains unclear which candidates will emerge as the favorites, but Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has already predicted "a hot summer." His Chechen counterpart, Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, predicted for his part that the ballot might go to a second round -- a suggestion that implies that the Kremlin may wait until the last possible minute to decide which candidate best meets its needs.