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Chechnya: After Kadyrov's Inauguration, Doubts Remain

  • Sophie Lambroschini

Chechen President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov was sworn in yesterday, amid tight security. But analysts say doubts remain about Kadyrov's legitimacy and his political record to date. They say it is unclear how capable the Kremlin-backed leader will be of effectively resolving the many critical problems facing Chechnya.

Moscow, 20 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's inauguration as president yesterday marked the final step in his transition from rebel mufti to Kremlin-backed president.

But it is not clear how his new official status will affect life in wartorn Chechnya, now in its fourth year of war between federal forces and separatist fighters.

While Kadyrov appears to regard his election as a kind of magic legitimacy potion, observers say many doubts remain about the election and Kadyrov's capacities as a political leader.

Speaking last week, Kadyrov said, "I now have the right to speak in the name of the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for me." Officially, Kadyrov -- who ran virtually unopposed and with tacit Kremlin backing -- took more than 80 percent of the votes in the 5 October election.

Kadyrov has since taken steps to appear the peacemaker in Chechnya, urging an amnesty for rebel fighters and the safe return of the families of field commanders. The day after the election, Kadyrov publicly invited the wife and children of separatist President Aslan Maskhadov to come back to the republic.

"If [Maskhadov's] family comes to Chechnya, it's not [his wife's] fault that her husband was a general and betrayed his people. As legally elected head of the republic, I can guarantee both her safety and material support if she needs it. If she wants to come back to Chechnya I can guarantee that no one will hurt her and that her family will stay alive. That would be, if I may put it like this, a remedy helping to stabilize Chechnya," Kadyrov said.

Some observers say lingering doubts about the election have drained Kadyrov of what little authority his elected status granted him. Regional analyst Emil Pain, writing in the English-language "Moscow Times," asks: "[Kadyrov] will get more authority to deal with the Kremlin, but does it matter?"

Russian President Vladimir Putin has appeared to take Kadyrov under his wing, including him in his entourage during a trip to the United States last month and the Malaysia summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference earlier this week.

But while the Kremlin is ready to show off Kadyrov at various diplomatic gatherings, it has stopped short of granting him key powers -- notably the right to negotiate with the insurgents.

Kadyrov has asked Moscow to extend by three months the amnesty for fighters who lay down their arms. The hope is that the move will eventually force rebel groups to surrender for lack of fighters.

But officially, only 200 fighters have responded to the proposal so far. Alexei Malashenko, a North Caucasus expert with the Carnegie Fund in Moscow, says it is unlikely the amnesty will weaken separatist forces.

"[Kadyrov] speaks a lot about this amnesty, about the fighters coming back -- where, indeed, one of the problems is that they come back and keep their weapons and join [Kadyrov's] militia. But there is also the problem of those fighters who are not Chechens, like the Avars and Andians, who will fight until the end -- I can't imagine what will happen with them. That's another problem for Kadyrov. But it's one he won't be able to solve without the federal [troops], without active support from Moscow," Malashenko said.

Kadyrov is widely suspected of using his private militias to crack down on his opponents within Chechnya, often employing the barbaric methods typically ascribed to Russian troops.

Journalist Rustam Kaliyev says many believe Kadyrov's fighters -- who number between 3,000 and 5,000 men -- are responsible for numerous disappearances, torture, and killings of civilians. He says they are just another faction in the clan warfare that is also part of the fighting in Chechnya -- and one that is not likely to change its methods now that Kadyrov has become president.

"Can we expect the situation to get worse after Kadyrov's election? I think it can hardly get worse -- people are already dying there, killing one another. The vendetta was a traditional form of vengeance that determined a certain order [in Chechnya]. But there also used to be ways to make peace. Now, [the vendetta] has just become a very coarse form of Chechens being killed by other Chechens," Kaliyev said.

Kadyrov has also pledged to battle the region's economic woes. Malashenko of the Carnegie Fund says Chechnya's reconstruction should be an obvious priority for Kadyrov -- but one that will mean battling endemic corruption and Kremlin-style bureaucracy.

"He's going to have to hurry to use the money that is coming in for the rebuilding of Chechnya, especially Grozny. According to some data, only 20 percent of [earmarked funds] go into reconstruction, and the rest disappears in Moscow and in [Kadyrov's] administration and so on," Malashenko said.

Kadyrov may also be looking to seize greater control of Chechnya's economic assets, including the Grozneftegaz oil company, which is currently split between state-owned Rosneft with 51 percent and the Chechen administration with 49 percent.

Analysts say Kadyrov now has a brief window of opportunity to negotiate a favorable bilateral power-sharing treaty with the Kremlin before Russian presidential elections next March.

A peaceful Chechnya could be a powerful vote-winner for Putin. In return for relative calm in the republic, he may be willing to grant Kadyrov free rein to do as he likes. If and when Putin's re-election is secured, however, the warm ties may begin to cool off.