Prague, 19 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Kremlin has not been shy about promoting its candidate for the Chechen presidency.
Moscow wants Chechen Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov to succeed Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, assassinated earlier this year. And it is doing its utmost to ensure the Alkhanov wins the presidential vote on 29 August.
Alkhanov has been given publicity that his six opponents can only dream of. Yesterday, he was brought to Moscow to address the Chechen diaspora. Alkhanov used the occasion to hold a news conference, during which he spoke about his political priorities.
Alkhanov said, if elected, reviving the republic's economy will be one of his top priorities. He said he plans to turn Chechnya into a free economic zone, to attract investment and business. "The free economic zone includes a favorable tax regime and favorable customs tariffs and many other advantages which I am ready to discuss with entrepreneurs and businessmen," Alkhanov said.
"The situation in the Caucasus is such -- especially in Chechnya and Dagestan -- that a person can only become a leader in these republics if he has a small militia of people around him."
Alkhanov noted that currently, the unemployment rate in Chechnya hovers around 70 percent. He pledged to cut that figure to around 15 percent over the next five years, and he said his aim will be to create 150,000 new jobs within that period in the republic.
Alkhanov appealed to members of the diaspora to return to rebuild their homeland. "Who else but you knows the mentality of your own people, knows the specific features of the republic and of our nation? Who else but you can show the way through entrepreneurship and ideas on your native land?" Alkhanov said.
He also called on those with professional qualifications to join in the rebuilding of Chechnya's state-sector -- irrespective of their past political views.
"We do not have enough teachers, doctors, social workers, state employees. That is why when I become president of the Chechen republic, I will hold an open competition on filling these positions. Anyone who currently lives in the republic and anyone who had to leave the republic for a variety of reasons will be able to take part," Alkhanov said.
If that was not enough, Alkhanov made an emotional appeal to diaspora members to return to Chechnya -- for the sake of their children.
"I am convinced that it is essential -- vitally essential -- for your children to know the traditions and customs of our people. How are they supposed to learn about our customs and traditions if they do not take part in our funeral ceremonies and do not see the traditions we have when we bury someone? How are they supposed to know our traditions if they are not present at our 'belkhi' [occasion which involves helping neighbors or those in need], where people help each other and share in mutual joy. They should know the rules of behavior, the traditions, the customs," Alkhanov said.
Given the continuing violence in the republic, it is unlikely that Alkhanov's appeal will have many takers. But here too, Alkhanov indicated he could see a political resolution to the conflict. He offered an olive branch to separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, saying he would be willing to hold talks with the former Chechen president, if Maskhadov publicly admits the error of his ways.
That too, however, appears unlikely to happen, as Maskhadov recently predicted Alkhanov -- like his predecessor -- would not live to see the end of his term if office.
As noted, few doubt that the Kremlin favorite will celebrate an electoral triumph come 29 August. But whether he can truly bring the republic under his control and begin to fulfill some of his electoral promises is another matter.
Khasin Raduyev, a broadcaster for RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, notes that a lot will depend on how loyal Kadyrov's militia proves to be to Alkhanov.
"The situation in the Caucasus is such -- especially in Chechnya and Dagestan -- that a person can only become a leader in these republics if he has a small militia of people around him. Call it what you wish -- the presidential security service, the national guard or anything else. But it means armed people who are ready to sacrifice themselves or at least to take part in local armed conflicts, who stand behind you. Therefore, without such an organization, without such a personal militia, without such supporters, Alkhanov will have a hard time becoming the true leader of Chechnya. But one should not forget that there are 100,000 Russian soldiers that he can call upon at any time and in my view, this is his best line of support," Raduyev said.
(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)