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Analysis: Is The Balance Of Power Shifting In Chechnya?

  • Liz Fuller

Acting on a proposal from Alu Alkhanov, head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, Dmitrii Kozak, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin named last month as his envoy to the South Russia Federal District, named Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov on 19 October as his adviser on security issues.

While some Russian commentators have interpreted that appointment as strengthening Kadyrov's position vis-a-vis Alkhanov, others see it as a further move by Alkhanov to sideline his young rival, whose power derives in the first instance from his command of a "presidential security force" variously estimated to number between 2,000 and 8,000 men.

Immediately after the murder of Kadyrov's father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, in a terrorist bombing in Grozny on 9 May, Russian television showed footage of Putin meeting with Ramzan Kadyrov in Moscow. Shortly afterwards, Kadyrov was named Chechen first deputy prime minister in what was widely perceived as a bid by the Kremlin to secure his loyalty and deter him from acting as a "loose cannon" during the campaign preceding elections on 29 August for his father's successor as head of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership. Some Russian observers even predicted -- wrongly, as it turned out -- that Moscow would condone amending the Chechen Constitution adopted in March 2003 to remove the stipulation that candidates for that post must be over 30 years of age. When Russian officials stressed that the constitution would not be altered, it was suggested that then-Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov, the candidate whom the Kremlin clearly favored, was intended purely as an interim leader, and that Alkhanov would step down in October 2006 when Ramzan Kadyrov turns 30, to permit him to succeed to the leadership.

Many observers both in Russia and abroad concluded that the death of the senior Kadyrov had dealt a severe blow to Putin's Chechen policy, and that whoever was elected to succeed the murdered leader could never command the same degree of respect. Those arguments were to some degree substantiated by the failure of an attempt in July to limit Ramzan Kadyrov's power by subsuming his security force into a new crack Interior Ministry regiment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 July 2004).
"Nobody knows how long [Alkhanov] will be president. But the next president will definitely be Ramzan Kadyrov."


True, some experts warned against writing Alkhanov off as a nonentity bereft of real power. Former Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov characterized him as "able, reasonable, and loyal," "Izvestiya" reported on 31 August, while Federation Council Deputy Speaker Svetlana Orlova described him to Interfax on 30 August as giving the impression of "an educated and consistent man." Senior Communist Party official Ivan Melnikov said Alkhanov is "experienced" and "a man of principle," but at the same time expressed doubt that he will prove able to effect radical change in Chechnya as "there are too many people interested in destabilizing" the situation there.

As anticipated, Alkhanov won the 29 August ballot, allegedly garnering 73.48 percent of the vote. But Moscow's treatment of Alkhanov in the weeks that followed his election victory seemed to reflect a divided approach. His inauguration was scheduled for the last possible date -- 40 days after the ballot -- permitted by the Chechen Constitution, and was on a more modest scale than that of his predecessor. But the Russian authorities agreed to Alkhanov's request that all revenues from the extraction and sale of Chechen oil should be channeled into the republic's budget to help finance reconstruction -- a concession that Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov had lobbied for without success. Having hinted prior to his election that he would consider peace talks with representatives of the Chechen resistance, Alkhanov announced on 5 October -- the day of his inauguration -- and again the following day at the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, that he will never negotiate with Aslan Maskhadov, the resistance leader who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot hailed by both Russia and the international community as free and fair.

On his return from Strasbourg to Grozny, Alkhanov named outgoing Prime Minister Sergei Abramov to head the new Chechen government, and reappointed Ramzan Kadyrov as first deputy prime minister with responsibility for security and law enforcement. But within days, Alkhanov issued what appeared to be a tacit warning to Kadyrov that he will not tolerate gratuitous abuses of human rights by the latter's security force. When Kadyrov's security guards cordoned off the village of Novye Atagi for three days last week to conduct a search for resistance sympathizers, searching every home and corralling all males between the ages of 14 –60 in a barbed-wire enclosure, Alkhanov dispatched officials to order Kadyrov to desist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2004). Alkhanov subsequently warned that such egregious human-rights violations are likely to undercut the population's support for the pro-Russian Chechen leadership.

As indicated above, Russian commentators disagree over the implications of Kadyrov's appointment as Kozak's aide. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 October quoted Mercator group head Dmitrii Oreshkin as suggesting that the appointment underscores Kadyrov's "elevated status." But other experts noted that the new job will require Kadyrov to spend a certain amount of time outside Chechnya. (Kozak's headquarters are in Rostov-na-Donu). That, in turn, would provide Alkhanov with the opportunity to strengthen his position without the risk of being undercut by punitive actions by Kadyrov's security guard against the civilian population.

Kadyrov has hinted, however, that he will give priority to his duties in Chechnya, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 October. That statement suggests that he has no intention of leaving the republic, in which case the standoff between him and Alkhanov is likely to continue. The likely ultimate outcome was elegantly summarized on 30 August by the Council of Europe rapporteur for Chechnya, Tadeusz Iwinski, who told dpa "Nobody knows how long [Alkhanov] will be president. But the next president will definitely be Ramzan Kadyrov."
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