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Chechnya: Russia Re-Appoints Gantemirov As Grozny's Mayor

  • Sophie Lambroschini

The re-appointment this week of Beslan Gantemirov -- jailed earlier for embezzlement -- as mayor of Chechnya's capital Grozny suggests that Russian authorities are still at a loss as to how to administer the republic effectively. RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports on Moscow's difficulties -- and its plans.

Moscow, 20 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Two years after being convicted of embezzling state funds designed to rebuild Grozny's economy, Beslan Gantemirov is again mayor of Chechnya's capital.

His return to the post was announced Wednesday (Oct 18), after Russian authorities had arranged a truce in the long-standing feud between Gantemirov and the chief local official in Chechnya, Akhmat Kadyrov. Both men are pro-Moscow in their political stance.

For some Russian analysts, Gantemirov's re-appointment is another signal that Moscow remains unable effectively to administer the republic, where hungry and bombed-out citizens are still awaiting much-needed aid and reconstruction. Aleksei Malashenko, the Carnegie Fund's Caucasus specialist, told RFE/RL that the naming of Gantemirov reflects Russia's powerlessness in the republic:

"The truce that was arranged between Gantemirov and Kadyrov mainly illustrates Moscow's weakness. It has been forced to intervene in a personal row between two individuals who should in fact be totally under the control of the Russian President."

Moscow considers Gantemirov an influential local figure, especially in the traditionally more moderate northern parts of Chechnya. Because he is important to the Russians, he was released from prison under a presidential pardon last November to head a pro-Moscow Chechen militia. Gantemirov soon became a top leader in the pro-Moscow Chechen government, notably as head of republic's interior forces.

Later, after Gantemirov was named Kadyrov's deputy, he had a series of clashes with his superior and one-time battlefield enemy. Kadyrov is a former rebel and, as mufti of Chechnya during the 1994 to 1996 war, declared a holy war on Russia. Kadyrov switched sides only last autumn and is still regarded with suspicion by some of the Russian military.

Three months ago, disagreements between Gantemirov and Kadyrov brought pro-Moscow Chechen forces to the brink of a violent clash. When Kadyrov dismissed some pro-Moscow local chiefs, Gantemirov moved into his superior's headquarters with 200 men. The two sides were eventually persuaded to stand down.

At the same time, Russian authorities are increasingly unable to support their claims about what is termed "the ongoing reconstruction of peaceful life" in Chechnya. Kadyrov and other local officials complain of continuing widespread unemployment, hunger, and demolished houses -- and still no help from Moscow.

Accusations of Russian military brutality in the republic by pro-Moscow officials are also becoming more open. Yesterday (Thursday), Chechnya's newly elected State Duma deputy Aslambek Aslakhanov told the lower house that Russian authorities were responsible for what he called "genocide." He specifically accused the Russian military of arbitrary violence. Last month, Kadyrov made similar accusations about arbitrary arrests.

Russia's handling of what it calls "postwar" Chechnya has led some officials to suggest that all civilian powers in the republic be turned over to a single man.

President Putin's envoy to the region, General Viktor Kazantsev, told the official government paper "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" this week (Oct 16) that authority in Chechnya should be more centralized. He called for a new coordinator who, he said, "would take responsibility for the economy, for financial transactions, for the actions of the military."

Kazantsev said that a change in Chechnya's power structure would soon be proposed to the government and to the Kremlin's Security Council. This was confirmed to RFE/RL by the Security Council's press secretary, Vladimir Nikonurov.

The Duma's Chechen affairs committee yesterday also discussed the idea of concentrating authority in the republic by expanding the powers of Kadyrov's office in Chechnya.

Abdul Hakim Sultygov, an expert on Chechnya who is the committee's main advisor, spelled out to our correspondent what the planned changes could be. He says that the current institutional weaknesses of Kadyrov's position will be corrected.

"Under the existing system, it is clear that he cannot solve any problems. The only thing that Kadyrov can do is appoint his own secretary. That's all. But the republic's chief official, who is appointed by [Russia's] president, should have full powers -- civil and military. These powers should be concentrated in one person's hands."

But Sultygov says he believes it is unlikely the additional powers will be given to Kadyrov himself -- simply because he is not trusted enough in Moscow. He says he believes Kadyrov will be replaced by a Russian -- who would be less likely to get mixed up in local clan wars -- and possibly by a "military man." The new chief, in Sultygov's words, "will represent the president both as [military] commander-in-chief and as head of the executive."

Sultygov mentioned the name of Gennady Troshev -- one of the Russian military's main commanders in last winter's campaign -- as a likely replacement for Kadyrov. He said that Troshev, who grew up in Grozny, is seen as an "ideal" candidate by the Kremlin. Carnegie analyst Malashenko also says that the Kremlin has been considering Troshev's candidacy for some time.